How To Keep Your Staff Sane During A Pandemic
There is a lot we are learning from the pandemic. One sure lesson for a lot of us is that a sense of connection and belonging is a fundamental human need. There are even studies that suggest that after a period of social isolation, we crave social interaction, and this occurs in the same part of the brain where we crave food after fasting. A low sense of belonging has also been found to be a major predictor of depression.
While lockdown measures around the world in this past year have been critical to reducing the spread of COVID-19, there’s no question that it hugely disrupted our habits of regular social interaction. As a result, people all over the world are now seeing the impact this is having on their mental health and wellbeing.
Why A Sense Of Belonging At Work Is Important
Belonging goes beyond just being part of a group. Individuals need to feel unity within a group and to identify with shared beliefs and values amongst its members. Furthermore, they need to feel welcomed, valued and accepted as a vital member of a community. Having less interaction with others due to Covid-19 has had a huge impact on people’s feelings of belonging, and we are now faced with the effects in both home and work environments as we continue to face strict socialising restrictions.
Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends survey found a sense of belonging as one of the most important human capital issues of 2021. 79% of respondents believed creating a sense of belonging amongst employees was important for organisational success over the next 12 - 18 months, and 93% thought a sense of belonging drives performance of organisations. In a survey by Cognizant, 92% of employees thought a sense of belonging was important at work. It increases employee motivation, commitment, physical health, mental wellbeing and engagement.
With traditional workplace environments becoming more rare and more employees working from home, building a sense of belonging is critical.
In a survey done by Mind Share Partners, 42% of all employees said their mental health had declined during the pandemic, and 75% felt more socially isolated now than before the pandemic. The top reasons for this included:
- Spending more time at home
- Reduced in-person interactions
- Lack of social interaction
How A Sense Of Belonging Can Be Maintained In The Workplace
During times of crisis, employees turn to their organisations to find a sense of belonging. A culture of belonging makes employees feel respected and valued, and it also encourages authenticity and builds trust.
If there’s a shared sense of belonging in the workplace, employees feel they are cared for. They interact meaningfully and effectively with colleagues, which can help reduce feelings of loneliness.
Creating a sense of belonging depends on 3 main factors:
- Connection: Employees should feel welcomed into the organisation and part of a wider community. This will allow them to create meaningful relationships with their work colleagues and fully connect to the organisation’s values and goals.
- Comfort: Creating an inclusive work environment where employees feel like they are respected and treated fairly definitely improves employee confidence. They should be provided with the resources needed to do their work, and their opinions and ideas should always be included in the processes and decision making that affects their work.
- Contribution: Employees are motivated when they feel that their work contributes meaningfully to the organisation's objectives and purpose. They should be able to see that what they are doing really matters. This helps to unify employees with their organisations. Meaningful feedback and incentives are useful when it comes to making sure employees feel their work is valued.
Where To Focus Your Efforts
To create a real sense of belonging for your employees, we recommend you focus on these two elements.
Connection between managers, employees and colleagues is a crucial part of a sense of belonging. With a rapid shift to remote working and organisations trying to develop flexible working, social interactions within the physical workplace that build trust, encourage collaboration and inspire creativity have disappeared. Thus, social connection becomes more challenging.
Forbes suggests one strategy is to embrace groups amongst work colleagues. Employees could look to find a common identity that they share and consider joining or creating groups within the workplace. For example, a virtual running club or a virtual book club. Organisations also need to encourage managers to develop the right skills and knowledge to be able to support employees emotionally to help them cope with unexpected change. To do this, managers can nurture connections through the use of technology. E.g. scheduling regular video team meetings and frequent 1:1s.
When employees feel respected, cared for and like they belong, they are more likely to be ‘themselves’. Authenticity amongst managers and colleagues helps build an environment of trust, and therefore more effective interactions between co-workers. Employees feel safe to express their opinions and ideas which can drive meaningful collaboration and diversity. Signalling acceptance by asking questions and actively listening can help employees feel assured and safe. Forbes suggests asking employees how they are feeling at the beginning of meetings and demonstrating being an active listener.
With an investment in strategies to ensure employees feel respected and valued, organisations can build on comfort, establish better connections and encourage contribution - together enabling a sense of belonging across the workforce.
Employees who can see and appreciate how their work contributes to the overall business goal will find meaning and be more engaged driving productivity and improving performance. Therefore, making efforts to keep your staff sane is not only helpful from a mental health perspective, but also a business one.