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Better to belong


August 31, 2021

In brief

  • The Accenture Better to Belong research quantifies the impact leaders can make when they leave their people Net Better Off (NBO).
  • Leaders can boost NBO scores by 3.2x when they get the traditional moments that matter, such as onboarding, right.
  • Creating an inclusive environment where every person feels like they belong every day can unlock up to 5x more human potential.
  • When leaders scale equitable experiences, they drive up NBO scores, which creates a thriving culture of diversity, inclusion and belonging.

It’s more than “just business.” Make it personal.

Today’s labor market is in a state of flux—but that’s nothing new. The world around us is constantly shifting, impacting lives both in and out of the proverbial office. As a result, work experiences are becoming more fluid and individualized. If leaders want to create an environment where people can thrive, they need to start by helping people feel like they belong. See, for example, our own study that looks at how Accenture people faired during the pandemic, while working almost 100% remotely.

No two experiences are the same. Leaders must consider what matters most to their people to help them thrive and advance in an equitable workplace. By prioritizing psychological safety, leaders can enable a more inclusive environment where everyone feels valued, seen and heard. What leaders need more than ever today is an insatiable curiosity and concern about their people.

Net Better Off

In our “Care to Do Better” report, our research started a dialogue around why organizations should focus on leaving their people Net Better Off (NBO), providing leaders with actionable steps that they can take to address more dimensions of employee life. Our latest research operationalizes and quantifies the value of those actions and demonstrates how leaving people NBO can foster a true sense of belonging for everyone.

If your people are Net Better Off:

  1. They’re healthy and well – physically, emotionally and financially
  2. They’re connected, with a strong sense of trust and belonging
  3. Their work has purpose
  4. They have marketable skills that lead to vibrant careers


Leaders can unlock up to 5x more human potential by better managing people’s everyday work experiences.

When we speak about inclusion and belonging in the workplace

It’s becoming harder to separate the outside world from what’s happening within an organization as the line between life and work continues to blur. Lived experiences not only drive how work Is viewed, but also what people need to thrive. Therefore, leaders must truly care about diversity, inclusion and belonging if they want to start creating a psychologically safe environment.

But what does it mean to belong? Our research shows that belonging manifests across four categories: having influence over decisions, being respected by your peers and managers, feeling comfortable speaking up and receiving sponsorship from a senior leader who can help you advance and grow.

Image showing diversity as the lever is about holding leaders accountable
Image showing diversity as the lever is about holding leaders accountable

In the context of our study, diversity as lever is about holding leaders accountable. Diversity as part of the framework is about representation. When you have both, the journey to systemic equality can begin. To truly foster a sense of belonging, the wider societal context of the world—from corporate responses to anti-racism movements to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic—must always be considered. Internal environments must then adapt to the unique challenges and experiences people face.

When environments are psychologically safe, people are more likely to be honest and forthcoming about their concerns. Some might even be willing to share their ideas on how the organization can make employees feel NBO.

And yet, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to creating this sense of belonging. It’s personal—based on an individual’s own lived experiences—which makes it hard for CEOs to scale within their organizations. The consequence is that over a third of employees don’t feel like they belong.

Fortunately, leaders can leave their people NBO by getting the key moments in their careers, from onboarding to leaving, right. When they do, leaders can expect to see NBO scores surge 3.2x. Even better: When leaders get the day-to-day experiences right, they can increase NBO by up to 5x.

Another reason why leaders should care? Because their customers do. Over half (54%) of Promoters (compared to just 23% of Detractors) feel that companies are responsible for leaving them NBO.1 And given that Promoters are most likely to recommend a company’s products or services, creating positive experiences across each dimension of NBO is good for business.

Furthermore, leaving people NBO fosters loyalty. Fifty-seven percent (57%) of US consumers say they spend more on brands they are loyal to.2 For leaders, the remit is clear: There is a positive correlation between belonging and the bottom line. But what steps can leaders take?

Leaders leave people Net Better Off by being curious about their unique situations and the external forces (economic inequality, racism and environmental disasters) that shape their work lives.

The ten everyday levers

Belonging isn’t just a box that can be checked off. It takes an earnest and sincere effort, each day. In our research, we identified 10 levers that leaders need to continually apply. These levers span across three key areas: essential people skills, organizational factors such as skilling and individual factors such as self-efficacy.

The image on 10 levers that leaders need to continually apply.
The image on 10 levers that leaders need to continually apply.

Leaders can drastically improve the employee experience by focusing on the four essential people skills. These include:


Making people feel that they have the autonomy to support their advancement.


Engaging workers with relevant information when needed and delivering with empathy and transparency.


Holding leaders accountable for welcoming, progressing and valuing the contributions of all people at all levels.


Valuing and rewarding behaviors that drive positive customer experience.

Each of these levers can be tied back to the five Sweet Spot Practices we found in our “Care to Do Better” research, which we know drive positive workforce behaviors and an increase in business performance.

Building out a successful people strategy

The promise of the future rests on the actions that leaders take today: unconscious bias training must be replaced with conscious people recognition; psychologically safe spaces must be maintained for candid conversations. These are just a few ways to start closing the gap.

We still have a way to go. Our research shows that workers in need of skilling, LGBTQ+, racial and ethnic minorities, and women have the longest runway to an equitable work experience. However, women have the most to gain—unlocking 4.7x their potential—if their everyday experiences are managed better.

Looking ahead, leaders must focus on building out these essential skills, every day. Here are some other concrete steps they can take.

  • Change the narrative around work and recognize that today’s workers need autonomy, not a task list.
  • Give people opportunities to succeed and agency over their own outcomes. Our "Future of Work" research has shown that empowerment by way of autonomy increases overall well-being.
  • To feel empowered, people must be confident in their business acumen. Leaders must employ skilling efforts to train people in hard and soft skills, to make meaningful contributions in their organizations.
  • Be intentional about recruiting (widen sourcing pools by inviting ERGs to participate in the process, for example). This will create new opportunities to infuse DEI into every aspect of the business—from development to retention to growth and beyond.
  • Own where you are in the DEI journey and implement actions (conduct parity studies at the intersection of gender and race, for example) to create equitable advancement pathways for all people.
  • Pull the experience levers that influence what makes people feel they belong in the workplace. It’s not just about having people from diverse backgrounds to meet quotas and goals. Instead, it’s leveraging and valuing what your diverse people can bring to the table.
  • Use tech-enabled engagement platforms to build community among all people, including in-office, hybrid and remote workers. For instance, Microsoft Viva leverages AI and external data to enhance workers’ experiences by addressing four areas: connect, content, learning and well-being.
  • The goal is to break down barriers between people to engender a sense of connection, trust and transparency.
  • When setting goals, don’t be afraid to share your data. Be transparent with where your company is in the journey. This will not only open up a dialogue but reveal actions the company can take to bridge the gap.
  • Prioritize recruiting individuals with a customer-centric mindset. Building a workforce with the right mindset will sustain this mentality within the company culture.
  • Connect people to customer outcomes by helping them see the human needs of those they are working to serve. Reward customer-centric behavior.

About the research

Accenture Research interviewed 33 individuals in May of 2020 and surveyed 6,998 individuals and 3,520 customers between September and November 2020. Data was collected in 14 countries within four regions: North America, EMEA, Asia Pacific and Latin America. The study includes responses from frontline and enablement workers and customers within seven industries which include: banking, insurance, healthcare, government, retail, telecommunications and utilities. Factor analyses were used to determine the experience levers, while linear regression was used to determine their relationship to worker outcomes.


Nahomie Louis

Managing Director – Talent & Organization, Inclusion, Diversity & Equity

Ella Bell Smith

Professor of Management – The Tuck School of Business, Dartmouth College