Belonging – What is it?

To feel a sense of belonging means to be accepted… It’s a human need, just like the need for food and shelter. Feeling that you belong is vitally important to seeing value in life as well as coping with intensely painful emotions.

Why would we be interested in ‘Belonging’ in the workplace? …. why is it important?

Belonging and supportive relationships are critical in the workplace, not only to career development but to employee engagement, effective project work and the effectiveness of teams. Having someone to turn to in moments of stress and pressure are key to how we respond and react to those events. Being able to share concerns, as well as successes and getting advice and guidance on the best way forward. Matthew Critchlow [1] at the University of Westminster describes supportive relationships as having three components, Belonging, Sharing and Practical support.

What does it feel like to ‘belong’ in the workplace?

It might feel like there’s an appreciation of each other for our unique backgrounds, or that we can really simply just be ourselves at work without worrying about whether that’s acceptable or whether we’ll be judged. It might simply be being accepted without condition.

The importance of Belonging applies to everyone, not just a selected few.

Diversity is measured by numbers and percentages.

Inclusion is measured by whether you feel included, whether your insights and perspectives matter….Is this enough?

Fostering belonging at work is essential if we want to retain our talented employees.

If people don’t feel like they belong, that their differences aren’t celebrated and they’re not supported, they won’t stay, and you risk losing their talent along with all of the investment that you’ve put into their development.

People who often feel least like they belong are protected by legislation;

The 9 protected characteristics (under the 2010 Equality act) are as follows;

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Gender reassignment
  • Marriage and Civil Partnership
  • Pregnancy and Maternity
  • Race
  • Religion and belief
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation

There are real benefits to actively encouraging workplace diversity, research by TalentLyft [2] showed the following benefits

  • Increased profits
  • Higher employee engagement
  • Reduced staff turnover
  • Better organisational reputation
  • Better decision making
  • Different perspectives
  • Increased creativity
  • Faster problem solving
  • Increased innovation

What positive actions can we take to foster a sense of belonging at work?

  • Introducing someone as a ‘whole person’, beyond their roles and responsibilities.
  • Asking people how they feel—and genuinely listening.
  • Soliciting input from people in meetings—and not speaking over them.
  • Delegating tasks in a way that demonstrates trust.
  • Really paying attention during meetings and avoiding distractions.
  • Sharing stories and encouraging others to share their own stories – This can be particularly effective.
  • Introduce a way to allow emotional expression in team meetings. The simplest way is with a ‘check in ‘when the meeting starts.
  • Being an ‘Ally’ a supporter and advocate, everyone can be an Ally for someone else.
  • Coach or Mentor others.


To belong is to matter’ [3] Our sense of belonging predicts how meaningful our life is perceived to be. There are real, tangible benefits to fostering belonging in the workplace not least that it’s a good, human and kind way to be.



[1] Supportive relationships RQi . University of Westminster. Matthew Critchlow.

[2] Benefits of workplace diversity – TalentLyft

[3] To belong is to matter – Lambert, Stillman, Hicks et al.


About the author: Janette Kirk-Willis

‘We Are The Positive Psychology People’


Find out more about positive psychology courses and training at 

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