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5 Things To Remember To Create a Culture of Belonging

Smiley Poswolsky

There are endless challenges in making people feel like they belong. Organizational changes that rock the boat for the most vulnerable employees, broader market conditions that lead to tough decisions, and even just the introduction of a hybrid work policy can shake things up enough for some folks to feel like they’re being left behind.

It might not be as simple as telling people they should bring their whole selves to work, but with some insight and a bit of elbow grease, you can create a culture that everyone can feel a part of.

I’m Adam Smiley Poswolsky, but you can call me “Smiley.” I’m a workplace belonging expert and I recently spoke at the EPIC conference in Las Vegas about building a culture of belonging and human connection in the future of work. I also just talked about workplace belonging on the HR Superstars podcast. Here’s the TL;DR.

Make the slowest runner on the team matter

I want to start by telling you a story. My freshman year of high school, I wanted to participate in some kind of sport. I’m not the biggest guy, so something like football wasn’t going to happen. I didn’t make the soccer team, either. One of the only sports left was cross-country running.

Turns out I was the slowest kid on the team. I never placed at any of our races, but I did find a spot as a sort of cheerleader. I ran all 12 seasons and I was captain my senior year. Yeah, the coach might have screamed at me during my first year, but once we got past that, I had a great season.

That’s what a real culture of belonging can do. If a PIP feels like a death sentence, then you know that culture needs work. But if the slowest runner on the team feels like they’re getting support from their manager and their team, you can empower everyone to do some amazing things.

Have a decentralized definition of belonging

For some people, belonging means being able to bring their whole selves to work. For others, it’s just about getting the support they need to do their best work.

Trying to appeal to one group over the other doesn’t create a culture of belonging; it brings one in while pushing out the other. The best way to ensure everyone feels welcome at your workplace is to give them the space to determine what they need to feel seen and heard. 

It’s different from person to person, and being able to hear these needs and adapt your HR strategy to them is crucial for building a culture where everyone belongs.

Build adaptability into your HR strategy

Having a flexible definition of belonging isn’t enough; your strategy needs to be flexible, too. Building any kind of HR strategy or initiative often starts with a survey. But one survey doesn’t solve your culture’s need for creating belonging, no matter how great your questions were. You need to build initiatives that are inherently adaptable.

Every single organization goes through phases of change. That can be broader market conditions, a pandemic, or even a wave of layoffs. Creating belonging looks different before, during, and after these changes. An HR strategy that isn’t adaptable is a strategy that leaves team members behind.

Adaptability means building change into everything you do and sourcing that change from your teams.

Prioritize belonging

We block off time for meetings and important projects, but rarely for belonging. I often hear from people that they don’t have time to meet with their colleagues to figure out what they need to feel like they belong.

Isn’t it ironic that we feel like we don’t have time to create human connections at work? What are we even using that time for if we can’t connect with each other?

As a leader, you have the power to make those connections more of a priority within your teams. Whether that means having more outings, encouraging people to connect with someone at least once a day, or even just building more collaboration into your projects. If you want your people to feel like they belong, you need to prioritize making that happen.

Re-design connection for the hybrid world

I’m a big proponent of hybrid and remote work. It’s given people more autonomy over their schedule, more time with their family, and more time for themselves. But since many of us made that big shift in 2020, people have been more disconnected than ever.

As an HR leader, you need to go out of your way to make those connections happen in your new hybrid or fully remote world.

Your culture of belonging doesn’t begin and end at the office; trying to make everyone fit into an office-first culture isn’t going to work. It takes more effort—and more budget—but facilitating those connections across the internet as well as your cubicles is a big part of making everyone feel like they’re part of something bigger.

Everyone belongs

If your workplace isn’t the kind of place where everyone feels like they belong, you have a serious problem on your hands. But it’s also an opportunity. An opportunity to build a stronger culture, to encourage the folks working with you to truly connect with each other, and to create a foundation that will bring the entire organization forward.

About the Author

When companies want to increase workplace belonging, human connection, and team engagement, they call Adam “Smiley” Poswolsky. Smiley is an internationally renowned keynote speaker, workplace belonging expert, and bestselling author of three books that have been translated into multiple languages, including Friendship in the Age of Loneliness and The Workplace Belonging Toolkit. Smiley has spoken about workplace belonging, the future of work, and company culture, at world-class organizations like Apple, Google, Verizon, JPMorgan Chase, and the U.S. Navy. Smiley’s TED talk has been viewed 2 million times, and he has delivered 600 keynotes in front of 250,000 people in 25 countries.

Learn more about Smiley and connect with him on LinkedIn