A Human First approach to belonging and company culture

About the author: Valentina Passoni is a Coaching Pracice Lead at Sanctus. She is a creative at heart who loves to blend coaching with lateral thinking approaches, helping clients to think outside the box. She’s trained in Co-Active Coaching – CPCC, ORSC, Leadership Circle Profile and is an accredited PCC with the International Coaching Federation. Valentina is also a musician and a vocal coach, leading workshops to help others find ways to be more creative in their lives.

With over a quarter of employees feeling they don’t belong at work (data from People Insight, 2023) there is still work to be done to create truly inclusive workplaces that foster a sense of belonging and collaboration.

The link between organisational culture and belonging is easy to make when we consider how company culture influences how people think, act, and show up at work. Organisational culture refers to the shared values, beliefs, assumptions, norms, and practices that shape the behaviour and interactions within an organisation, and I am sure we can all think of a few non-negotiables that would make us feel we can belong at work.

So how do we create positive organisational cultures?

The mention of a positive work culture conjures up images of people holding hands, a big family workplace where people can be themselves, bring all their strengths, happiness, fears and worries and still be able to work efficiently and effectively whilst achieving great results. 

Does reading that make you feel stressed? It would for most people! 

While perhaps creating a utopian harmonious family system for organisational culture feels a little far-fetched, people feeling like they can be themselves is a key factor in feeling a sense of belonging. 

And yet, more than a quarter of employees do not feel they can be their true selves at work (People Insight, 2023), which as a Sanctus Coach and Mental Health Practitioner, really worries me. It paints a fairly bleak picture of individuals creating work personas and not feeling validated in their true ways of being for a national UK average of 40 working hours per week. Ouch!

A very hot topic in Sanctus sessions since our humble beginnings has been navigating difficult office politics – not losing sight of one’s integrity or personal values at the same time as looking after oneself. 

Personally I have spoken to countless employees struggling to find a way to show up at work with all of the worries and pains of being human and still feeling their experiences are valid and they belong.

For example, how do you feel productive at work when you are going through a painful divorce and you are deeply tired? How do you maintain positive working relationships when you are very stressed and pushed for time with deadlines? Or when your mind is taken with the excitement of a new baby coming? 

Is it really sustainable to expect employees to feel 100% ready for the next challenge regardless of what is going on in their personal lives?

And that’s not to say that many businesses and leaders aren’t aware of this challenge. Shout out to all the people managers out there that do great work in offering the right kind of human support to employees struggling at work. 

Workplace wellbeing statistics for 2023

In 2023, 76% of employees feel confident they would be treated fairly and taken seriously if they raised a concern at work, which is a 4 ppts improvement from 2021 stats (People Insight, 2023). 

As Sanctus is all about building safe spaces at work for people to show up as their true selves, this stat makes us very happy indeed! 

However, we also see how people managers cannot be solely responsible for supporting employees in feeling they belong at work. 

It has been a tough couple years and unsurprisingly, more than half of managers report feeling burned out at work (Harvard Business Review, 2023), especially after supporting employees (and businesses) through a pandemic, isolation, remote working, the return to the office, the great resignation and their own personal lives as well (oh yeah managers have lives too!).

If culture profoundly impacts the overall employee experience and employee engagement levels, it is crucial for companies to actively listen to their employees and value their input. Innovative platforms like People Insight can be a great resource for enabling companies to gather valuable feedback from employees and gain insights into specific areas that require attention. By tailoring initiatives to meet the exact needs of the company, a culture that values belonging is born – individuals are empowered to be their authentic selves, regardless of who or where they are in life, and ultimately contribute to company success. 

At Sanctus, “Human First” is our motto and we have found that the more businesses commit to putting their people first, the more people feel they belong and are able to do good work more sustainably.

Company culture affects the way individuals feel, make decisions and act in response to the opportunities and threats affecting the organisation, which in turn affect business morale and even business results. So, whilst we proudly fly the Human First flag and encourage businesses to look after their employees as the most important goal and outcome, an organisation’s growth stands to benefit from a positive work culture. 

Interestingly, studies show the happier people feel, the more productive they are (Oswald et al., 2015). Happier people make for financially successful businesses, with data suggesting that a portfolio of high-wellbeing companies outperforms standard benchmarks on the stock market (Workplace wellbeing and firm performance, 2023).

Getting to the heart of company culture

By now we know the data; the numbers are undeniable. What I also want to stress is how important a Human First approach is on an emotional level. I see this every time I coach someone and they realise their employer has made a space available for them to look after themselves, it is truly healing. 

The way people light up when they finally have 50 minutes all for themselves, to be given agency to use them to talk about anything they want, to choose to invest in themselves and their wellbeing, it is invaluable. 

I don’t need any data to believe all the anecdotes shared by my fellow Sanctus Coaches on how empowered their clients feel, or all the incredible stories of success my clients share with me after just a handful of sessions. And I have no wand, no magic, it is all their doing. 

To truly be able to be ourselves and belong anywhere in the world, we need to learn to understand and really love and appreciate who we are, so we can belong in ourselves. 

Aware and integrated humans create aware and integrated cultures, it always starts from self.

Happy discovery,

Val at Sanctus

Dive deeper into how we feel about wellbeing in the workplace by clicking here.