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Do employees feel like they ‘belong’? 5 red flags

12/21/2015

happy workforceWhen employees feel like they belong in an organization, they’ll give you their all. When they feel like outsiders, you’ll only get a half-hearted effort at best.

Belonging is a basic human drive, along with food, water and shelter. Yet, many leaders overlook its importance in the workplace and, in fact, may be creating a “culture of exile” that drives employees away.

“No one is purposely making people feel they don’t belong, but they’re also not proactively making them feel they do—and that’s a huge mistake,” says Christine Comaford, author of The New York Times best-seller, SmartTribes: How Teams Become Brilliant Together.

Here are five red flags, according to SmartTribes, that warn managers they are fostering a culture of exile:

1. Certain people get preferential treatment. Maybe there are different sets of rules for different employees—full timers vs. part-timers, salaried staff vs. hourly staff, friends of the boss vs. nonfriends.

Preferential treatment is a damaging leadership behavior and a major culprit in making people feel exiled. Follow a leadership code of conduct (see box below) that demands you treat all employees fairly and equally.

2. Cliques and inside jokes flourish. It’s amazing how little difference there is between dynamics in high school and the workplace. While leaders can’t (and shouldn’t) interfere with friendships between workers, you can set an example of inclusion. Make an effort to help everyone feel they belong. Host fun workplace events and celebrations that strengthen bonds between all co-workers.

Leaders do set the tone. If you focus on belonging, everyone will.

3. There are obvious signs of hierarchy. Managers may unintentionally send the message that there’s a stark division between the management team and employees. It’s the manager’s job to break down those walls and create a true team. “Belonging” means everyone is equal and marching together toward common goals. Getting rid of any symbols of divisiveness is a good start.

4. Entrenched silos lead to information withholding and turf wars. Departments are often different from one another, but they needn’t be alienated. When employees have that reassuring sense that they belong to the company overall, they don’t have to close ranks and play power games. They can share and collaborate because now it’s safe to do so.

5. There’s no path for personal development or advancement. True belonging is knowing that you’re not just a cog in the machine. It’s knowing that management cares about your future and wants you to live up to your potential. That’s why it’s wise to have a written development plan for every employee at every level. That type of effort tells employees “You’re safe here, you belong, you’re part of the tribe.”

The bottom line: Helping employees feel a sense of togetherness can dramatically boost performance, morale and engagement. When people feel they truly belong, they do everything in their power to make sure the team is successful.

The smart manager's leadership code of conduct

Exceptional teams create exceptional companies. According to the new book SmartTribes, here is a code of conduct that all great team leaders should follow:

Treat all employees fairly, respectfully and equally. Strive to avoid preferential treatment, reward on merit and hold everyone (including ourselves) accountable to the same set of standards. Everyone gets to speak up.

Deal with issues directly with the person in question. No complaining about others behind their backs, passive-aggressive behavior or backstabbing of any type.

Debate in the room, execute out of the room. We are accountable to each other for timely and quality results. We are all on the same team, giving the same message, focusing on relentless execution and the victory that comes from it.

Be a powerful creator. There are no victims, rescuers or persecutors on our team. We are outcome creators, insight creators, action creators.

Keep your promises. Your word is your bond. Commit to anything you can deliver upon. Under-promise and over-deliver.

Be the model of accountability and leadership. Provide the example of accountability and leadership that everyone can follow to success.