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How 4 habits can build higher-belonging teams

Follow a science-based approach to measure, quantify, improve and benefit from higher employee belonging and trust.

In brief
  • DEI is evolving. In many workplaces, employee belonging is now recognized as the ultimate desired outcome.
  • When employees feel they belong, metrics in DEI, culture, and individual and team productivity all increase.
  • To cultivate belonging, team leaders must foster psychological safety and be role models in asking questions, active listening and performing gracious acts.

B“elonging” has a personal meaning for everyone, but it goes beyond just fitting in. In the workplace, belonging means that employees feel their team accepts and values them because of who they are. The challenge for leaders is knowing what matters most to everyone on your team, and then creating an environment of safety that brings about the benefits of belonging.

In an EY survey of US workers, nearly four in 10 of Gen Z and millennial workers say culture has “a great deal” of impact on their intent to stay at their current place of employment. The EY Gen Z Segmentation Study reveals that more than 90% of them place authenticity, or being true to oneself, among their highest values. If they find that they can’t be their authentic self at work, and it’s not the right fit, they will leave for other opportunities.

Creating a sense of belonging on a team does more than just increase productivity and employee retention, although those are two proven results. A sense of belonging creates psychological safety in the workplace. It means people are more willing to bring their “authentic selves” to work, ask difficult questions, admit mistakes, request help or raise new, innovative ideas.

But how can you create something like “team belonging?” How can team leaders measure their progress toward developing higher-belonging teams? Here are four methods.

1. Simple efforts go a long way toward creating team belonging

Creating belonging in the workplace can begin with a simple “how are you?” The EY Belonging Barometer 3.0 survey found that checking in to ask how someone is doing is the top contributor to building belonging. Nearly one-third of respondents say that when colleagues check in with them about how they are doing, personally and professionally, they feel the greatest sense of belonging at work.

2. Social signals convey a sense of belonging

Focus on sending affirming social signals, advises Tal Goldhamer, EY Americas Chief Learning Officer. Start with attentive listening and try to avoid sending mixed signals. People instinctually regard ambiguity and discrepancies as threats, so pay attention to nonverbal cues and communication styles. 

Respecting diverse perspectives also reinforces the sense of a safe work environment. Leaders should encourage team members to express diverse or dissenting opinions. 

3. Make ‘gracious acts’ a habit

To truly make someone feel that they matter to you as an employee, colleague or friend, take belonging from listening to action. Get in the habit of performing “gracious acts.” These are actions performed to benefit someone and to show support for the expression of their authentic self. For example, spend time learning about a cause they consider important or offer to amplify their message. Gracious acts create a powerful connection and personal rapport, Goldhamer says. A person’s brain will respond with feel-good neurochemicals.


4. Measure team belonging using the EY Net Belonging Score

Just as the Net Promoter Score (NPS) has been used for decades to measure customer satisfaction from the outside in, the recently launched EY Net Belonging Score (NBS) uses a similar methodology as NPS to quantitatively measure employee sense of belonging from the inside out. Organizations can start by establishing a baseline NBS. Then, as team leaders implement some of the interventions noted in the first three methods above, periodically pulse survey the team to see if their NBS is improving. 

A strong culture of belonging is built one high-belonging team at a time. These simple activities can begin today. In our work with EY clients, teams that commit to turning these behaviors into tracked habits over the course of months have found measured results in employee NBSs. Leaders can use these scores and simple actions to change culture over time to develop a high-belonging workplace.


Belonging, inclusion and psychological safety at work are fundamental to performance. Research shows that regularly checking in, performing acts of kindness and focusing on social signals lead to increased feelings of belonging, improved employee satisfaction, higher retention and, ultimately, create an environment where people can thrive and grow.

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