February 04, 2021

The impact of belonging, and the cost of exclusion

Feeling welcomed, valued, and included — what we call belonging — is a human need, so it’s no wonder that it’s make-or-break when it comes to a person’s ability to succeed at work. Belonging is the glue that holds your culture together. Valuing employees’ authentic selves contributes to psychological safety, trust, team cohesion, and higher retention rates — especially for team members from historically marginalized groups. 

Diversity in age, race, gender expression, and ability brings with it a wider variety of ideas and approaches and greater opportunity for creativity and innovation, but those benefits only happen when everyone has a sense of belonging.

Why is belonging important at work? 

In any group of people, there are conditions you have to set to cultivate a strong, thriving community. Belonging is one of them. If we care about the people we work with, we want to see them grow and develop, then we have to create environments that allow people to bring these aspects of their identity.

Dion Bullock, DEIB Strategy Lead, Bravely

Bravely DEIB Strategy Lead Dion Bullock, asks: “What are the levers within your organization that you can pull to create the environment where employees feel affirmed, welcomed, and in their power to thrive?” Bullock breaks it down into three main categories: psychological safety, autonomy, and pathways to conflict resolution.

Read more: “Supporting Black Employees: A movement, not a moment.”

Psychological safety

When employees speak up and take risks, are they encouraged to expand on their ideas — or quickly shut down? Psychological safety exists in organizations that create space for new ideas, contributing to innovation and a growth mindset. Also essential to psychological safety is employees’ ability to make mistakes or fail without feeling judged.

Read more: How to know when your employees don’t feel psychologically safe.


Autonomy is the freedom employees have to make intentional choices about their own work and working environment.

Are you empowering your employees to “own” their work, advocate for themselves, and make decisions that help them thrive — or is your team governed by a set of rigid standards that work for some people put others at a disadvantage?

Conflict resolution

When we encourage people to bring more of themselves to the workplace, we invite unknown variables into our organizations. There will likely be conflict. We aim to create brave spaces, and these conversations take courage on everyone’s part. 

Get comfortable with discomfort. Embrace misunderstandings and knowledge gaps with positivity and enthusiasm for the learning curve, and define pathways for employees to use to repair harm. 

Culture fit vs. culture add

Anyone who’s ever taken part in a hiring process knows about “culture fit:” the perceived ability of a candidate to assimilate to the way your team acts and communicates. “Culture fits” tend to onboard quickly, but only hiring people ready-made to fit in reinforces your status quo.

Hiring on culture fit alone can lead to a monoculture and encourage groupthink. Identifying “culture adds” — those who can “thrive in the organization as it is today,” but more importantly, can “help the organization grow into what it wants to be,” creates a more diverse team and sets a foundation for belonging.

The cost of exclusion

Cultivating a sense of belonging is foundational to healthy workplace culture. An employee’s value is greater than the work they deliver. 

We know a variety of voices in the room fosters a healthier organization, but what is the cost of exclusion? 

40% of people say that they feel isolated at work, leading to

  • Lower organizational commitment
  • Lower employee engagement
  • Individual feelings of loneliness and lack of purpose 
  • Self-sabotage and sabotage of team

Beyond the harm to an organization’s bottom line, we should take the psychological harm caused by the feeling of being left out and isolated into account. Our people are our most valuable asset. How we treat them says everything about who we are as an organization. When there is a lack of belonging at a company, relationships can be harmed beyond repair, and trust is quickly lost or never earned in the first place.

Read more: Closing the intent-impact gap.

Building belonging in an organization isn’t about creating a “nicer” culture, where tough conversations don’t happen, but it can make a kinder culture — based in empathy and compassion, connection, and team cohesion.

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