1 question could help your employees reach their full potential. Are you asking it?

Employees who feel a sense of belonging at work are more engaged, more productive, and 3.5 times more likely to contribute at their full potential, writes Karyn Twaronite for Harvard Business Review.

To understand what contributes to people's sense of belonging, EY surveyed 1,000 American workers. They 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, writes Twaronite, the firm's global diversity and inclusiveness officer.

Nearly 40% of surveyed employees indicated that they feel the greatest sense of belonging when their colleagues ask, "How are you?" They also indicated that these 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%).

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.

Leaders who check in with their employees can strengthen their relationships, provide support after significant news, and cultivate an inclusive environment, writes Twaronite. She rounds up a few ways to build more meaningful relationships during check-in meetings.

1: Establish connections. A simple "How are you" or "How can I support you" can help you connect with and motivate your employees, writes Twaronite. When you ask this question, be present and curious to communicate that you value their relationship, she recommends.

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2: Have an open mind. Use the meetings to listen to another person's perspectives, not to debate, writes Twaronite. If your colleague shares something you don't understand, acknowledge their point of view and ask them to tell you more.

3: Assume positive intent. When you assume that your colleagues mean well, you can better navigate tough conversations. For instance, if your employee shares her frustrations, assuming she has positive intentions can help you pause, ask questions, and connect in a more meaningful way, writes Twaronite.

4: Be vulnerable. Share your own challenges at work or as a leader, recommends Twaronite. Opening up about your experiences can help strengthen your relationships and make you a more approachable leader, she adds.

5: Hold yourself accountable. When faced with a difficult situation, model inclusive behavior for your direct reports and colleagues, writes Twaronite. If you set similar expectations for yourself and your employees, you can build a more inclusive environment, she argues (Twaronite, Harvard Business Review, 2/28).

Read more: 3 topics the best bosses discuss regularly with their employees


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