We often hear that learning and development is one of the keys to retaining employees, because they value it so much. But what about those employees who have virtually no interest in learning?

In our new learning research, we see that employees who score themselves as low on the belonging spectrum are eight times more likely to say they aren’t interested in any type of workplace learning.

Belonging Isn’t a “Soft” Measure Anymore

As a business owner or leader at your workplace your thought process at one point might have been that your employees’ top priority is to get their work done. But actually, they need something else: they want to feel like they belong and that their contributions are acknowledged by the company.

If your employees don’t feel like they belong, then they’re less likely to put in effort or care about the business as a whole. They’ll also be more likely to quit if there are other options available for them outside of your company.

So what does belonging mean for employees?

It means being respected for their ideas, having opportunities for growth within the organization and feeling like their contributions are valued by those around them.

If you can make this happen, then you’ll have employees who will work hard for you because they believe in what they’re doing, who will stick around longer than expected and who will be more loyal to your company than ever before.

The psychological definition of belonging is when an employee feels respected, accepted, and appreciated by their leader. So the value and power of your leadership is directly related to the good, bad, or ugly of your employees having a sense of belonging. Studies go on to show the outcomes of employee belonging are both powerful and positive when an employee feels like they belong. For an example, our recent study indicated that High Belonging employees were 7.5x more likely to to feel like the company is open and transparent. This allows employees to want to speak up and be heard without the fear of being ridiculed or suffering other types of repercussions. The level of engagement and commitment to a company’s mission and values are higher among employees who are more interested in developing skills for their current job.

Development and Belonging: A Practical Example

A few years ago, I was working with a client who had a talented team of employees. They were all well-paid, had great benefits and perks, and were appreciated by the company’s leadership. But despite all that, turnover was high.

I asked my client why this was happening, and we found out that the problem wasn’t money or benefits—it was belonging. Employees didn’t feel like they belonged to the company or its culture. They felt like outsiders who were tolerated but not respected or appreciated by their peers and managers.

The result? They stopped caring about learning new skills or growing professionally because they felt like they didn’t have a place where they could do so. And when they quit, they weren’t replaced with people who wanted to stay—they were replaced with people looking for a paycheck instead of an opportunity to grow professionally.

Providing opportunities for growth outside of their current role: If you want your employees to feel like they’re growing professionally at work, give them opportunities for growth outside of their current role—through training programs or mentorship programs where senior team members spend time with junior ones.

Sixty-three percent of employees who intend to leave their organizations within the next year say they have developed new job skills in the past 12 months, according to a Gallup Business Journal report. Those people are more than twice as likely to develop new skills as those who intend to stay. Employees who have a zero interest in learning and career growth in your company are looking for a better workplace, with better leadership that will connect, accept, and appreciate them.

How Do You Build Belonging at Work?

  • Create a culture of belonging.
  • Encourage and celebrate diversity.
  • Create a sense of community.
  • Create a sense of purpose.
  • Create a sense of belonging, which is the ability to get to know your coworkers and be accepted by them as part of their team, even if you don’t share the same backgrounds or experiences, or if they’re not always open-minded toward people who are different from themselves (which is inevitable).

Belonging also means feeling like you have an equal voice and being treated with respect at work—whether that’s in meetings, one-on-one conversations or online interactions. The best way for companies to create a sense of belonging is to encourage authenticity at work: allowing people to bring their whole selves into their roles so they feel comfortable being themselves at work.”

As leaders, we have a huge responsibility to the people we lead—and it starts with understanding that people are more than just their job description. They want to know their work has meaning. They want to feel like their boss cares about them, and that they can trust their manager to help them grow and succeed. Ultimately, employees know what they’re doing in the workplace, it’s the leaders duty and responsibility to help them discover their why.

Check out my podcast interview on how leadership, culture, and belonging intersect.