Leadership and Team development Consultant & Gallup-Certified in Strength-based coach, Christina Rowe helps individuals, leaders, and whole teams achieve new levels of success and enjoyment in their roles. Christina is also the founder of The Collaborative.
As humans, we naturally look for belonging, places where we feel included and valued for our contributions. It’s an innate need that’s necessary for fulfillment and can have alarming consequences when ignored. Put in the context of work, how long would you stay at a job where you didn’t feel a sense of belonging?
Now think about your own company culture and how likely employees are to feel like they belong.
Most organizations have difficulty retaining some of their most valued employee groups – and much of that is tied to a lack of belonging. So what can you do to keep and grow your top talent?
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a great framework to help us better understand the importance of the problem and answer that question. It starts with basic needs, like food, water, and safety, that are required before any other needs can be met. Once those are taken care of, Psychological needs come into play, specifically, belonging. For us to operate at our highest professional level, we need to feel like a valued part of a team.
In the workplace, we primarily find belonging through three pillars of culture:
- Internal Language
When employees find a place where they align with all three, they feel seen more fully, are dedicated to the organization’s success, and have close ties to their team. This has a noticeable positive effect in many areas, including performance and inclusion. However, the most important factor might be its strong impact on reducing unhealthy turnover.
Fortunately, you can leverage these pillars to engage your team and help them feel like they belong. Cultures that lead to highly engaged individuals see a reduction in voluntary turn over by up to 50% according to Great Places to Work.
Pillar 1: Internal Language
A shared internal language is developed through the consistent terms, ideas, and words exchanged in an organization or team.
Think of an internal language much like a unique fingerprint for that organization. Organizations create their own unique internal language over time as they repeat terms that become rooted in their common exchanges. They also set the tone of the organization.
That tone is apparent whenever you listen to conversations between coworkers. It can set the expectation of creativity and innovation, or it might point to a defined structure that focuses on professionalism. It helps people hear where they belong.
This internal language often uncovers the true nature of an organization. It connects people, makes it easier to relate to one another, and communicates everything from priorities to judgment.
To impact belonging, and ultimately retention, we must be mindful and direct our internal language...but how?
We can’t control what another person says. However, we can control our own messages, jargon, and participation in the language we want to encourage. That includes refusing to support negative or unaligned messages. Make a thoughtful choice on what speech and ideas you choose to permeate your organization.
To take it to the next level, think about how onboarding plays a huge part in propagating your internal language. When new employees learn that language quickly, it’s easier to relate to their coworkers. When they don’t, it’s not hard to see why 31% of workers have reported quitting a job within the first six months.
Consider the messages you want to have pulsing through your teams. Do they hear you supporting new ideas, fostering growth of others, or rewarding innovations with credit and esteem? Or do their ears ring with tones of frustration, inconsistent requests, or bleed from repeatedly being demeaned?
Consider how messages are reinforced in your organization, the language we repeat, and the methods of communication.
- Document the terms and phrases used in the company, then see if they are a fair representation of your team and are apparent to newcomers. Are you proud of your internal language?
- If your organization can’t be proud of your internal language, take action to change. That means you need to be the example by talking the talk and walking the walk.
- Encourage your leadership team to work awareness of messaging and behavior into the strategic goals for your organization, and be mindful of how they live the internal language you want resounding from your organization.
Pillar 2: Values
Over time, we each hone our own values. These are the guiding principles that impact our thoughts and actions every day. In our search for belonging, we naturally look for organizations that are in agreement with our own values. It makes us feel more understood and supported. One study showed that when individuals were aligned with the company culture and had a focus on innovation as a value strategy, their profitability grew 17%.
Do your personal values match your company’s values?
For example, honesty and transparency may be values that someone holds in high regard, ones they need to see reflected in their organization. In their ideal team, this may surface as clear, open communication with employees and clients. It can heard in their internal language as building trust between people and focusing on more than just the bottom line.
When an organization successfully lives their values, it’s visible to individuals internally and externally in the form of its employer brand. This representation of values makes is easy for people to spot if they are in agreement with that organization, and if they want to be a part of it.
When thinking about how to retain top talent, it starts at the beginning. Prospective candidates should be able to easily understand if company values align with their personal values, opening the doors for employees to bring their full selves to work. Once hired, they should see the follow-through of those values in the actions that an organization takes.
- Make a list of behaviors and actions that you see repeated on a day to day basis in your organization and what values they represent.
- Review your list of daily demonstrated values and what your organization says it values. Do they match up?
- If they do not align, then consider which list is the genuine list of values of the organization? Should one list or another be adjusted?
Pillar 3: Recognition
When was the last time you were recognized for going above and beyond at work?
Recognition should be a habit, just like brushing your teeth or drinking your morning cup of coffee. It fosters belonging while building purpose and improving engagement. Even better, companies that score highest for building a "recognition-rich culture" have 31% lower turnover rates than their peers.
Making recognition part of your company culture is key to organizational success. We all want our contributions to matter, and when they are well recognized in meaningful ways, it reinforces our connections to that organization and its mission – in short, belonging.
How can you make sure your recognition is well-received? Understand the characteristics of impactful and effective recognition:
Recognition should come from all directions, not just top down. To retain employees, empower everyone – from interns to leadership – to give recognition to their peers, especially across departments. It helps create an environment where individuals feel like they belong and matter to the whole organization, a place where they want to stay.
- Ask employees at multiple levels if they feel empowered to share recognition daily and if they feel appreciated.
- If so, encourage them to be specific about what element of a person’s skills helped complete positive outcomes and ways they prefer to be appreciated.
- If not, revisit recognition best practices, and start change with team leadership.
Embrace belonging to retain top talent
To summarize, our greatest company culture successes come when these three pillars are embodied in the entire employee experience:
- Internal Language
The more engrained and positive our habits in these pillars, the higher our potential to help others connect to us and feel like they belong!
How have your own organizations followed (or not followed) these pillars? Tell us in the comments below.