Why ‘belongingness’ is high on the HR agenda

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Most organisations are actively pursuing diverse representation at the workplace, but this alone will not necessarily ensure that all employees feel included. Creating a sense of belonging — an employee’s perception of acceptance within a given group — provides HR leaders with a good opportunity to strengthen their inclusion approach and goals.

“Belongingness has been and will be an important part of our culture. Earlier, a lot of companies had high belongingness quotients, but with time, many began to look at employees not as individual human beings but as money-making robots,” says senior HR leader, Ramesh Shankar.

Given the unprecedented pandemic, the situation has become extremely uncertain for employees and organisations. The need to make employees feel like they are a part of the workforce, as a family, has become all the more important.

Rajendra Agarwal, managing director, Donear Industries, agrees, “Cultivating ‘belongingness’ towards an organisation by ‘valuing every employee’ is crucial now more than ever. While it is important to have indispensable personnel, how they are reassured by the organisation is also equally important.”

Further highlighting the scenario post lockdown, he adds, “With the pandemic underway, employees across varied industries are looking for ways to build trust and solidify their relationship with the company.”

Sanjay Kumar

“It is indeed a fact that organisations that rank amongst the best workplaces have a very carefully designed ‘food at work’ programme. They not only provide / serve food safely but also meet employee expectations around cuisine choices.”

Inspire, motivate, redress

Being the leader of a team is a huge responsibility, regardless of whether it is the CEO, department manager, or supervisor.

It is the leader’s job to inspire and motivate others in the team to work to the very best of their abilities. The pandemic situation demands that leaders exhibit a number of qualities and characteristics in their position, to encourage those around them to succeed, to turn their weaknesses into strengths and work as a team within the organisation.

“It is important to have an open-door policy, where redressal is encouraged at any leadership level. A flat organisation is crucial at this point, where employees’ concerns are heard and a redressal system is instituted,” Agarwal states.

Treat employees as humans

People expect to be treated well, especially at the workplace, and by their bosses in particular. Inhuman treatment is something nobody will tolerate. Toxic environments, as a result of disorganised hierarchies and office politics, do not leave room for employees to feel that they belong to the organisation.

The pandemic has made it clear that employee care is the most important aspect in any organisation. These are the testing times when employees will see and experience the true faces of their organisations. In these times of adversity, employees will get to know whether they really belong or not.

“Belongingness is high in Indian ethos. When you make employees feel a part of the organisation, then they will stand up for the organisation, and refuse to hear any ill being spoken about it,” adds Shankar.

However, Shankar feels that employees are increasingly dehumanised, and being reduced to entities who have a monetary value. “Today, we treat employees like robots and tend to believe that we are paying them money, and therefore, they should do their job. We should treat their lives as our own, only then will the sense of belongingness seep into them,” he adds.

Allow bonding over food

Globally, it is a well-known fact that people bond over food by going out and having a meal together. Meal times at work should be no different.

Eating together helps employees bond with each other and also with the organisation. Apart from fulfilling individual needs — of safety and taste — the act of eating together strengthens the employees’ sense of belonging, which ultimately manifests as loyalty.

One of the biggest challenges that organisations face today, as they plan to bring people back to work, is how to ensure their safety. This involves three aspects: safety while working, safety of the facilities being used whilst working and the safety of the food consumed at work.

Rajendra Agarwal

“Cultivating ‘belongingness’ towards an organisation by ‘valuing every employee’ is crucial now more than ever. While it is important to have indispensable personnel, how they are reassured by the organisation is also equally important.”

According to Sanjay Kumar, MD & CEO, Elior India, “It is indeed a fact that organisations that rank amongst the best workplaces have a very carefully designed ‘food at work’ programme. They not only provide / serve food safely but also meet employee expectations around cuisine choices.”

Most employees have benefited tremendously from this programme, as urban life has resulted in breakfast becoming a rushed activity and dinner being reduced to being just another ritual to be followed at a time when the individual is usually thoroughly exhausted.

In COVID times, as employees start returning to work, Kumar continues, “They will expect the food at work to be tasty and the programme to be managed in such a way that feedback is registered instantly and corrective action taken without delay by the food service providers. This not only helps ensure customer loyalty but also convinces the employees that organisations care for their well-being.”

“As the world recovers from the COVID pandemic, we will need to ensure that food programmes do not miss out on the essential benefits of ‘food at work’, but at the same time, execute these programmes in a manner that is safe and takes into account the employees’ needs,” he adds.

Ramesh Shankar S

“Today, we treat employees like robots and tend to believe that we are paying them money, and therefore, they should do their job. We should treat their lives as our own, only then will the sense of belongingness seep into them.”

Communication remains key

It is true that companies benefit from a diverse workforce. However, it is not enough to just work. What is important is that we all work together.

Agarwal, of Donear Industries, believes, “A strong and robust internal communication process helps to educate and engage employees. In COVID times, this can be as basic as sending motivational quotes to employees to organise virtual town halls and other camaraderie- building activities for boosting employee morale.”

“Motivation should percolate from the senior management to the second in line, and then to the rest of the organisation. This can be in the form of open communication between teams; boosting productivity by actively learning and pledging to remain positive; and working towards the company’s growth,” he concludes.

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