Improve Employee Retention Through Belonging
By Dr. Alice Burron
A desire to belong is a fundamental human characteristic. When employees spend over eight hours of the average 17 wakeful hours at work, a feeling of belonging at the workplace impacts how long they stay with the organization more than we realize.
Belonging goes deeper than doing the work we are hired to do. Work is also about being part of a work culture and feeling included, accepted, valued, and appreciated. Work involves a sense of connection, engagement, and shared purpose and identity with the company, its people, and its values. Employees with a strong sense of belonging feel like they are an integral part of the organization. And when they feel like they belong, they are less likely to leave.
A study published in the Journal of Management, Informatics, and Human Resources in 2019 examined the relationship between perceived organizational support, workplace social support, and turnover intentions. The findings showed that both perceived organizational support and workplace social support were negatively related to turnover, indicating that when employees feel supported and have a sense of belonging, they are less likely to have intentions to leave their organization.
What can employers do to promote a sense of employee belonging? One way is to offer support where employees need it the most – with their health, both during and after work. The National Health and Wellness Survey conducted by Kantar Health in 2017 examined the prevalence of presenteeism due to illness in the United States. The survey found that 45% of employees reported going to work despite feeling unwell at least once in the past year. This survey reveals an opportunity to offer support and inform employees about how to improve their health and manage it at work personally and meaningfully while also increasing presenteeism and their sense of belonging.
So, what are some ways we can support employee health while also increasing employee sense of belonging? We can do this by increasing self-awareness and relating that directly to health behaviors and decision-making. Three strategic opportunities that build a sense of belonging through self-awareness come to mind.
1. Offer self-awareness assessments. Good health propagates with self-discovery. Knowing more about our innate attributes and tendencies helps us understand our default tendencies and approaches to thinking and deciding, which spills into health situations, at work and otherwise. Help your employees discover their attitudes and propensities through self-assessments that give insight into their values, interests, personality, and tendencies. Examples include Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), Strengthsfinder, Emotional Intelligence, and Working Genius. Be sure to call out the results in light of how our inclinations contribute to health management and health-related decisions.
MBTI results, for example, can reveal if we tend to rely on logical analysis (thinking), personal values (feeling), a preferred approach (judging), or if we are flexible in our approach (perceiving). These results can be extended to health-related behaviors and patterns. Understanding our default approach can help us make informed choices regarding our health, such as selecting treatment options that align with our values and preferences or prompting us to intentionally explore other approaches to provide better insight and perspective before making a health decision. By empowering employees with this knowledge, organizations demonstrate a commitment to employee well-being and create an environment where individuals feel supported and valued.
2. Educate and provide resources that support and empower better decisions. Making decisions, especially when making complex health decisions, can be challenging. Many times we don’t think through decisions, in particular health-related decisions, at all. We make a choice on a whim or without being subject to critical thinking. Decision-making tools, like a force field analysis, a decision matrix, or even a simple pros and cons list, can help. Make a point to offer a variety of decision-making tools to serve as aids in the decision-making process, whether for health decisions or otherwise. Incorporate decision-making tools during onboarding to help with benefits option choice. This gesture creates a sense of belonging from day one of an employee’s career beginning. Additionally, offer decision-making resources throughout the year during open enrollment or health-focused events.
3. Bring in the experts. Provide employees regular opportunities to speak with a nurse, doctor, personal trainer, or health coach to discuss and answer health questions, give health guidance, and help employees achieve health goals. Speaking with professionals brings knowledge to the employees rather than having employees search for answers and resources. Encourage employees to prepare for the opportunity to meet with a health professional by bringing health assessment information with them, along with other health information relating to their health concerns. Remind employees of the self-awareness information previously gained and of available decision-making tools.
To encourage participation, communicate broadly in different delivery modalities. Communicate often, adding interesting, enticing words and whimsical or humorous titles to events to draw attention and create buzz. Afterward, gather testimonials to share and bring success stories to life. Even if employees don’t participate immediately, they will get a sense that their employer values their health and personally cares about them as an individual, which creates and fosters a deeper emotional connection and a sense of belonging within the organization.
First and foremost, employees are humans who want to belong. By intentionally and actively giving employees a chance to learn more about themselves and understand what impacts their behavior, particularly regarding health, organizations can create an environment that cultivates a sense of belonging. Doing this strengthens employees’ connection to the organization and fosters a desire to stay with the organization where they feel they belong.
Dr. Alice Burron is the founder and Principal Consultant at The Health Navigator Group, providing insights and transformative behavior and social-based solutions to improve individual and employee health. She has worked with thousands of individuals and dozens of large and small organizations to advance health behavior strategies and subsequently improve employee health and retention while decreasing healthcare costs.