Organizations need to consider inclusion and belonging in their employee well-being initiatives. Diversity and equity are important, but inclusion and belonging give diversity and equity meaning. Belonging, especially, is a vital yet intangible outcome of excellent inclusion practices. A well-being initiative that incorporates inclusion and belonging prioritizes the unique perspectives that a diverse workforce offers.
The inclusion arm of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) strategies is often hard to measure. Diversity is a numerical fact about employees’ uniqueness. Equity is a body of strategic policy and procedure to benefit and protect employees. Inclusion necessitates leader and employee action to influence organizational culture. Even more abstract than inclusion, belonging is how individuals feel about the culture.
Let’s explore the difference between inclusion and belonging and how to emphasize inclusion and belonging in well-being initiatives.
The Difference Between Inclusion and Belonging
The difference between inclusion and belonging is straightforward. Inclusion is a behavior, and belonging is a feeling or outcome of that behavior.
So, inclusion might be catering a team lunch from a vegetarian restaurant. Belonging would be employees’ sense of appreciation about that decision. It’s easy to see why inclusion and belonging usually make it onto fewer spreadsheets and presentations than diversity and equity do.
In designing a healthy workplace, organizations need to consider inclusion and belonging. They influence both employee well-being and organizational performance. The presence of inclusion contributes to well-being and retention, whereas its absence contributes to stress and departures.1,2
Inclusion and belonging relate to the three “master motives” that drive human behavior. These include (1) getting along with others, (2) getting ahead of others, and (3) finding meaning. We humans have always lived in groups. In seeking to get along within our group, we pursue social acceptance and cooperation. When we vie for status within our group, we attempt to get ahead of others, sometimes excluding other group members. By trying to find meaning with respect to our group, we often identify our work as a significant component of our purpose in life. Altogether, these motives speak to why group acceptance matters so much to us.
More specifically, inclusion has to do with getting along with others, and belonging has to do with finding meaning. This socioanalytic view of personality explains why inclusion and belonging are so integral to well-being. They are deeply rooted in the origins of society itself.
Well-Being and Inclusion
When people perceive rejection by their group, they are not likely to perform at their peak. In an article for Forbes, Simi Rayat describes this state as a “neural seesaw,” tilting from high engagement and performance to high fear and anxiety.3
The absence of inclusion harms our well-being, but its presence improves our well-being. Experiencing workplace exclusion, such as being ignored, interrupted, or prevented from accessing the same resources as others, negatively influence mental health. On the other hand, acts of inclusion, such as respect and courtesy, seeking connection with others, and promoting the visibility of others, positively influence job satisfaction.3
An employee well-being initiative without inclusion as a significant component fails to account for the importance of getting along for team and organizational performance.
Well-Being and Belonging
Belonging at work speaks to our need for finding meaning in our lives. Like inclusion, belonging has positive effects on well-being. Social belongingness is related to identity, trust, participation, solidarity, and values within groups, teams, networks, and institutions.
As an emotion, belonging grows in the presence of inclusive actions. Feelings of social belonging contribute to well-being when fostered by “low stress, high role autonomy, social support, and quality leadership.”4 Data show that people tend to feel belonging when they are trusted and respected, when they feel safe to express their opinions, and when their contributions are valued.5 Conversely, feeling ignored, stressed, or lonely at work makes people feel as though they do not belong.
Nearly all these conditions that contribute to belonging fall within the influence of leaders. But how exactly can leaders establish inclusive practices to promote belonging in employees?
The Connection Between Inclusion, Belonging, and Well-Being
Well-being, inclusion, and belonging are inseparable. Organizations should integrate DEIB initiatives and well-being initiatives, particularly to ensure that employees have the same access to consistent well-being resources that meet their different needs.6 Passively providing resources alone does not address the need for inclusive actions and a sense of belonging. Achieving these relies on values, leaders, and employees.
An inclusive culture starts at the top. Leaders’ values are likely to drive their decisions regarding organizational policies, programs, benefits, and culture. Likewise, values are likely to drive leaders’ behavior, which can influence employee well-being directly and indirectly.
Organizational culture stems from leader values. A team led by someone who values recognition will have a different culture than a team with a leader who values aesthetics. One leader is likely to emphasize visibility and the other quality. What constitutes inclusive behavior might differ somewhat based on the cultural context of these two teams.
Organizations need to select and develop leaders who excel at promoting inclusive behavior. Key leader competencies that foster inclusion and belonging include listening to others, inspiring others, building relationships, caring about people, developing people, integrity, accountability, and other socioemotional skills.
Hogan Assessments provide a reliable, valid way to select and develop such leaders. Someone with a lower score on the Hogan Personality Inventory’s Sociability scale would tend to listen before speaking, resist distraction, and communicate in a more formal, structured way. Someone with a higher Sociability score would tend to be socially proactive, be team oriented, and build relationships with a wide range of people. Each of these personalities can support a diversity climate and promote the well-being of individual team members. Both personalities can do so even more effectively with awareness, strategy, and intention.
What makes employees feel that they belong differs by the employee. Broad practices of inclusion are excellent, of course (“we don’t interrupt each other” or “we use each other’s preferred method of address”). Specific inclusive actions will also help specific individuals feel belonging (“Amira is observing Ramadan, so let’s meet at the office, not a restaurant”). A relationship of trust is necessary between leaders and followers and among team members to facilitate inclusion and belonging on the individual level.
Organizations that understand the nuance of personalities in their company will be best positioned to build inclusion and belonging into a well-being initiative. Employees with high scores on the Motives, Values, Preferences Inventory’s Affiliation scale, for example, strongly value opportunities for collaboration and social contact. They might be more aware of or sensitive to exclusion at work. Similarly, employees with high MVPI Hedonism scores strongly value variety, excitement, and enjoyment in the workplace. They might become indifferent or discouraged without social relationships. On the other hand, leaders who invite meaningful connection help to ensure that people know their well-being matters at work.
Where to start? Personality assessment provides information about everyday personality characteristics, potential derailers, and the values, preferences, and biases of leaders and employees. This empowering knowledge is the first step in strategic intention to promote inclusivity and foster belonging as a cornerstone of any organizational well-being initiative.
- Prilleltensky, I. (2012). Wellness as Fairness. American Journal of Community Psychology, 49, 1–21. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10464-011-9448-8
- American Psychological Association. (2021). The American Workforce Faces Compounding Pressure: APA’s 2021 Work and Well-Being Survey Results. https://www.apa.org/pubs/reports/work-well-being/compounding-pressure-2021
- Ryat, S. (2022, July 18). The Powerful Connection Between Inclusion and Well-Being. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/2022/07/18/the-powerful-connection-between-inclusion-and-well-being
- Oyanedel, J. C., & Paez, D. (2021, August 30). Editorial: Social Belongingness and Well-Being: International Perspectives. Frontiers in Psychology, 12. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.735507/full
- Twaronite, K. (2019, 11 May). Five Findings on the Importance of Belonging. EY.https://www.ey.com/en_us/diversity-inclusiveness/ey-belonging-barometer-workplace-study
- Maese, E., & Lloyd, C. (2022, February 21). It’s Time to Synchronize Your DEI and Wellbeing Strategies. Gallup. https://www.gallup.com/workplace/389957/time-synchronize-dei-wellbeing-strategies.aspx