As human beings, we crave connection and social acceptance. And our workplace relationships are key to setting us up for success and helping us to have an impact. In fact, 70 percent of people say having work friends is the most crucial element of a fulfilling work life. 

And yet, for all the importance of social connections, there’s more to creating a true sense of belonging. Research from Accenture shows that three key factors shape a culture of belonging: feeling seen, feeling safe, and feeling connected. When all of these needs are met, we feel comfortable bringing our authentic selves to work and acknowledging our imperfections. As a result, our engagement and job satisfaction increase and we are more likely to do our best work. 

By taking small steps, we can create a stronger sense of belonging at work — not only for ourselves, but for others. Here are some tips to help your team members feel like they belong.

Feeling Seen

When we feel seen, we feel understood, cared for, and appreciated for who we are. We make others feel seen when we pay attention, when we listen with empathy and without judgment, and when we seek to understand the whole person for the uniqueness of who they are, not just what they do. To help new team members feel seen, try these Microsteps:

Microstep: Swap “How are you?” for a deeper question. 

Questions like “What’s on your mind?” or “What challenges are you facing now?” can give you the chance to learn about their experiences and make them feel seen.

Microstep: Compliment a colleague on their work. 

It’s a great way to strengthen work connections and show others that you value their contributions.

Microstep: When someone shares their feelings with you, respond by rephrasing what you heard.

This active listening technique not only confirms your understanding, but also acknowledges their experience.

Feeling Safe

When we feel safe, we are more comfortable being ourselves and sharing our thoughts and ideas with others without the fear of judgment or embarrassment. Feeling safe is also about having clarity of expectations and the right level of autonomy and support to achieve our goals. Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson coined the term “psychological safety” to define such an environment. This is the shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking — and it has been found to be a prerequisite for innovative, agile teams. Try these Microsteps:

Microstep: At the start of your next meeting, encourage everyone to share their point of view.

Inviting others to open up without fear of judgment is a simple gesture to show your colleagues that their voices are welcome and valued.

Microstep: Ask for honest feedback from your team.

Ask, “What’s one thing I could do differently?” instead of just asking if they have any feedback. They’ll be more likely to respond with honesty when you make it clear that you want to grow.

Feeling Connected

We feel connected when we can open up to others in honest ways and form deeper, more trusting relationships. When we understand, accept and value ourselves for who we are — imperfections and all — we open the door to more authentic connections with others, with benefits that go both ways. Try these Microsteps:

Microstep: When you come across something that makes you laugh, share it with someone who will appreciate it.

Spreading humor and joy is a great way to stay connected and build resilience.

Microstep: Invite a co-worker you don’t often connect with out to lunch or coffee, even virtually.

Research shows that bonding with colleagues can make us happier and more connected, and even boost our productivity.

Microstep: Tell a colleague about one of your personal passions.

It can be anything you’re interested in — a book or show you’re enjoying, a project you’re working on at home, a trip you’re looking forward to. Research shows that feeling emotionally connected helps us be more motivated and engaged at work.

Author(s)

  • Jordan Hutchinson

    Associate Editor of Content Development at Thrive

    Jordan Hutchinson is an Associate Editor at Thrive. She started at Thrive as a Content Fellow in 2021, and is now supporting the development of new content and curriculum across the company. She is also a recent graduate from George Washington University with backgrounds in English literature, creative writing, French language, and psychology.
  • Rebecca Muller

    Senior Editor and Community Manager

    Thrive

    Rebecca Muller Feintuch is the Senior Editor and Community Manager at Thrive. Her previous work experience includes roles in editorial and digital journalism. Rebecca is passionate about storytelling, creating meaningful connections, and prioritizing mental health and self-care. She is a graduate of New York University, where she studied Media, Culture and Communications with a minor in Creative Writing. For her undergraduate thesis, she researched the relationship between women and fitness media consumerism.