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Belonging at work: why bother?

This blogpost is part of the “Belonging is a mindset” blog series derived from my academic research on ‘internal communication and belonging in the virtual workplace’ for the Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University. The data from this study was collected from new hires who started their jobs in the middle of the pandemic and internal communication practitioners. This blogpost is part of my literature review.

Since the pandemic hit, the issue of belonging seems to have become more popular than ever before. It followed the demand for more diversity and inclusion in the workplace. I have reason to believe that not being in the same workspace contributed to this need. But what does research say? How does it really impact our work? Why should anyone who cares about productivity bother?

Belonging makes us thrive

Several studies on the sense of belongingness have shown that having it positively impacts one’s emotions. Individuals who feel that they belong show more of their authentic selves and can be more themselves (Perry 2018). Where there is a sense of belonging, individuals thrive, can become their best selves, and also contribute fully in the workplace (Brown 2010; Brown 2019; Johnson 2020). Having strong social connections results in well-being and longer life (Achor 2011; Seligman 2004; Seligman 2012). Feeling safe in a group or a team aids better learning and innovation (Edmondson 1999) not only for the individual but in a group (Murphey et al. 2010).

Where there is a sense of belonging, individuals become their best selves.

Recent practitioner research on belonging at work quantified the positive effects of belonging in better productivity and fewer sick days (BetterUp 2020, House 2021). When an employee feels a sense of belongingness at work, productivity increases by 25%. Where there is a feeling of rejection, the productivity level of an employee decreases by 56%. Ogbonnaya et al. (2018) note that where employees have a high sense of belongingness at work, an organisation is also deemed to be more resilient.

Belonging leads to better productivity and fewer sick days.

Non-belonging leads to poor performance

If belongingness in the workplace increases job satisfaction and motivation and results in positive work outcomes, I can postulate that a sense of non-belongingness thwarts all of these possibilities. Research supports this idea. A sense of non-belongingness in the workplace makes people feel left out, that they do not matter and do not fit in, which can lead to a lack of trust, low self-concept, and eventually not contributing (Waller 2020). Several studies (Ozcelik and Barsade 2011; Firoz and Chaudhary 2021) found out that loneliness at work led to poor performance, lack of creativity, and lower organisational commitment. A recent study (Bartholomeusz et al. 2021) focused on workplace loneliness during the coronavirus pandemic and found that the majority of employees felt lonely during the pandemic, with effects on their commitment and performance.

Non-belonging leads to a lack of trust, low self-concept and eventually, not contributing.

Cockshaw et al. (2013) assert that non-belongingness at work contributes to depressive symptoms. The worst that could happen in a workplace where one cannot find connection with colleagues, identification, and meaning would be taking one’s own life. According to Joiner (2005, 2010), people choose suicide when they feel that they are burdensome or do not belong. Boccio and Macari (2013) claim that improving the sense of belongingness can improve such situations and stop workers from committing suicide.

A sense of non-belongingness can lead to depression, or worst, suicide.

What can we do?

Can we change this dynamic through internal communication? Words have been known to change minds (Charvet 1995; Mercer 2002; Phoel 2006). My study posits that internal communication can make a change where belonging at work is lacking. Where internal communication is most effective, it will not only manage an organisation’s messaging but also influence the emotions and motivation level of its employees.

In the next blog post, we will find out the roots of the concept of belonging and some perspectives around it.


  • You will find a full list of references here.
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