A Belonging Culture is the Solution to the Great Resignation
Updated: Jan 26, 2022
The WSJ reports that in the first ten months of 2021, workers handed in nearly 39M resignations (the highest ever since 2000). To stop the bleed, employers are testing four day work weeks, requiring employees to take time off, raising salaries, or enacting permanent work from home.
I don’t think that will do it; those perks are a good bandaid but they don’t keep someone around after the initial “high” they create. To really stop the bleeding, you have to give someone a reason to come to work every day and that means creating a belonging culture. And the best way to do that, according to the research, is through authentic communities.
An authentic community at your workplace means fostering team environments where employees can be their true unadulterated selves (who they are, without fear or armor) and be accepted by their peers. This also means making detractors feel welcome (so long as they’re not toxic).
Bad managers often get caught in the trap of putting out HR fires and monitoring performance. To create belonging requires a fundamental change in how managers operate. Failure to do so will further contribute to the Great Resignation, as employees who feel less connected and fulfilled are more likely to reassess their relationship with their employers and leave for opportunities they perceive as better.
To succeed at creating a culture of belonging, managers need to foster environments where employees:
Experience genuine hospitality in order to make them feel welcomed and cared for.
Create a physically and psychologically safe environment so they can be themselves.
Foster authentic peer-to-peer engagement so they can find friends (and even partners).
The above process drives intellectual curiosity (in both other colleagues and the work itself) and organizational commitment. Commitment increases retention so that tenured employees can show hospitality towards new people. Thus, a virtuous cycle is created.
In this pursuit, perhaps counterintuitively yet exceptionally important, CEOs need a sense of belonging in their own life before they try to create it at their company. This was a huge disadvantage for me as the CEO of a rapidly growing company. I didn’t have a sense of belonging in my own life outside of work so I tried to create it at the company I started. When we were small, it worked and I was getting the belonging fulfillment I needed.
As we grew, I failed to realize that some employees (especially more senior folks) had a sense of belonging through other avenues: family, meaningful friendships, houses of worship, support groups, etc. At the end of the day, however, I didn’t give employees the space they needed to have their own lives and I held them to an unreasonable standard.
Ultimately, belonging is the result of a multi-step process. Once unlocked, belonging doesn't only meet the intrinsic needs of individuals, but also creates a positive feedback loop. With a strong culture of belonging, employees stop thinking about leaving and, instead, actively work to bring people to the company. In turn, the culture of belonging becomes a magnet for great talent.