NextGen Know-How: Creating a Culture of Belonging

bouquet of flowers next to card that says We Appreciate You on yellow envelope
Laurie Maddalena, MBA, CSP, CPCC Photo
Executive Coach/Consultant
Envision Excellence

4 minutes

Feeling appreciated and accepted in the workplace is important for employee engagement and retention.

About 10 days ago, I dropped my oldest daughter Olivia off for three weeks of sleep-away camp. I’m sure this will be a wonderful experience for her, but the week leading up to camp, I started having anxiety about her potential experience. Some of the kids are there all summer and had four weeks to forge friendships before the new kids arrived at camp for only the last three weeks. Thoughts raced through my head: Will she be welcomed? Will the kids be kind and accepting? Will she make a good friend?

Throughout the past week and a half, I’ve been impatiently waiting for the notification each day that new camp photos have been posted. I scour the photos looking for Olivia and any signs that she is having fun. There have been a few where she has been smiling and one where she was laughing (!), but there have also been a couple where I can see her in the background standing alone. No friend next to her. No one smiling with her or chatting in her ear. My worry kicks in, and I start having thoughts about her being lonely or feeling out of place. My husband tries to talk me off the ledge by telling me I am drawing conclusions that are most likely not accurate, since I don’t know the context of the photos. But as a mom, I want to ease her fears, give her a hug and tell her she belongs.

Perhaps my fear comes from reflecting on moments as a child when I felt out of place, or new, or different, and the nervousness and anxiety of wanting to fit in. Humans have a need to belong. We have a need to feel accepted for who we are. Whether it’s with a group of friends, in a new neighborhood, or at work, we want to feel a sense of belonging and feel accepted and acknowledged.

Have you ever walked into a networking event and felt anxious because you didn’t know anyone? Or started a new job and felt nervous because you didn’t know what to expect?

As leaders, we have tremendous influence on how our employees feel at work every day. We have the power to positively impact our employees’ everyday experience. Do you take the time to show appreciation and acknowledgement for great work? Do your employees feel valued by leadership and feel a connection to their team and the overall credit union? Unfortunately, studies show that most employees are not receiving the recognition they need. According to Gallup, only one out of three employees has recently received meaningful recognition for their work.

When you hire new employees, do you take the time to be intentional in designing their first-week experience? How about their first month? Regular and proactive connections are important beyond the first few weeks to ensure your new employee feels welcomed and a sense of belonging. I had a participant in one of my leadership programs who shared the story of showing up on his first day with a new company only to be told his manager was on vacation and they weren’t expecting him. He waited an hour in the lobby while they figured out what to do with him—a perfect example of what not to do!  

Here are just a few examples of how you can show your new and tenured employees you appreciate and acknowledge them:

  • Send a hand-written thank you note.
  • Send flowers, an edible arrangement or a welcome basket to a new employee the week before they start work.
  • Acknowledge birthdays, company anniversaries, new babies and wedding anniversaries.
  • Show interest in how an employee spent vacation time.
  • Ask about their children’s milestones and accomplishments. (Did their child win the soccer tournament?)
  • Order business cards and have them ready on the employee’s first day.
  • Have a specific plan for an employee’s first week of work, including lunches and meeting team members.
  • If your new employee is virtual, meet for lunch over Zoom and schedule virtual coffee breaks to connect.
  • Take time to get to know your new employee by asking them about life outside of work.
  • Ask other leaders to send cards or emails to welcome a new employee.
  • When an employee welcomes a new baby, order meals for the family the first few nights they are home.

These are just some examples of how you can foster belonging and appreciation in the workplace. What have you done in your credit union to intentionally welcome a new employee or show appreciation to your staff? I’d love for you to share your ideas with our credit union community in the comments!

Laurie Maddalena, MBA, CPCC, PHR, is a certified executive coach, leadership consultant and founder of CUES Supplier member Envision Excellence LLC in the Washington, D.C., area. Her mission is to create exceptional cultures by teaching leaders how to be exceptional. Maddalena facilitates management and executive training programs and team-building sessions and speaks at leadership events. Prior to starting her business, she was an HR executive at a $450 million credit union. Contact her at 240.605.7940 or

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