An Innate Sense of Belonging

A sense of belonging is something we, as humans, have always craved. It is because of this we have not only survived, but flourished.

Stonehenge

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. 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. As well as 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. Which meant that 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. As such, we  soon learn that we need the protection of others to survive. 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. These hormones produce a response of intimacy, love and trust.

We rely on one another for safety, support and development. 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 belonging is still relevant?

Belonging feels good. Whether it is in a relationship, marriage, political group, sports team, social club, 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 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/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, the levels of serotonin in our body naturally increases. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that makes us feel happy. With the knowledge that we can create and duplicate this feeling of happiness 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. This 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 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. 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 and practice, to build a sense of belonging.

1. RESPECT:

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

2. RESOLVE ISSUES:

Put in place systems that fix problems and skirmishes quickly. Creative debate in the workplace is healthy. However, when issues are taken personally, this can cause conflict. 

3. COMMUNICATE:

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. If you keep everyone up-to-date and consult them with regards to important decisions and changes, it will be appreciated. 

4. CELEBRATE:

Acknowledge the little things. Have a party and reward the group for work well done. It doesn’t have to be excessive. But by celebrating and acknowledging an achievement will solidify and strengthen bonds. (see article on employee development plans )

5. FOLLOW THE RULES:

Your team want to feel that they can rely on you. If you are not pulling your weight, you will be resented for it. If there is a genuine reason for any lack of commitment, explain and discuss it. Again, communication is vital.

6. IDENTIFY VALUES:

By identifying and upholding these core values, you keep the organisation/everyone within it headed in the same direction.

7. INCLUDE EVERYONE:

If you, John and Jennet are always meeting for drinks outside of work, but you never invite Jack, he will know it. 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

Some individuals working alone within an organisation may thrive by undermining and using others. But organisations that support and adhere to our innate desire to belong will create a largely happier workforce. 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 the higher the profits.

Trust your instincts. They have done us well so far.

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 provide game-changing insights. Rather than just summarising data, we provide a real depth of insight that is more granular, accurate and actionable.

Contact the team, and ask for a demo. 

Image credit: Athena LeTrelle

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