By Shane Lloyd and Adriana Rojas | June 15, 2020

Belonging is an experience in which a person feels connected, supported, and respected when as a member of a collective, their authenticity is valued. The research on belonging tells us that when people feel emotionally invested in their work, valued for their expertise, and connected to their coworkers and leaders, teams are more innovative, and organizations achieve their organizational goals.

Belonging calls on leaders to acknowledge that enduring feelings and a need for connection exist in a workplace. While inclusivity is the implementation of specific action items to engage diversity, the emotional life and longevity of your organization depends on balancing results with a strong sense of belonging. At Cook Ross, we practice a holistic approach to cultivating a sense of belonging and transforming organizational culture.

Belonging happens when leaders provide their teams with a sense of psychological safety, especially during the historic era of COVID-19 and civil unrest. The task of leadership is to ensure that everyone feels respected and able to bring their authentic self to the virtual table by providing space to welcome their contribution in all the ways it comes. This way, leaders can thoughtfully empathize and engage with everyone under their leadership, so each employee is confident that their individual stresses and struggles are viewed as credible. Taking into account the global pandemic and national protests, consider how the following organizational virtues and practices can strengthen a sense of belonging in your workforce now and in the future:

Belonging happens when leaders provide their teams with a sense of psychological safety, especially during the historic era of COVID-19 and civil unrest. Click To Tweet

Cultivate Trust, Don’t Surveil Productivity

As a leader, you have to give trust to earn trust. We are in the midst of a human crisis that has forced many to work from home. Trust that your employees will do their job and work on building trust. Listen to the research and your workforce:

  • While we need to take into account varying levels of stress due to COVID-19, a trusting relationship with managers becomes even more crucial to achieving results (Hambley et al. 2007; Golden and Veiga 2008).
  • Studies have shown that teleworkers report higher job satisfaction, performance, and desire to stay with the organization (Vega et al., 2015).
  • While leaders may be tempted to surveil productivity and time spent on the computer, we endorse the practice of evaluating employees based on tasks completed as opposed to standard working hours because it grants flexibility.

Engage Your Team Compassionately, Don’t Ignore the Realities of COVID-19

Employees need to understand that their employers and direct managers care about their holistic wellbeing, keep a regular temperature of what’s happening organizationally, nationally and globally, and can nimbly balance all that’s going on. Leaders need to help individuals and groups manage the anxiety while creating an infrastructure that includes a broad array of social support.

  • Recognize the differential impact COVID-19 is having on diverse populations, particularly Black, Latinx, Asian, and Indigenous communities, within their organizational eco-system. Leaders must balance their messaging tactics to avoid appearing silent on the matter of these longstanding inequities that have been amplified by COVID-19.
  • Acknowledging a wide range of feelings allows for leaders and employees to understand that emotions are a healthy and natural part of our professional lives. Moreover, anticipation and consideration of feelings balanced with effective and open communication strategies enhances an employee’s feeling of belonging.
  • Address dynamics that unintentionally create inequities in how performance is assessed. For example, working parents and employees with caregiving obligations, both of which tend to fall disproportionately on women, can be penalized if the value of the work is assessed based on being to work a standard to 9 to 5. Although organizations cannot correct for the sexism in our society, they can address the standards of evaluation to ensure that women’s work is visible, accounted for, and rewarded.
As a leader, you have to give trust to earn trust. Click To Tweet

Be Patient as You Empower Your Employees

Leaders that give their employees autonomy and support them in making their own choices have more collaborative teams and better results. Encouraging employees to prioritize decompression and self-care is an empowering reminder that they belong to an organization where management cares about their well-being and supports their choices.

  • Understand that each person’s living situation and work style is unique, so you might want to use the following questions to determine how you can best support your direct reports: “What do you need to thrive? How can I support the work you do? What barriers or issues can I address so you can feel empowered at work?” While some may readily answer these questions, some may not know where to begin. Listen with an open mind and problem solve creatively.
  • Empower employees and consider intuitive practices like creating options to sign off, call in, or turn off video; encourage people to take time off to process national events; allowing space for self-advocacy; and proposing flexible hours and alternate schedules.                                 

Model Healthy Personal and Professional Boundaries

Belonging becomes real and felt when leaders practice well-being and people see these strategies modeled. Effective strategies for supporting a healthy work and balanced work environment that promote belonging are:

  • Stick to your regular business hours. Organizations can very easily foster a culture of overwork by sending emails at all hours. Even with the caveat that no one needs to reply, we’d be remiss if we did not acknowledge how power differentials shape response times and perceived consequences. Using plugins like Boomerang to schedule messages to arrive in people’s inboxes at established work hours can help mitigate this issue.
  • Create no meeting zones during the workday. At Cook Ross, we have two periods of time totaling about two hours when no internal meetings are held allowing employees to have choice in how they use that time.
  • Take, schedule, and encourage breaks between meetings. This will allow all to engage in restorative activities that improve focus or simply let people take care of other obligations they’re balancing alongside work.
Encouraging employees to prioritize decompression and #self-care is an empowering reminder that they belong to an organization where management cares about their well-being and supports their choices. Click To Tweet


  • Vega, R., Anderson, A., & Kaplan, S. (2015). A Within-Person Examination of the Effects of Telework. Journal of Business and Psychology, 30(2), 313-323. Retrieved June 3, 2020, from
  • Hambley, L. A., O’Neill, T. A., & Kline, T. J. B. (2007). Virtual team leadership: The effects of leadership style and communication medium on team interaction styles and outcomes. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 103, 1-20. doi:10.10l6/j.obhdp.2006.09.004
  • Golden, T. D„ & Veiga, J. F. (2008). The impact of superior subordinate relationships on the commitment, job satisfaction, and performance of virtual workers. The Leadership Quarterly, 19, 77-88. doi: 10.1016/j.leaqua.2007.12


Adriana Rojas is a Cook Ross consultant with 15 years of experience in academe, public schools, and consulting with clients and stakeholders. Her background includes researching, analyzing, speaking, and writing about social justice issues affecting Hispanic/Latinx, African Americans, LBGTQ+, and women. She has also led academic teams and programming in which she fostered program development and reform to implement the organization’s vision and mission statements.

Shane L. Lloyd is a Consultant with Cook Ross. His extensive experience in diversity, inclusion and belonging includes work with Brown University, Yale University, and the Rhode Island Department of Health’s Health Disparities and Access to Care teams. His areas of focus include various dimensions of social identity, expertise in the areas of race and socioeconomic class, and in-depth knowledge of research in behavioral economics; psychology; organizational behavior; sociology; and public health.