How to Build Community Among Your Workers

Second only to home, Americans find the greatest sense of belonging at work, according to a new study that sheds light on the value of employers building community among workers.

EY’s Belonging Barometer surveyed 1,000 employed adults, finding that 34 percent of respondents said they feel belonging at work, ahead of both their neighborhood and place of worship. Participants define “belonging” in different ways: More than half–who were most likely to be baby boomers–view the concept as being trusted and respected, while others cite aspects such as freedom to voice their opinions and their employer valuing their unique contributions.

In this tight labor market, organizations are laser-focused on retention, and EY’s study highlights the role community-building could play in advancing employee satisfaction. One simple way to support that aim, the study suggests, is by informal “check-ins.” Thirty-nine percent of respondents say they derive the greatest sense of belonging at work when colleagues simply ask how they’re doing, both personally and professionally.

Check-ins were more popular for building belonging at work than activities such as public recognition, inclusion in out-of-office events and face time with senior leaders. This approach was the method of choice across all age groups, though it was most popular with baby boomers, and women were slightly more inclined to cite the value of check-ins than men.

“It’s evident that, across all generations, there is a craving for one-on-one connections amongst colleagues and that checking in has the potential to prevent workers from checking out,” says Karyn Twaronite, EY’s global diversity and inclusiveness officer.

Checking in can help guard against social exclusion, Twaronite says. The survey found that exclusion at work can cause physical and emotional isolation; about 40 percent of respondents report feeling alone, and about a third of women cite feelings of sadness.

Fifty-four percent of respondents view exclusion as a form of bullying, a finding with which LGBT and Latino employees were most likely to agree.

Twaronite notes that “events and incidents that may happen outside of the workplace can impact each of us deeply, and the concerns and emotions that result don’t just disappear when we begin our work day.”

The workplace is not “ ‘just business’ these days,” she adds, “and checking in with colleagues has become more important than ever. HR leaders can keep in mind that a simple ‘How are you?’ and making a personal connection with colleagues of all levels can go a long way when it comes to fostering a sense of belonging within the workplace.”

EY recently created a guide, Checking In: 1-On-1 Conversations with Teammates and Colleagues, that outlines steps to help leaders model a culture that values active and empathetic listening. Twaronite says EY, for example, encourages employees to take time when speaking with colleagues to “pause, even if doing so is slightly uncomfortable,” in order to fully consider another’s perspective and experience.


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Jen Colletta
Jen Colletta is managing editor at HRE. She earned bachelor's and master's degrees in writing from La Salle University in Philadelphia and spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining HRE. She can be reached at