Posted: 24 Jun. 2020 5 min. read

Belonging in a time of crisis

Creating a sense of belonging at work

Creating a sense of organisational inclusion has been a growing organisational priority, with its significance exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. To help ensure the wellbeing of employees, organisations have shifted to working from home practices – including organisations that were previously opposed to the concept of a distributed workforce. Paradoxically, while technology enables instant communication with virtually anyone, it can also contribute to feelings of isolation. Many employees working virtually cite loneliness as one of their top remote working challenge. With work days stretching to be longer than ever before, employees are increasingly looking to their workplace for personal fulfilment and satisfaction4 - which can include, among other things, a sense of belonging. With all of this in mind, what can organisations do to increase their employees’ sense of belonging in the workplace?  

The answer lies in the results from the latest Deloitte 2020 Global Human Capital Report.

Aim: To identify the most pressing human capital issues for 2020. A secondary aim is to compare those trends to trends identified in previous years.   

Method: In 2019 Deloitte surveyed nearly 9,000 business and HR leaders across 119 countries. Topics were ranked on the basis of perceived importance and readiness to address. The 2020 report was launched in May 2020. 

Findings: Overall Deloitte found that belonging and wellbeing, were perceived as the most important human capital trends (79% and 80% respectively) in 2020. While there are findings in relation to other topics (e.g. compensation, ethics and reskilling) this summary focuses on the findings in relation to belonging.  

Drivers of Belonging in the Workplace:

Deloitte’s research found there are three core drivers that create a sense of belonging in the workplace (see figure 1):

  • Comfort: a work environment where employees are treated fairly and can bring their authentic selves to work (as indicated by twenty-five percent of respondents)
  • Connection:  having a sense of community and identifying with a defined team (as indicated by thirty-one percent of respondents)
  • Contribution: feeling aligned with the organisation’s purpose, mission and values and being valued for their individual contributions (as indicated by forty-four percent of respondents) 

Notably, contribution is the biggest driver to creating belonging in the workplace (total 44%). More importantly, high levels of contribution are enabled by high levels of comfort and connection. In other words, “the progression from comfort to connection to contribution is additive, whereby each step builds upon the previous one”.


Practical Insights for Organisations:

The Deloitte Insights article, Belonging: From comfort to connection to contribution (2020) describes how creating a sense of belonging at work is the outcome of these three mutually reinforcing attributes (comfort, connection, contribution).  

Comfort: Firstly, organisations can improve comfort by creating inclusive work environments, where employees feel respected and treated fairly. Organisations with inclusive cultures are likely to achieve better business outcomes, be high-performing and have a greater propensity to be innovative and agile.

Connection: Connection occurs on two levels: when employees have meaningful relationships with colleagues and their team and when they feel connected the organisation’s purpose and goal. One way to promote stronger connections among workers is through business resource groups. This is due to business groups connecting people of similar backgrounds and social identities.  

Contribution: Contribution occurs when employees can see how their individual talents make a meaningful difference to the organisation. The 2020 Global Human Capital trends survey results support the link between contribution and belonging – with 63% of respondents reporting that creating a sense of belonging supports organisational performance due to belonging amplifying the link between individual and organisational objectives. The Covid-19 pandemic has reminded organisations that people are most motivated when they can see how their work contributions are connected to a greater purpose and mission. 

Organisational Culture: Organisational culture and leadership behaviours were reported to be the most influential factors towards an organisation’s ability to create a sense of belonging (43% and 33% respectively).  A culture of belonging allows workers to feel respected and valued and encourages authentic and diverse perspectives. Providing workers with feedback or incentives demonstrates to workers that their work is valued by the organisation. Creating such an organisational culture requires leaders to reinforce the values of fairness, respect and psychological safety on their teams. 

What does this mean for organisations?

During times of crisis, people look towards their organisation, even more than usual, to provide them with more than just a paycheck. Indeed, employees are increasingly looking to their work for personal fulfilment and satisfaction – searching for ways to belong to something bigger than themselves. The Deloitte research reminds organisations that employees are most motivated when given the opportunity to meaningfully contribute to a greater purpose and mission. While it might seem that financial well-being should be the sole focus for organisations navigating the economic fall-out from COVID-19, a dual focus on fostering a culture of belonging will help ensure financial outcomes are achieved.


More about the author

Matthieu Etchegaray

Matthieu Etchegaray

Undergraduate, Consulting

Matthieu is a placement student within Human Capital Consulting. He is a provisional psychologist currently undertaking the Masters of Organisational Psychology. Matthieu has experience in the areas of selection and recruitment, and diversity and inclusion. His professional experience is coupled with strong academic and data analytic skills, as evidenced by a First Class Honours degree.