When employees feel like they belong in an organization, they’ll give you their all. When they feel like outsiders, you’ll only get a half-hearted effort at best.
Belonging is a basic human drive, along with food, water and shelter. Yet, many leaders overlook its importance in the workplace and, in fact, may be creating a “culture of exile” that drives employees away.
“No one is purposely making people feel they don’t belong, but they’re also not proactively making them feel they do—and that’s a huge mistake,” says Christine Comaford, author of The New York Times best-seller, SmartTribes: How Teams Become Brilliant Together.
Here are five red flags, according to SmartTribes, that warn managers they are fostering a culture of exile:
1. Certain people get preferential treatment. Maybe there are different sets of rules for different employees—full timers vs. part-timers, salaried staff vs. hourly staff, friends of the boss vs. nonfriends.
Preferential treatment is a damagingbehavior and a major culprit in making people feel exiled. Follow a leadership code of conduct (see box below) that demands you treat all employees fairly and equally.
2. Cliques and inside jokes flourish. It’s amazing how little difference there is between dynamics in high school and the workplace. While leaders can’t (and shouldn’t) interfere with friendships between workers, you can set an example of inclusion. Make an effort to help everyone feel they belong. Host fun workplace events and celebrations that strengthen bonds between all co-workers.
Leaders do set the tone. If you focus on belonging, everyone will.
3. There are obvious signs of hierarchy. Managers may unintentionally send the message that there’s a stark division between theteam and employees. It’s the manager’s job to break down those walls and create a true team. “Belonging” means everyone is equal and marching together toward common goals. Getting rid of any symbols of divisiveness is a good start.
4. Entrenched silos lead to information withholding and turf wars. Departments are often different from one another, but they needn’t be alienated. When employees have that reassuring sense that they belong to the company overall, they don’t have to close ranks and play power games. They can share and collaborate because now it’s safe to do so.
5. There’s no path for personal development or advancement. True belonging is knowing that you’re not just a cog in the machine. It’s knowing that management cares about your future and wants you to live up to your potential. That’s why it’s wise to have a written development plan for every employee at every level. That type of effort tells employees “You’re safe here, you belong, you’re part of the tribe.”
The bottom line: Helping employees feel a sense of togetherness can dramatically boost performance, morale and engagement. When people feel they truly belong, they do everything in their power to make sure the team is successful.
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