How to retain staff? Make them feel like they belong

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Build a sense of belonging

When it comes to staff retention, a sense of belonging is a key component to success.

It’s widely recognised that a diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace offers benefits for employers and employees, including increased employee engagement and retention, enhanced innovation and creativity, improved reputation and better decision-making. This isn’t a new concept, the roots of the term Diversity, Equity and Inclusion stem from the US’s civil rights movement of the ‘60s, and yet, it’s still an agenda topic for many boardrooms.
Consider just one element, diversity, from a single gendered lens. In Australia, the gender pay gap currently stands at 23 per cent, in 2012 it was 17 per cent – it’s moved backwards. In New Zealand it currently stands at 10 per cent, in 2012 it was nine per cent. It’s estimated that it will take another 132 years to close the global economic gender gap, executive teams will take at least 29 years to reach parity in gender and 24 years to reach cultural parity and there is still too little data to meaningfully measure racial, LGBTQIA+ or disability inclusion.
Apart from a simple sense of fairness, DE&I strategies assist in fostering a sense of belonging, and belonging is a key component in employee retention. In fact, we found that employees that felt a sense of belonging to their place of work were 2.49 times more likely to stay with that organisation. Not only do employees who feel like they belong tend to stay in an organisation, they also tend to perform better and have higher levels of engagement and wellbeing. So how can leaders ensure their DE&I strategies help drive a sense of belonging in their teams, especially with hybrid work being so prevalent. 

Work is about people

The very simple act of recognising that work is about people, not the company, and that every person brings a mixture of lived experiences is a great first step to creating an inclusive environment. A workplace culture that recognises and celebrates individuality encourages team members to bring their whole selves to work. By using DE&I strategies to demonstrate that not only do leaders recognise the difference in individuals, but celebrates them, managers can create an environment where everyone feels like they can be their authentic selves.

Embed in the day to day

Bringing DE&I to life in routine, day-to-day work helps promote inclusion. DE&I strategies aren’t the sole domain of the HR team or business leaders – everyone is responsible for achieving the desired goals through their daily activities. Encourage teams to create working patterns that allow everyone to fully participate, recognise the value that each team member brings to the table, advocate for everyone’s voice to be heard and be invested in colleagues’ growth and development. Simple ways that inclusiveness can be demonstrated in the day to day include:
  • Setting coordinated core work hours that allow an amount of flexibility for those that might need it. 
  • Allow for protected time so people with other life commitments such as caring roles can take time offline without fear of missing out. These might be slots for breaks or uninterrupted work and times after which calls won’t be accepted. Block protected time in calendars so that no meetings or calls are scheduled then. 
  • Together, agree upon a meeting cadence – what’s an acceptable number and length and how do these look different from check ins or stand ups.  
  • Align on work locations. If it’s a hybrid team, agree together on what days you want to be in the office.  
  • Finally, commit to revising the agreed norms, taking in team members personal situations that might change. Hold one another accountable for respecting agreed-upon norms.  
Simply devising agreed daily norms can help create a sense of psychological safety in the workplace as everyone understands what’s expected of them, and when, so there are fewer surprises.
To build further on that sense of psychological safety, ensure members feel that they can speak up in the workplace without fear of being blamed. There should be a sense that employees can test the status quo and challenge ideas. Encourage work to be thought of as a learning opportunity and to approach challenges with curiosity.  

Show that you care

When someone feels valued, it goes a long way to making them feel like they belong. Direct people managers are best placed to be able to demonstrate gratitude for an individual’s contributions, but at an organisational scale, executives can show appreciation through the benefits the business offers. Designing a benefits program that can be applicable to all demographic groups signals to teams that you care about their distinct needs. For example. organisations can offer floating public holidays that allow individuals to take the time off when it makes more sense to their culture or promoting diversity when it comes to succession planning.

Culture and DE&I

A business’ culture can simply be thought of as witnessed behaviours. If a person states that they are responsible, caring and honest, but their behaviours don’t reflect these values, then your culture is not that. To make culture clear, each behaviour displayed in a work setting must consistently reflect your stated beliefs. If a diverse, equitable and inclusive culture is what you want to build, then at every step these behaviours must be demonstrated. Whether that’s through an organisation’s onboarding strategy, or how you conduct yourself at work every day. Conversely, there may need to be ways to hold people accountable if their actions are counter to the stated values. Executives should be responsible for setting clear strategies that support culturally aligned behaviours, leaders should be empowered to hold people accountable to these values and every individual employee has the responsibility to ensure that they demonstrate those values at work, every day and with every action. When there’s a clearly defined and demonstrated cultural alignment to DE&I strategies a safe space can be created where everyone feels like they belong.
The Hays Salary Guide FY23/24 offers market insights and workforce trends based on data from more than 14,000 respondents across Australia and New Zealand. Download your copy now.

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