• Elizabeth Skidmore

Creating a Sense of Belonging

Over the past several weeks my colleagues and I have responded to multiple calls about staff recruitment and retention. While the human services sector has faced these issues in the past, my clients and friends tell me that the current environment is the “worst they have seen.” Many have closed programs and dramatically reduced service hours in response to the workforce shortage. Given this reality, it is understandable that leaders are focusing on developing and operationalizing employee recruitment strategies that will bring qualified, mission-oriented employees through their front doors. Organizations must devote the same level of energy, resources, and commitment to retaining and supporting existing staff.

Many years ago, a client told me that while exit interviews provided valuable information about why employees wanted to leave, she wanted to better understand the reasons current employees, especially long-term successful staff members, stayed with the organization. In response, we conducted focus groups and interviews with current staff to learn more about why employees stayed. Their answers were neither surprising nor complicated. Employees repeatedly said that they stayed because they “belonged” in the organization.

Having a sense of belonging is a basic human need. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs identifies belonging as one of five critical elements of employee motivation. Think back to a time that you were happy in a job and organization. Why did you stay? What made you look forward to coming to work? As Karyn Hall Ph.D. points out in Psychology Today, “A sense of belonging is human need, just like the need for food and shelter….A sense of belonging to a greater community improves your motivation, health and happiness.”

Creating a sense of belonging requires active effort, practice, and intention. One of the first changes my CEO level client made was to call every new employee during their first week of work to welcome them. Other changes were made to the onboarding process, staff meetings, and human resource practices, all with a goal of fostering staff members connection and belonging within the organization.

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