The Importance of Belonging at Work by Stephanie Creary

Most of us spend the majority of our time Monday through Friday working. Whether that’s still at the office or now from home, it’s still crucial that employees at all levels feel that they belong and can be themselves at work.

During DiversityInc’s virtual Top 50 Announcement event on May 5, 2020, Stephanie J. Creary, PhD, talked about the importance of belonging at work. Creary is an assistant professor of management at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

For the past two years, Creary and her team researched the factors driving feelings of inclusion and belonging in companies today. Creary defined a feeling of belonging as being comfortable and feeling accepted in the workplace. She defined inclusion as an employee feeling accepted and valued for their differences.

Feelings of inclusion and belonging improve engagement, performance, promotion and retention at the workplace. Employees with a high sense of belonging take 75% fewer sick days than employees who don’t feel like they belong and receive twice as many raises and have a 50% lower turnover rate, according to Creary’s research.

“We’re currently facing economic uncertainty and we don’t know when business will return to normal or if we’ll be facing a new normal,” Creary said. “While disruptive times often breed uncertainty and a scaling back of investments and workforce talent, research has found that companies that are resilient and renew their commitment to employee development in a downturn recover more quickly.”

Part of Creary’s research over the past several years has been collaborating with other researchers to categorize different methods of diversity, inclusion and belonging and then tying them to actual workplace results. Phase one of their research involved interviewing people from a variety of industries. In phase two, the researchers created a survey for employees.

Three categories of practices —mentoring and sponsorship, managerial involvement and workplace policies — are the primary drivers for feelings of belonging. Forty-two percent of belonging is accounted for by having access to mentors and sponsors, Creary said. Thirty-five percent of belonging is related to having a manager that regularly checks in and talks about diversity and inclusion. Twenty-three percent of belonging is having access to workplace policies such as flexible work arrangements.

But the study is not over yet. Creary and her team partnered with DiversityInc to further their research in the business case for increasing diversity and inclusion.

“We’re continuing to investigate the relationship among diversity and inclusion practices and employees’ experiences at work with a focus on the factors driving feelings of inclusion and belonging in companies today,” Creary said. “[DiversityInc] has a long history of valuing data-driven and evidence-based practices. This partnership is well-aligned.”

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