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Smart Thinking blog

Insights and expert advice on the key issues facing today’s pharma marketer

Sense of belonging

Achieving a good sense of belonging in your teams increases productivity and reduces turnover

In the last year of lockdown, keeping our teams feeling fully connected to our organisations has been high on the agenda.

As we eye a move back to the office, particularly because it is likely to be a more hybrid model, we need to ensure we don’t lose sight of this important focus.

Research shows how achieving a good sense of belonging in your teams increases productivity and reduces turnover. Instinctively we all recognise this. So, what are the factors that contribute to the ongoing feeling of belonging?


We need to have an environment where our teams are treated fairly and with respect. As we enhance our focus on diversity, inclusion and equity, this will also enhance the feeling of belonging.

Although trust is a principle contributing to organisational culture in its own right, it is particularly relevant in the context of the last year and how comfortable teams will be moving back to the office. By necessity, organisations have had to put immense trust in their employees who have been working from home during the pandemic.

Our teams have delivered on that trust and productivity has been maintained. Consequently, as organisations set their parameters for the return to the office, it is now critical that they show that same trust and respect their teams’ ability to be involved in decisions on how and where they work.


Individuals need to feel they are connected not just to those they work with, but also to the overall purpose and goals of their organisation. Maintaining connectivity between team members has been a priority for most organisations during home working and significant effort has been put in to maintain this. Online book clubs, wine tastings, coffee breaks, as well as regular team meetings and one-to- ones, are just some examples of the social and business activities that have helped connectivity to continue outside the office environment.

But as we go back to office working, we need to ensure this emphasis and commitment is maintained. Lack of connectivity is not something that is only prevalent in the virtual world. As the workforce changes from Baby Boomers to Gen X, Millennials and now Gen Z, the importance of purpose related to the individual’s feeling of community has exponentially increased.

Environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors are now as much about culture and employee belonging as they are about meeting customer or investor expectations. Even in healthcare communications, which we would consider a very worthy sector, the way companies treat their employees, how they do business and their societal impact, can vary significantly.

For agencies, the clients they work with, their behaviour and how the organisation accepts or addresses less appropriate demands, are all factors that can affect how comfortable and connected team members feel.

Cared for

It is hard to find reasons to leave a community where you feel comfortable and cared for. Lockdown has seen companies enhancing their efforts to consider their employees’ well-being and mental health. This is so important and again needs to stay embedded in our organisations’ culture and not be allowed to lapse in future working models.

An example, perhaps, would be to recognise the individuals who sit in front of computer screens all day and don’t go out to exercise or just out to get some fresh air, especially during the winter months. Yet, in all honesty, how many organisations proactively put the same emphasis on addressing this concern for their office-based staff before the pandemic?


The fourth component is about allowing individuals to see and understand the contribution their skills, talents and work make towards team or corporate goals. Leadership needs to be committed to being open in its communication, clear in its purpose and goals, supportive of a no-blame culture and keen to recognise and reward employee contribution.

To be embedded, this ethos needs to come from the top down, but the responsibility to deliver the same principles at every level of an organisation needs to be clear.

Awards are one form of recognition of individual and organisational success. Like most people, I have missed the face-to-face social interaction of awards nights, but it has been great to see organisations who have made attending the virtual formats a company event.

Traditionally, the high cost of attendance means team leaders have to decide who can go, balancing networking considerations against who contributed the most and the number of spaces.

This year, everybody who wanted to attend could do so, treating the contribution of the whole team equally, which as a concept can only enhance the feeling of belonging for more individuals. As we will no doubt return to the traditional awards nights, perhaps organisers and organisations can be innovative in trying to continue this wider team engagement.

Keep the good

Our people are our most important commodity. Creating a strong sense of belonging to an organisation through a caring and symbiotic relationship, even during recruitment, will help to get the best from individuals and will encourage them to stay with the company.

To achieve this, our people need to feel included, valued, respected and cared for with equity in how they are treated, our purpose and goals need to be clear and appealing; and we need to ensure they can see the value they add and that it is recognised.

As we return to the office, let’s not lose the many positive ways of creating an environment of belonging that we have delivered during this very different year.

Mike Dixon is CEO of the Healthcare Communications Association and a communications consultant

8th June 2021

From: Marketing


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