An Innate Sense of Belonging

Eleanor Barlow

Humans have always been social animals and, because of this, we have not only survived, but flourished.


Since man, or at least a version of man, first walked the Earth, we have prevailed by uniting. Travelling in groups provided a sense of security and safety. Protected in numbers, we would hunt together, and from hunting together larger prey could be captured, which was more sustainable and beneficial to all. We learnt that by farming together we could distribute, share and grow different foods, and accumulate far more than we would have been able to singularly. By working collectively, different members had designated jobs. Women, for instance, could prepare food, while men built shelters. This meant that time was used more efficiently, so more was accomplished.

Our desire to belong in a group is not only a sensible choice but is rooted in our earliest years. With no venom, claws or sharp teeth, as babies we are defenceless, and soon learn that to survive we need the protection of others. Not only do babies recognise this, but mothers must also make sure that a bond is made so that a desire to protect her new-born is there. This bond is ensured as the levels of oxytocin in the body increase during childbirth which, in turn, produces a response of intimacy, love and trust.

We rely on one another for safety, support and development, and by unifying and bonding with one another, we have come a long way since our caveman days.


Cartoon image of cavemen


Yet, in this modern world, and despite our improved intellect, fancy gadgets and expensive houses, our desire to belong is as primal as ever. Why you may ask? The answer is simple; it feels good. Whether it is in a relationship or marriage, in a political group, part of a sports team or social club, in charity work, or even as part of a country, almost everyone wants to belong to something. Not only do we want to belong, but we often alter ourselves to do so. At school, you may have worn those shoes that everyone wanted, to become “one of the gang”. A friend of mine, rather awkwardly, alters her accent to mirror the dialect of wherever we are. We even change our behaviour depending on what group we are in; you wouldn’t talk to your teachers or parents the same way you would chat with your friends, would you?

Our desire to belong is, in fact, addictive. Generally, when we feel important and needed by others, the levels of serotonin in our body naturally increases. Serotonin is one of the most significant neurotransmitters in that it makes us feel happy. With the knowledge that we can create and duplicate this feeling of happiness by interacting and bonding with others, we want to, and do, repeat the process.

Sports Team

However, if we do not feel part of a team, or deserted by one, our serotonin levels deplete, which leaves us feeling unhappy or even depressed. According to author Lisa Shelly, despite our longing to connect and belong, the desire to belong is especially disregarded in the workplace. It’s not so much that workplaces are against a sense of belonging, but that many are just not proactive in making people feel secure and included.

It may be due to the level of competitiveness our culture now adheres to. It’s a dog eat dog world after all, and perhaps people fear that their friendliness may be taken advantage of. Nevertheless, each of us will spend on average 92120 hours of our lifetime at work. That is a long time to feel disconnected and isolated.

How to Form a Sense of Belonging in the Workplace

It demands a considerable amount of effort, as well as practice, to build a sense of belonging. These seven suggestions, however, may help to establish it and should be implemented within the place of employment as soon as possible.


Everyone must treat one another equally and recognise that each member of the group has their own knowledge and set of skills that make them an asset to the team. Their skill set may differ from yours, but that does not make them any less valuable.


Put in place systems that fix problems and skirmishes quickly. Creative debate in the workplace is healthy, as it is an opportunity to discuss ideas, options and opinions and to move forward with these thoughts. However, when issues are taken personally, this can cause conflict. Be adults, resolve the issue, and move on.


By communicating with the group in a clear, concise manner, everyone will feel included. Communication should also be regular to gather staff feedback. People do not like to feel underprepared, and if you keep them up-to-date and consult them with regards to important decisions and changes, they will appreciate it.


Make sure to acknowledge the little things. Have a small party and reward the group for work well done. It doesn’t have to be excessive, but by celebrating an achievement, and acknowledging that this achievement was only made possible by working together, will solidify and strengthen bonds. (see article on employee development plans )


Do not turn up to work late or miss a meeting. Hand in that assignment when you said you would and respond to those emails piling up. Your team want to feel that they can rely on you. If you are not pulling your weight, you will be resented for it, and if there is a genuine reason for any lack of commitment, explain and discuss it. Again, communication is vital!


By identifying the values of an organisation and upholding those values throughout our day-to-day actions, creates a glue, if you will, that keeps the organisation and everyone within it on the same page and headed in the same direction.


If you, John and Jennet are always meeting for drinks outside of work, but you never include/invite Jack, he will know it, and it will hurt him. Cliques do not contribute to a joint sense of belonging, they only exclude individuals further. This is not high school anymore, so don’t act like you are one of the Mean Girls!

Mean Girls film

Although individuals working alone within an organisation may thrive by undermining and using others, organisations that support and adhere to our innate desire to belong will create a largely happier workforce. In fact, according to Gallup, managers who double the rate of engaged employees achieved, on average, 147% higher earnings than their competition. Therefore, the larger the sense of belonging and the happier the workforce, the better the work and the higher the profits.

Trust your instincts- they have done us well so far.

Here at Pansensic, we work with organisations from all over the world in a wide range of sectors. What they have in common is the understanding that the experiences of their customers, staff and stakeholders can provide game-changing insights. Rather than just summarising data, we provide a real depth of insight that is more granular, more accurate and more actionable.

Alongside examining aspects such as autonomy, job security, waste and resource, innovation, communication, targets and metrics, bullying and discrimination, staff engagement and listening, environment and future, personal development and much more, we can also identify whether or not your staff feel like they belong to and work as part of a team within your organisation.

Not only can we identify whether or not there is an issue in this area but, more importantly, we can identify why there is an issue and what exactly is causing it. Rather than spending months, even years, wondering how to better your business, we provide powerful insights and address issues quickly and effectively. This will not only create a happier team, but will boost productivity and, consequently, turn a greater profit.

Contact the team today, or ask for a demo, and see what we can do for your team and you.

Image credit: Athena LeTrelle

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