top of page

5 Ways Leaders Can Design a Culture Where Employees are Productive & Happy to be at Work

The axis on which success sits

Reflect on a time when you were a part of a group. A group where you were present, relaxed, happy to be there and engaged in doing whatever was happening. This time in your life could have been as a small child with your family, perhaps your besties in high school, or if you're one of the lucky the latest project team at work. 😀 It felt great, didn't it! Now shift to when you were in a group, but you didn't want to be there. You were far from relaxed and looking for an escape route or, at the minimum, watching the clock for the time when you could get the heck out of there. Your level of engagement was minimum - just enough to be cordial and not look like a jerk. Although perhaps you teetered and fell across that line. 🤦🏼‍♀️ While there are many external factors you could rattle off in a list of why one was a success and one wasn't, there is a single axis point for the success. An axis point on which all success sits.

The axis on which all success sits is the feeling of belonging. - Karen Zeigler

When we feel a sense of belonging we relax, we can flow with our surroundings, we can tackle what needs to be done (even the stuff that's not so fun). When we don't feel a sense of belonging there's a dissonance. A feeling of internal stress even. A tension between where we are physically and where our mind chatters about where we should be. While belonging is as much an inside job as it is an outside job, today's leaders in the workplace have a tremendous opportunity to influence their employee's sense of belonging.

Influence belonging - understanding the human's longing to be

In order for leaders to influence their employee's sense of belonging it's important to understand what belonging is. While externally belonging can look differently for everyone, internally belonging feels the same. Internally, belonging is at the heart of every human - our human longing to be. In this post, we'll examine the basics of human longing and prompts to get you thinking about how you as a leader can create an environment where employees can feel a greater sense of belonging.

Five Human Longings

1. Longing to be authentic.

Psychology defines authenticity as the degree to which a person's actions are congruent with his or her values and desires, despite external pressures to social conformity. For me, that boils down to alignment. I am my most authentic self when my actions (physical/body) and my thoughts/beliefs (mental/mind) align with the highest version of who I aim to be (emotional/spirit). Every human has a desire to be authentic. Life is easier when we can be authentic. We don't have to act a certain way, vie for attention, or strategize to succeed. Feelings of success are baked in - when we can just be. As a leader, you may not have a clue what that is but you can be curious to learn. A starting point is awareness -become mindful. Like in our opening reflection, who's watching the clock, perhaps a little agitated, or not fully present and engaged. What action can you take to increase their belonging by giving them space to be authentic? Hint: it could be as simple as asking them their thoughts? Or pulling them aside to check in telling them you noticed they seem a little distant in today's meeting. Just understanding that something is out of alignment for them and having the empathy and desire to help them get back into alignment will work magic.

2. Longing to be accepted and connected

Close kin to authenticity is acceptance and connection. When an individual is brave enough to show up authentically and as leaders, we embrace and accept them, a connection is created. They are listed as a single longing and not two because they do not exist without each other. The minute we reject or negatively judge an aspect of someone, the connection is lost or at best sorely damaged. Rejection or judgment is a fine line. A line every leader must walk. As leaders, we have to address performance and growth. However, as leaders, it's important to differentiate between performance and people. There are certain levels of performance that are not acceptable, yet how do we leave intact the dignity of the individual that they are acceptable, they are enough. Some questions to ask in these sticky situations is: How can I express my acceptance and belief in them as a person? What is my responsibility for this individual's performance? Is there training, coaching, or encouragement that can facilitate better outcomes in the future?

3. Longing to fulfill their greatest potential

No one shows up on their first day at work with the goal of failure. Yet success is far more than hitting all the KPIs. I can tell you from first-hand experience that a person can hit every KPI you have given them and still be unfulfilled and feel they are not living up to their greatest potential. While that potential isn't easy to quantify a great place to start is the study of an individual's personality type. The majority of personality assessments address the best and worst thoughts and actions of an individual type. However, there is one assessment that I've found that addresses the whole self. Including nailing the core fears and desires that cause the individual to pivot between the best or worst version of themselves. This is the real growth that must take place in an individual to fulfill their greatest potential. The assessment that targets this growth is the Enneagram. My friends at Triology Effect help leaders every day grow their employees into the best version of themselves. Definitely check them out.

4. Longing to be creative and make an impact

Like #2 above this is a combo deal. Your basic leader would say you're making an impact by showing up every day and doing your job - making the widget, doing the task. While that may be true for the leader, it doesn't feel true for the employee. And it won't feel true unless they are involved creatively. And by creative I mean finding a part of the work where they can creatively express their uniqueness AND be appreciated for that uniqueness. It's not about the what (the spreadsheet, an effective meeting, or the hitting the target sales #) it's about the how. How did they shine? What was unique about the way they accomplished what was assigned to them. Identify, acknowledge and appreciate the 'how" and you have created a greater sense of belonging. You will see their productivity and presence come alive! If they didn't shine - how are you as the leader or are the organization's processes blocking their ability to shine? Ask may be shocked at what you learn.

5. Long to pursue their fascinations

Examine the great innovators of our time or history - Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Henry Ford, Oprah Winfrey, and others. When you read their biographies one thing becomes clear - they pursued their fascinations. There were topics, things, or experiences that they were fascinated by. Some would even say they are obsessed with it. And because of their relentless pursuit, we know their names today. What if the disengaged and unproductive employee you have all but written off is the next Steve Jobs. But you just don't see that because they have not been provided the opportunity to pursue their fascinations. What if the next big innovation for your company is hidden in plain sight - in your employees? More and more companies - like Google, Ford, and others are encouraging and allowing employees time off to explore their fascinations. What can you do to create space to allow employees to pursue their fascinations - both inside the organization and outside.


Success spins on the axis of belonging. As leaders can have tremendous influence over our employees' sense of belonging and thus an impact on their success and our own. Employees feel a sense of belonging when their "longings to be" are fulfilled. Leaders - your turn. Share your experience. Leave your comment below. Share a story of a time you felt you belonged. Or perhaps share a means you use that makes your employees feel a sense of belonging.


bottom of page