3 small words can make your team happier and more engaged

Employees who feel a sense of belonging at work are more engaged and productive in their role, writes Leah Fessler for Quartz. Conventional wisdom suggests employee engagement initiatives should include face time with senior leadership, promotions, or raises, but in reality, employees want something much simpler.

A new study of 1,000 employed Americans by EY suggests that employees feel a greater sense of belonging when they hear three simple words: "How are you?"

To conduct the study, EY surveyed a nationally representative sample of employees to understand how they define belonging, what makes them feel like they belong or don’t belong at work, and the emotional impact of inclusion and exclusion in the workplace.

EY found that employees feel the greatest sense of belonging at work when their colleagues check in with them and ask how they are doing both personally and professionally. In fact, nearly 40% of surveyed employees indicated that they feel the greatest sense of belonging when their colleagues ask, "How are you?"

Employees also indicated that these daily "check-ins" were more essential to their sense of belonging than public recognition (23%), being invited to out-of-office events (20%), or being asked to join a meeting with senior leaders (14%). 

See more: The 3 things all workers—even millennials—want from work

Conversely, when employees feel excluded at work—when they feel their colleagues don't care about their personal and professional well-being—they are more likely to feel ignored, stressed, and sad. In fact, more than 40% of respondents in EY's study feel physically alone at work. And 26% of male employees and 28% of female employees experience feelings of stress and sadness.

Even more, more than half of surveyed employees (54%) believe that exclusion at work is a form of bullying. This is especially true among Latino employees (57%), female employees (61%), and LGBTQ employees (68%).

EY's findings align with previous research on the relationship between employee engagement and workplace belonging. For instance, Gallup estimates that nearly 70% of American employees are not engaged at work, and they’ve also found that one of the biggest factors driving employee engagement is the manager-employee relationship. Additionally, surveys have found that employees who rate their manager as "excellent" are five times more engaged than staff who rate their manager as "poor."

Two researchers—Emma Seppala, a director at the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford University, and Marissa King, a professor of organization behavior at Yale Universityargue that employee loneliness can cause both physical and mental problems, and can translate to a lower performance at work. To combat feelings of loneliness among employees, Seppala and King recommend taking steps to make employees feel valued, building comradery among employees, and showing pride in everyone's wins (EY press release, 11/1; Fessler, Quartz, 11/8).

2 more words to boost employee engagement

Next in Today's Briefing

Q&A: The future of land-grant universities

Next Briefing

  • Manage Your Events
  • Saved webpages and searches
  • Manage your subscriptions
  • Update personal information
  • Invite a colleague