Five Ways that Leaders can Build a Culture of Belonging

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Last month, I had a chance to reconnect with my family and friends in the Philippines. It took me close to three years before I visited home since the COVID-19 pandemic started. While there were many reunions, it didn’t take much for me to once again realize and experience what makes the Filipino culture so special—it is, to me, the strong sense of belonging.

Is it because I was with my fellow-Filipinos? Is it because of the newfound meaning in get-togethers because of the many years that have passed? Is it because we just deeply missed each other?

I’d say it’s all of the above.

I also believe that it is because as a culture, we truly and deeply value that sense of belonging. This is not to say that other cultures don’t. I am sure they also do. But there’s just something about how we, Filipinos, take time to meaningfully connect with our families, friends and even colleagues.

It is no surprise that when I first learned about the Great Place to Work® Trust Index™ Model many years ago, I knew right away that it’s something that Philippines-based companies can easily resonate with. We believe that what makes a workplace great is the quality of relationships in the organization. It goes back to the very core of what we value in our Filipino culture.

We’ve even seen this at the onset of the pandemic, where many workplaces drew strength from the collective efforts of employees regardless of their role or position in the organization. What we’ve also witnessed is how companies who invested in building a high-trust, people-first workplace culture way before the pandemic started, bounced back faster than the rest.

Yes, it is because in these workplaces, employees collaborate and innovate. And a key factor that drives collaboration, creativity and innovation is a culture of belonging. In an environment where people can be their true selves because they feel heard, seen and valued, employees then feel comfortable to be at their best. And when this happens, companies are able to maximize human potential.

In the Philippines Best Workplaces™ Insights Report 2022, we dug deep into the key ways to maximize human potential. And if you read my recent post on LinkedIn, you’ll know this is important because maximizing human potential is what shifts workplaces from great to best.

Without purpose and belonging being active in the workplace, employee experience plummets, attrition rates rise and eventually, the business is negatively impacted.

Knowing these, what can we leaders do to ingrain that sense of belonging in our culture?

Sparking Belonging

Ted Kitterman, a Content Manager from Great Place to Work® US, shared invaluable insights in his blog post entitled, “7 Drivers That Build Belonging in the Workplace.” I feel Ted’s reminders are those every leader should hear.

I was also delighted to learn from Precy Servito’s candidness and pride in his company, Foodpanda.

And so, collectively, here are some of the things I’ve picked up from both of their wisdom about boosting feelings of belonging in the workplace—which any leader can do.

1. Practicing Impartiality

In the past two years, I’ve seen increasing negative sentiments around employees’ experience on impartiality in their workplace. One of the possible reasons is the lack of facetime, which made it more challenging to accurately read social cues. In return, cases of bias and partiality have possibly become more apparent and rampant in the workplace. Nonetheless, these matters of impartiality are no longer surprising news.

At the same time, impartiality does not just appear out of thin air. It is a symptom of underlying problems in the workplace that have been left unattended. These can be issues around favoritism, inequity in pay or benefits or even accessibility to information. And while these are crucial matters that are best addressed accordingly and immediately, it’s important to note that they are not the main issue. The root problem is usually really poor communication.

For example, many leaders argue that the number of meetings they’ve had during the pandemic has doubled or even tripled. But volume and quality are two different things. Which begs the question: are you truly in good communication with your people?

Are you intentional in your interactions with your staff? Do you connect with authenticity by allowing yourself to be vulnerable? Do you patiently listen and make the other person feel that they are genuinely heard and are supported? Or are you communicating out of a checklist and your goal is merely to ensure that the message was passed along? Worse, is your dialogue driven by your own (secret) personal agenda that erodes prospective opportunities to connect?

When leaders do not lead with impartiality, members of the organization will feel the need to forcibly assimilate to be accepted and to have to compete to belong—when they shouldn’t have to.

Ted couldn’t have said it better, “Poor leadership and favoritism will mar efforts to create an inclusive workplace…

2. Treating Employees as Valued Participants

When employees feel valued and they know they’re creating a positive impact with their work, ideas and opinions—they will naturally agree that they belong. Ask yourself these questions:

Do your employees feel like what they do makes a difference in the business, or is work just a passive everyday activity done to make a living?

Do people feel involved in business decisions or are only a few hand-picked and touted “valuable” enough for their opinion?

Does every individual feel listened to and welcomed regardless of their rank or tenure?

The reality is that in every interaction that we make, we impact the other person in one way or another. As leaders, it’s on us to turn those interactions into positively impactful channels—one that builds the person up and not tear them down.

3. Espousing a Culture of Recognition

In our Philippines Best Workplaces Insights Report 2022, we shared that one of the ways to build belonging is by having a conscious effort to execute company practices that target different people and their unique needs.

In the vein of that thought, recognition somewhat works the same way. The act of recognizing our employees’ contributions sends a message that their unique potential is appreciated.

Recognition, whether from peers or management, goes a long way. According to our research, compared to those who don’t receive recognition, people who feel recognized are:

  • 6 times more likely to think promotions are fair
  • 2 times more likely to say innovative thinking is embraced
  • 2 times more likely to say people at their organization go above and beyond

Data from Great Place to Work also shows that 87% percent of workers feel higher levels of belonging when everyone is empowered at an organization. So, tap someone at the back for a job well done; generously give work-related compliments; recognize others’ efforts.

4. Embracing Who They Are

We leaders need to encourage our people to bring their whole selves to work and it starts with us doing this first.

We need to stop adopting several “faces” and drop our different “hats” when we come to work and allow ourselves to arrive as our true selves. Because pretending to be someone else connotes that who you are doesn’t fit in with the crowd.

After all, great workplaces create a culture that is For All™—meaning an environment where all are empowered to reach their full human potential.

5. Adopting Purpose-Driven Belonging

One of the memorable things that happened during my recent trip back home was our first in-person event called GREATER: Bound for Recovery. That event brought a sense of belonging amongst the Great Place to Work-Certified companies. Looking back, I can’t help but remember the words of wisdom that Precy Servito, Senior Manager for Learning and Organizational Development, shared during the event.

When asked what being Great Place to Work-Certified™ means for him and the company, he said, “More than that, it [Great Place to Work Certification™] gives our employees not just pride but also confidence. We want to wear the Foodpanda shirt because we're not just a brand, but we are Great Place to Work-honored (Certified™). And I feel that when we have that certification, it means that we are able to benchmark against the other companies as well. Because this is how we can compare our performance in terms of management and employer branding against the other companies in the Philippines.”

Precy was frank on what Foodpanda’s intentions are for getting Certified. They desire to be recognized not just as a mobile application that delivers food and groceries to your doorstep, but also as a great place to work in.

When asked to expound on the advantages the Certification brings, Precy beamed with pride, “So in terms of the benefits that the GPTW Certification brings us, there’s retention. Because people can proudly say that ‘I work for the Foodpanda brand and we are a Great Place to Work-Certified.’ ”

I shared the above because I find that Precy’s story about the Certification’s benefits is a testament to the sense of belonging in the organization.

When people feel proud to tell others where they work or would strongly endorse their company to friends and family as a great place to work, it also most likely translates to a happy workforce who share the same purpose/mission/values with the company. And when they do, that also results in people strongly believing they belong where they are now.

This is the Certification’s amazing aftereffect for Foodpanda—a higher retention rate and a happier, stronger workforce bonded by their love and pride for the brand.

Greater Awaits

In the Philippines, villages are somewhat recognized as these small close-knit communities. They’re also one of the best places to see Filipino culture live in action.

For me, there is a similarity between Great Place to Work-Certified companies achieving their “badge of honor” and what goes around in a Filipino village. As leaders, our companies become our turf and “village.” And when we foster inclusivity and impartiality in our community, we achieve a strong sense of belonging for all those who reside within it.

And because you are a great workplace, you also understand that to build environments that are For All, we must tread beyond our “villages.” Apart from our spaces, we have a “city” yet to explore and build an even GREATER sense of belonging in.

As leaders, we also need a community where we can openly share best practices, boldly ask questions and air out challenges. This is the very purpose of our Greater community in Great Place to Work.

Join us.

Want to build that sense of purpose and belonging in your team? Let’s get you Certified™!

Looking for a community to join and experience that sense of belonging I’ve been talking about? You’re more than welcome in our Greater Community. Feel free to message me to know more!

Antoniette Mendoza-Talosig

Antoniette Talosig is the Managing Partner of Great Place to Work® Philippines and the Lead Consultant for Singapore.  Driven by her passion to help people be the best that they can be, Toni started Great Place to Work® in the Philippines with a vision to create a high-trust workplace experience for every Filipino.  She has close to two decades of partnership with some government agencies, SMEs, MNCs and some Fortune 100 companies across industries and geographies. Toni believes being a mother is the greatest adventure of her life and she enjoys seeing the world with her family. 

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To be eligible for the World’s Best Workplaces list, a company must apply and be named to a minimum of 5 national Best Workplaces lists within our current 58 countries, have 5,000 employees or more worldwide, and at least 40% of the company’s workforce (or 5,000 employees) must be based outside of the home country. Extra points are given based on the number of countries where a company surveys employees with the Great Place to Work Trust Index©, and the percentage of a company’s workforce represented by all Great Place to Work surveys globally. Candidates for the 2017 Worlds Best Workplaces list will have appeared on national workplaces lists published in September 2016 through August 2017.