Belonging in the Workplace

According to a recent report conducted by Coram Voice on challenging stigma in the care system, 1 in 10 care leavers felt that, as a care leaver, they have been treated worse than their contemporaries. This has been reflected in conversations with individuals we work with at Drive Forward, many of whom are frustrated by hearing the same negative statistics and stories in the media and by professionals working in the care system. This can have an impact on how individuals see themselves as well as how they are treated in the workplace. The most common reason that individuals who we work with leave their jobs is that they feel isolated from their colleagues, different and undervalued. 

At the same time, our work with corporate partners has demonstrated the difference that one manager or colleague can make through the seemingly small gestures which make someone feel recognised, listened to and as though they belong.   

Feeling isolated at work is not something that is unique to individuals with care experience. A 2018 report by totaljobs cited loneliness as something that is neglected by employers and resulted in: 

  • A quarter of workers quitting their jobs because of loneliness in the workplace; 
  • UK workers taking off an average of 5 sick days per year caused by loneliness 

And, 63% of respondents who believed their company does not do enough to combat loneliness in the workplace. 

Belonging – connection – success 

As employers recognise this, “belonging” has become an integral part of business conversations and initiatives on diversity and inclusion. Given our experience, we took the chance to encourage this conversation at our most recent partner webinar on Belonging in the Workplace. We were joined by a fantastic panel and 28 representatives from our partner network.  

Kicking off the discussion by sharing why this topic is important to her, Hannah Christian, Head of Learning from MediaZoo, described belonging as follows: 

“Belonging is about having a sense of acceptance, being able to have a voice in the organisation and about building positive relationships so that you feel connected to your colleagues and have pride in what you do.” 

At MediaZoo, Hannah went on to say, their team is very diverse; this is reflected in the diversity of their audience. Belonging is therefore extremely important to ensure that everyone in the team feels able to bring their voice to creative briefs which will speak to their audiences.    

For Siobhan Randell, Community Manager at Whitehat, belonging is key to ensure that their cohort of 1000 apprentices across Greater London stand the greatest chance of success as they enter new workplaces. Whitehat’s apprenticeship programmes are aimed at young people between the ages of 18-25 and so, starting out, often as the youngest member of their team, is a daunting prospect. Siobhan detailed the support that Whitehat puts in place through their coaches, company line managers, new apprentices and their wider apprentice community so that individuals feel comfortable to bring themselves to work. 

It only takes one person 

For employers who do not have the means to work with an external organisation to support the process of welcoming someone new to the team, Carla Paulo, Ambassador for Drive Forward and motivational speaker, suggested that employers can (and should) still bolster their support systems by implementing a Buddy System. Carla drew on her own experience with Superdrug, one of our partners, to highlight the difference that having a buddy within the organisation made to her experience. Buddies, she said, not only provide the chance for organisations to upskill their workforce, feel more approachable and relatable to more junior team members than a line manager.   

Rikki Garcia, Director of Simpact Solutions CIC, a social enterprise that specialises in consultancy in the voluntary sector, emphasised the importance of an organisational approach in order to embed these practices and foster belonging in the workplace. With a wealth of experience, he has witnessed the benefits that organisations stand to gain from recruiting people from a more diverse background. The breadth of lived experience that this brings, he said, make not only for a livelier and more vibrant working environment but also ensure that the product or service of an organisation attracts a wider audience. This must be recognised at an organisational level as part of the organisations purpose, mission and vision; instilling this into the team ethos and recruiting individuals on this basis will ensure that people are not left behind and working relationships are built on mutual recognition of the value that diversity brings.   

People relate to people 

The advice that we provide our partner organisations who have recruited someone from Drive Forward is built upon our relationship-based approach. What this means in practice is that we advocate for transparent, consistent and supportive relationships in the workplace which provide clear communication and opportunities for praise and feedback to ensure that individuals enter workplaces where they feel they belong. 

At the webinar, Hannah provided ideas that we can see would ensure that these aspirations are upheld. Hannah suggested that it is important for organisations to promotes habits that build bonds in the team. At MediaZoo, they have introduced two habit building practices: Shine Theory and Gratitude. To promote gratitude, the team come together every Wednesday and share what they are thankful for and why; this does not need to be work related and is a chance for individuals to step away from their more professional sides. Despite some reluctance at the start, the team have come to value this practise, now more than ever, as it continues to bring the team together even in the current context. Shine Theory was spearheaded around 10 years ago by a group of women in America who decided to shine on one another to make sure that the voices of those who are under-represented were heard. MediaZoo have taken this initiative on to ensure that the team recognises the voices of those who are not confident to share their own success; this has built confidence and encouraged the team to look out for their colleagues’ achievements.  

There were so many other fantastic insights at the webinar, which you can watch in full below. We look forward to see how our partners take these ideas into their own workplace as well as taking them forward ourselves at Drive Forward.

For change-makers

Together with our partners we want to keep our young people motivated and engaged, so that they can continue to develop their career throughout this crisis and beyond. To this purpose, we are putting together a virtual library of useful employability and personal skills building guides created by professionals for care-experienced young people. From CV-writing tips, to interview practice, to confidence building exercises and advice on how to build quick rapport with your colleagues, share your experience and advice, and help young people to better navigate the deep jungle we call the workplace.

Miranda Reilly

Strategic Partnerships Manager

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