3 Tips to Build Belonging at Work (through Storytelling!)

Understand the power of stories in internal communication and how to best communicate to strengthen employees' sense of belonging.
Tips for managers to build belonging

The current corporate situation

People’s jobs, and where they work from, have changed over the last few years. Many employees were used to showing up at the office. Now they stay home most of the time attending virtual meetings. Additionally, with 80% of the global workforce being non-desk workers, it has not become easier for management to communicate with employees, build belonging at work, and in general engage all workers. Or has it? With a smartphone in every hand, digital tools can connect a workplace like never before.

Be aware: Although employees having easy access to information is a huge win, management should pay attention to the quality of internal communication content, and to having an inclusive strategy. Reaching employees has become so easy that leaders often overflow their people’s workdays with irrelevant information or that which is conveyed ineffectively.

As an employee, especially in a large organization, you can easily feel small, or out-of-the-loop. Fortunately, the importance of driving a company culture of belonging, where everyone also feels their work is meaningful, has come to be undeniable.

 

Why care about building a sense of belonging at work

Human beings need human relations. We crave to feel seen and to belong to a community, and this certainly bleeds into a corporate environment.
Research suggests that employees with a strong sense of relatedness are:

Given the strong impact, how might an organization communicate in a way that makes everyone feel a sense of belonging at work?

 

The power of storytelling

“The stories we tell become the world we live in,” states behavioral philosopher Laust Lauridsen in an article recounting the essence of organizational communication. Try to take a moment to absorb this.

The stories we tell become the world we live in.

He continues: “Stories are fundamental to experience. They shape us, make or break us, give us wings or tear us down.” Organizations need to focus on the stories they tell. These make a difference and they can be used to describe just about anything. A strategy can be a story, and a vision, and a mission. Top marketing consists of stories. Furthermore, driving change is done through stories.

Communicating stories in a way that is truly impactful can be challenging.


Here are 3 general tips to guide storytelling within an organization’s internal communication strategy. Use these to boost belonging at work.

 

1) Make stories relevant.

First off, make it easy for communicators in your organization to start conveying information through stories. Consider sharing best practices, or a design principle for communication.

Here is a quick story on a leading organization’s communication design principle. At one of Actimo’s global clients, at any given time, only 50% of their workforce is on the job; they work in shifts. Plus, teams are spread across the entire globe, covering multiple continents and encompassing many cultures. Management struggled to reach and engage their global workforce.

After trial and error, they discovered a trend in their most engaging communications and now use it to drive their internal communication content planning guides the creation of communication. This is: “Communicate close to the heart.”

Communicating close to the heart means leaders must:

  • Stop sharing a majority of global news. Start sharing a majority of local news (close to the heart of the receiver)
  • Stop communicating abstract corporate decisions. Start sharing the impact on daily work (what is in it for me)
  • Stop only sharing big achievements. Start sharing small everyday wins

Do not ignore the power of dynamic information though. Enable knowledge sharing, dialogue, and two-way communication. Stop focusing on static information like merely and plainly sharing a code of conduct. If you do, translate it with a story for easy on-the-job application. Communication needs to be relevant and context-related. Make employees feel seen and they will give you so much value back.

2. Simplify storytelling by suggesting structure.

There are lots of good templates out there. Management could suggest (not mandate) structures that guide storytelling and make it easy for communicators to convey information internally.

A very popular framework is SCQA:

Situation – What is happening? What has happened prior to the experience?
Challenge – What barriers and obstacles were present? What possible problems and complications are ahead? Situation and challenge explain WHY.
Question – Which challenge did I or am I choosing to solve, often stated like a question. Question describes WHAT.
Answer – How did I solve it? Answer outline HOW.

Take a look at the structure of this article. It loosely follows SCQA!

3. Make sharing comfortable for all employees.

Suggesting a structure or template may work for communicating top-down. However, once you have the right platform for employees, encourage people to start sharing more freely with their colleagues as well! Some organizations are already embracing open communication. With Actimo, the 360° employee app, industry leaders enable a feature called the “Social Wall” for employees to engage with one another.

In the beginning, the Actimo team has sometimes heard “Why are our employees not sharing? It is so easy to just click there and start writing.” Yet, the truth is, while the right platform provides a space to do so, some people may be reluctant to be the first to share.

Thoughts that create friction can be:

  • Am I sharing too much?
  • What if my colleagues think bad of me?
  • What will my manager think?

To combat this, Lagkagehuset, for instance, was successful in designating ambassadors to spark initial digital engagement.

Furthermore, managers and leaders may also need to lead by example and share stories from their experience with their organization. This may help create a safe environment for sharing. We are all human beings. Being able to see other people makes you want to share a little of who you are.

That’s it. Remember: Integrate what resonates and throw the rest away.

 

This blog post was written by Christian Lykke-Rasmussen, Senior Customer Success Manager at Actimo – a Kahoot! company. He is a learning practitioner, best practice curator, and storyteller. Christian is committed to the mission of making learning awesome.

 

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