Belonging in Asia-Pacific
A high sense of belonging improves physical and mental health, psychological safety and performance.
In Asia-Pacific, those who feel like they belong are three times as likely to have a positive working experience (i.e. are more engaged) and they are almost three times as likely to stay with their current employer.
At the same time, around one-quarter of employees are planning to switch jobs in the next 12 months, with Japan presenting the highest level of potential job switching (36%) and Mainland China presenting lower switching intention (11%).
The other aspect to consider is that while much recruitment focuses on hiring younger employees, those same junior staff are far more likely to feel less belonging, 34% less than senior management.
This highlights a gap that organizations need to close by developing actions aimed at increasing feelings of belonging among more junior employees.
Connection with Diversity, Equity, Inclusion
The more diverse, the more the belonging.
The Belonging Barometer reveals that people working in what they perceived to be a diverse organization tend to feel a higher sense of belonging. “The research shows that welcoming differences improves the sense of belonging for employees. Celebrating and recognizing uniqueness, creating an inclusive culture, and improving belonging has major bottom-line benefits.” – Holly McGhee, EY Asia Pacific DE&I Leader.
Diversity is about differences – accepting people from a wide range of dimensions including demographics, working and thinking styles, experiences, and more. Equity is about recognizing that everyone has different starting points and different needs. Inclusiveness is about creating environments where everyone can feel safe about bringing their perspectives and ideas forward, and trust that they can be themselves.
The research shows that welcoming differences improves the sense of belonging for employees. Celebrating and recognizing uniqueness, creating an inclusive culture, and improving belonging has major bottom-line benefits.
While it is recognised that diverse workforces deliver organizational benefits such as increased creativity and productivity, the Belonging Barometer highlights a significant relationship between workplace diversity and employee retention through workplace belonging. Organizations that achieve a diverse workforce, including people that have different backgrounds, demographic profiles and attitudes, create a workforce of people who feel they belong and are more likely to stay.
Further, organizations that have effective DE&I strategies in place and that are seen to deliver real impact for employees achieve notably higher levels of belonging.
Hybrid effects on belonging
Hybrid working highlights that work is increasingly something we do, rather than somewhere we go.
Traditional thinking was that a good company culture necessitated employees being in the workplace alongside team members, with many markets in Asia-Pacific having very long days in the office, and often social activities following in the evening.
While some markets had already eased this requirement, the COVID-19 pandemic rapidly shifted the needle, with every market experiencing some remote work.
The Belonging Barometer shows positive impacts of hybrid working, with employees at all levels of an organization expressing both a more positive working experience (79%) and a greater sense of belonging (56%) working in a hybrid environment rather than working full time either from the workplace or remotely.
The risk of not getting it right - exclusion
Exclusion is the biggest risk to loss of belonging.
Employees across Asia-Pacific have identified exclusion as a key element that can make them feel like they do not belong, with having ideas dismissed the most common factor followed by not being given timely feedback. “Creating an environment where employees feel like they belong is more important than ever. Insider and outsider dynamics in a team can generate feelings of exclusion. Managers should reflect on the dynamics in their own teams and consider the actions needed to create a sense of belonging for all.” – Michael Wong, EY Asia-Pacific Talent Managing Partner.
Significantly, one-third of employees from Asia-Pacific have felt excluded at their workplaces, with levels of exclusion experienced by key employee sub-groups at much higher levels. Most employees – including LGBTQIA+ and those with disabilities – recognize exclusion as a form of bullying, with 62% suggesting that they classify bullying as exclusionary behavior.
Leaders who can put measures in place to capture and mitigate these aspects can eliminate this key risk factor and create a culture that enables more belonging.
Leadership’s role in creating a culture of belonging
Six aspects to building a more inclusive culture.
Given the overwhelming evidence about the impact that belonging can have on organizational growth and performance, delivering a workplace culture that enhances the sense that its employees belong should be a priority for every leader.
“Tone from the top is essential. Leaders who can authentically discuss DE&I-related matters while role modelling inclusive behavior will be able to realize the value for many years to come.” – Eng Ping Yeo, EY Asia Pacific Tax Leader.
Yet leaders risk having blinders on when it comes to belonging, because they generally feel a stronger sense of belonging (69%) compared to middle management (54%) and staff (35%).
To overcome their own potential biases, and create and build an inclusive workplace, leaders can look to these six aspects:
1. Build a diverse, equitable and inclusive workforce
Although building a more diverse workforce takes time, effective diversity strategies and action by those in leadership can immediately and significantly raise the feeling of belonging in an organization.
2. Promote a culture of trust, respect and authenticity
Trust is built when leaders are authentic, empathetic and perceived as competent. Leaders can create the conditions for belonging by being open, vulnerable and empathetic toward others.
3. Leverage hybrid working where possible
Audit roles for feasibility, and as part of building the culture of trust, advocate for people to work more freely. Lead by example, and make sure people see leaders doing the same.
4. Implement systematic feedback, recognition and check-in initiatives
Recognize that each market has its own nuances, and map the feedback and recognition systems to match those needs. For example, where Australia and Singapore like personal, casual check-ins, other markets need more objective approaches.
5. Address exclusion and bullying to minimise risk
Design a program of systemic interventions to remove the optionality for behavior-driven activities. Demonstrate the organization’s DE&I commitment through policy, strategy and talent expectations.
6. Remove the optionality of DE&I
There is no single activity or program that can foster a sense of belonging in the workplace; it takes a whole-of-organization approach to create a culture that promotes inclusive behavior and raises awareness on the differing needs of employees and build in steps for accountability.
Belonging isn’t “soft” it is a critical component to an employee wanting to stay in an organization, and being productive while there. The opposite – exclusion – leads employees to leave or at the least “quietly quit,” leading to hundreds of millions of dollars spent replacing them. Fostering belonging requires an organizational-wide focus, with leaders demonstrating the behavior they expect. The EY Asia-Pacific Belonging Barometer 2022 sounds a warning bell to boards, CEOs and heads of people to focus on creating a more inclusive culture or potentially lose the race for talent.