Do you belong?

Photo of a neon sign on a black background reading "You belong here" in script.An in-depth study, primarily done through extensive analysis of Glassdoor reviews, indicates that a toxic culture is the main driver of the Great Resignation.

(You can find the MIT Sloan Management Review article here, and an interview of Dr. Donald Sull and Charlie Sull, two of the article’s three authors, the study researchers, and co-founders of the company CultureX, on Brené Brown’s “Dare to Lead” podcast here.)

(Yes, I know: sometimes studies reveal what we already knew, but they’re important nonetheless, because without data to back up our beliefs, we can’t effect the kind of change we need and want.)

The researchers define a toxic culture through five attributes:

  • non-inclusive
  • disrespectful
  • unethical
  • cut-throat
  • abusive

So. Let’s step back and look just at the question of inclusivity – a.k.a., belonging – which I’d say factors into all four of the other problem areas.

Do you feel like you belong in your organization?

This isn’t a question about imposter syndrome. It’s a question of how you feel when you’re in the company of your co-workers, whether that’s on Zoom or together in a physical space.

If you’re a person of color, or you’re LGBTQIA, or you’re a woman, or you’re neuro-diverse, or you’re awkward and socially uncomfortable … you may not feel like you belong. (That is not – I’ll just say it! – a fully-inclusive list, but I think you get what I mean.)

Belonging doesn’t automatically come with a skin color or gender or any other physical or neurological attribute. That said, let’s be real: if you’re not a white man, you’re much less likely to feel like you belong. Whiteness and maleness are the cultural norms in business in the U.S., whether we want to admit it or not.

I see a huge burden placed on managers, especially those in the front lines of management with teams of individuals reporting to them, to be all the things for their people and for their own managers and leaders. Stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place, the first-line manager has to juggle their people’s needs, their boss’s needs, the company’s needs, and somewhere in there find some breathing room for themselves.

As one of those front-line managers, if you don’t feel like you belong, for whatever reason, it’s going to be very hard – perhaps impossible – for you to create a feeling of safety and belonging for your team.

And if the culture in your organization doesn’t support you in feeling like you belong, then – according to the data and the criteria set out within the study – let’s just say you’ve got good reason to feel like there’s a problem. I won’t go so far as to say you’re working within a toxic culture – that’s for you to determine – but I will say, there’s a problem.

Perhaps it’s time leaders and managers asked themselves, not just their employees, if they feel like they belong. That’s a far more personal, intimate, in-your-face, real way to understand the true state of the culture in your organization. Set aside employee surveys and checklists of inclusivity initiatives and ask yourself: do you feel like you belong?

If you’re a white man, chances are you answered “yes.” Which doesn’t make you “bad” – it just means you’re the default, and therefore much more likely to be comfortable.

Think about it.

Inclusion and belonging are tough subjects for fledgling first-line managers, and are among the topics we discuss in the Community of Practice, Learning, and Experience for first-line managers. To learn more about the Community and see if it’s a fit for you or the managers that work for you, click here.