The need to belong in the workplace
blogJanuary 17, 2023

The need to belong in the workplace

What is it and why should it be a priority for companies in 2023

Article presentation
In today's article we will be talking about the need to belong in the workplace, what it is and why it should be a priority for companies in 2023.

The need to belong - a short introduction

In definition the need to belong refers to the idea that humans have a fundamental motivation to be accepted into relationships and be part of a group or society. The need to belong, then, is characterized by the desire to form and maintain relationships that have a certain balance of positivity and negativity. 

Although being a very studied field by psychologists and a proven theory, both in theory and in real experiments, it is important to know that the need to belong is not necessarily referring to a one-to-one relationship. Some studies show that the benefits of connections can be also extracted from an affiliation with larger groups, such as clubs, universities, fan communities, etc.

So as you can imagine, although social belonging is embedded in our DNA, the recent years of pandemic and the ongoing conflicts have put a strain on how we interact with one another and in some cases brought isolation both at work and in personal life. Needless to say that our way of interacting has changed and with it our needs in some ways have shifted, but at the end of the day belonging is something that is as important as before, if not even more important. 

The concept of belonging is crucial for understanding individuals and how they inhabit and contribute to their workplaces. The ability to share practices in a community, to create meaning, to contribute to shared objectives, to learn via engagement, to grasp new forms of identity through interactions with others, are all related to feeling a sense of belonging at work. 

Also, in an era when workplaces are still feeling the impact of work discrimination, it is vital that they foster a culture of belonging to encourage diversity, equity and inclusion, as well as maximizing employee performance. In order for employees to feel valued, safe and supported, companies need to create and maintain a culture of belonging.

The study shows

In a 2018 study, Culture Amp and Paradigm measured employee experience across seven factors related to diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. They found that belonging factors were most strongly and consistently correlated with employee engagement. In fact, belonging is the only variable that has been shown to be consistently and universally related to a person's commitment, motivation, and pride in the workplace. Even when they took into account differences in gender, ethnicity, age or sexual orientation, their data showed that an employee was more likely to be engaged if they showed a high level of sense of belonging.

In 2019, a study done by BetterUp shows that employees who find a sense of belonging at work outperform those who do not by 56%. Belonging is also one of the main reasons why the employees are willing to recommend their employer to others, showing a rate for organizational promoter score at an average 167% higher. Additionally, they take fewer medical leave days,  have a lower turnover rate and they obtain 18 times more promotions and a double increase in pay. In essence what they found is that belonging supports recruiting and retaining top talent, which is what most of the companies are saying that they are struggling with nowadays.  

Similar data was shown in a report by Glint that found, in the first half of 2020, the impact of sense-of-belonging on employee happiness increased 12%; by 2021 it became a key motivator for good workplace culture.

The significance of these findings takes on new meaning within the context of the global pandemic and the actual divisive state in which we are at the start of 2023. Consider how the prevalence of remote work and widespread isolation make it harder for people to build and maintain meaningful relationships at work or foster a sense of belonging. At the beginning of 2020 when the WHO declared the pandemic state for COVID-19, BetterUp revealed that the feelings of belonging dropped dramatically, one in four employees didn’t feel part of the organization. The result of course was a significant impact on productivity, job satisfaction and organizational commitment. 

Another recent study from 2021, conducted by McKinsey, showed that more than 50% of those who kept their jobs during the pandemic felt unappreciated, and had a complete lack of sense of belonging. 

The behaviors that build and maintain relationships are different when we aren’t physically present with one another. And our understanding of what a sense of belonging even means is still forming—especially in the virtual world. These conditions have emphasized the importance of social connection, inclusion, and belonging for everyone—it is a fundamental human need.

What does actually contribute to a sense of belonging 

A study from 2018 made among managers in social and health-care services in Finland found six categories of factors that foster sense of belonging:

  • Open interaction - even though they are different from others' viewpoints, one should be free to share their thoughts and beliefs. Along with a balanced discussion, there should also be active listening on all sides.
  • Effective conversation culture - regular meetings, discussions, and the ability to spend time together were considered to be the foundation of an effective conversation culture. Regular meetings consist of official gatherings, appointments, team-building days. Discussion of work-related topics, including challenges, was possible during these joint conversations. It was also possible to gain feedback on one's own ideas through group discussions. Furthermore, it was observed that it was vital to provide a forum for open discussion outside of the scheduled meetings.
  • Support and encouragement -  giving and receiving advice, cooperating on work-related issues, and sharing knowledge with coworkers are all examples of ways people may support and encourage one another. 
  • Common values - humor, trust, respect, admiration, honesty, and sharing of the same ideals were listed as examples of common values. In addition to reciprocal appreciation, the respondents emphasized respect for the expertise, education, and labor of others. Like admiration, trust may also be expressed as confidence in the knowledge of another person. Uniformity of job-related values and attitude toward work were used to characterize having similar values.
  • A shared vision of the work and its objectives - mutual goals and working methods, shared norms and adherence to them, acknowledging the effort done by others, and teamwork have all been described as aspects of a shared vision of the job and its aims.
  • The structure of leadership - in terms of leadership structure, it is characterized by functional practices and a good relationship between superiors and subordinates. It consisted of establishing clear goals, clearly dividing work tasks, having a reasonable number of managers and organizational meeting practices and schedules, and having a clear process for making decisions.

6 factors that contribuite to a sense of belongin

In the same study, the researchers have identified five categories of factors that inhibit the sense of belonging:

  • Negative work atmosphere - an unfavorable work environment was defined as one marked by mistrust, rivalry, resentment, underestimating others (including their work and duties), gossiping about others behind their backs, self-interest, and a lack of appreciation for others' abilities and efforts.
  • Lack of common time - little time for team meetings and collegial conversation.
  • Structural solutions in the organization - the organizational structure, the separation between functional units, and organizational modifications are all examples of structural solutions. A lack of a sense of belonging in the workplace has been attributed to the organization's structure and scope, as well as to meetings with excessively lengthy lines and a growing number of coworkers (more than 10). Managers could not know every employee because of the size of the company.
  • Problems that occur at the organizational level - financial circumstances, a lack of a single vision, a lack of common goals, a lack of commitment to group agreements and choices, and a lack of collaboration were listed here.
  • Issues related to leadership and management - information flow issues, ignoring formal organizational leadership lines, and inadequate leadership and management were all issues with leadership and management.

5 factors that inhibit the sense of belonging

One's sense of belonging at work, according to research by Coqual, a nonprofit think tank, is rooted in four aspects:

  •  being recognized for one's individual contributions;
  •  feeling connected to one's coworkers;
  •  being supported in one's daily work and career development;
  •  being proud of one's organization's values and purpose.

Other studies show that the sense of belonging is a result of job crafting, meaning that employees that make bottom-up changes to the task and relational boundaries of their work have more meaningful relations, more autonomy, and competence that leads to a greater sense of belonging  (Slemp, Kern,  & Vella-Brodrick,  2015).

Furthermore, Albrecht (2013) also acknowledged that feeling appreciated, having mutual respect, gratitude, and interpersonal communication with colleagues, are essential elements of a meaningful work experience and are closely related to enhancing a sense of belonging. 

Belongingness theory suggested that when a supervisor appreciates an individual's work, he would emotionally attach to the organization (Baumeister  &  Leary, 1995). Also, belongingness theory supports the relationship that the feeling of affective commitment can enhance the sense of belongingness at the workplace, hence when the individual perceives emotional attachment at work,  he would have a  strong sense of belongingness.  It is consistent with the findings of (Cockshaw & Shochet, 2010) that affective commitment increases belongingness. The theory further explains that a sense of emotional attachment to the organization refers to creating the perception of acceptance by the group members and belongingness at the workplace.

How to create a sense of belonging in our organizations in 2023

According to Maslow's Hierarchy, belonging is a fundamental human need. However, the science that explores the human need to belong is still relatively new and continues to expand its scope and validity every day as it explores how belonging to something bigger than oneself contributes to well-being and what it means for our well-being. 

In order to nurture a culture of belonging in the workplace, it is essential to examine new research, newly developed interventions, and rapidly emerging ideas within the psychology field of belonging. New data and research can refine and improve even the most effective ideas in cutting-edge science.

So what should the organization plan for in the upcoming years in order to foster a sense of belonging:

1. Implement a feedback system

  • Take into account suggestions from employees;
  • Create a psychologically secure environment where employees may take chances without fear of repercussions;
  •  Make it possible for colleagues to be more responsive to feedback.

2. Create recurring meetings

  • Send out the meeting invitation early and plan it in advance;
  • Select the attendees of your meetings carefully - all invitees should feel valued, respected and included;
  • Reduce meeting pressure by allowing time for everything;
  • Stage-setting:
    • establish ground rules;
    • make everyone feel welcomed;
    • go through the meeting agenda.
  • During the meeting:
    • interrupt disruptions; 
    • acknowledge valuable comments; 
    • be proactive in calling on people and checking in with remote  participants;
    • at the conclusion of every item on the agenda, pause to review and decide on the next actions.

3. Training and coaching

  • Continuous training on cognitive biases (subconscious) that can hinder the feeling of belonging;
  • Invest in behavior-based training that will inspire employees and managers to act more inclusively;
  • Coaching managers and leaders to take more emotional risks.

4. Values 

  • Embody the organization's values;
  • Get your colleagues to rescript the company values and here is an example of how we bring people together in order to shape the OceanoBe values
  • Openly talk about people’s values and how everyone can contribute to the vision.

 5. Encourage social bonds

  • Create events that cater to a variety of interests;
  • Bring people together both online and offline;
  • Have a safe space where people can share personal stories;
  • Encourage and support groups of people that have a common interest (running, cycling, reading, etc).

6. Proactive Intervention following a discriminatory act that helps process exclusion verbally

In this regard ask the excluded person:

  •  What should he/she say to comfort a left-out person?
  •  How may a situation be improved to make it more equitable?
  •  Pay close attention to the stories of others that have been excluded and how they worked through the situation.

7. Job crafting

  • Encourage people to share ideas on how to make their work better and then act and integrate the improvements. Changing up responsibilities/ adding or dropping the responsibilities set out in your official job description, changing up who we work with on different tasks, who we communicate and engage with on a regular basis, changing perspectives on what we’re doing, we can find or create more meaning about what might otherwise be seen as ‘busy work’.

With these ideas, we conclude our article on the need to belong in the workplace, and we hope that you will challenge your company to change in 2023 based on the ideas presented.


- Albrecht, S.L. (2013), "Work Engagement and the Positive Power of Meaningful Work", Bakker, A.B. (Ed.) Advances in Positive Organizational Psychology (Advances in Positive Organizational Psychology, Vol. 1), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 237-260.

- Atlassian, Building A Sense of Belonging

- Baumeister, R. F., & Leary, M. R. (1995). The need to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. Psychological Bulletin,117, 497–529.

- BetterUp (2019), “The value of belonging at work.New frontiers for inclusion.”

- Cockshaw, W. D., & Shochet, I. (2010). The link between belongingness and depressive symptoms: An exploration in the workplace interpersonal context. Australian Psychologist, 45(4), 283–289.

- Coqual 2020 The power of belonging. What it is and why it matters in today’s workplace

- Culture Amp and Paradigm 2018 Diversity, Inclusion and Intersectionality Report

- De Smet A., Dowling B., Mugayar-Baldocchi M. and Schaninger B (2021) “‘Great Attrition’ or ‘Great Attraction’? The choice is yours” McKinsey Quarterly

- Glint-May-2021-Employee-Well-Being-Report

- Lampinen, M.-S., Konu, A.I., Kettunen, T. and Suutala, E.A. (2018), "Factors that foster or prevent sense of belonging among social and health care managers", Leadership in Health Services, Vol. 31 No. 4, pp. 468-480.

- Slemp, G. R., Kern, M. L. and Vella-Brodrick, D. A., (2015). Workplace well-being: The role of job crafting and autonomy support. Psychology of Well-being, 5(1), 1-17