The average workplace is often a struggle. Work moves at the speed of technology, priorities change constantly and we must “do more with less.” In addition, every person is unique, has different skills, temperament, knowledge, skills and abilities. But, no matter how different we are, we can find common ground, develop a sense of belonging and work successfully together just as Baloo the bear, Leo the lion, and Shere Khan the tiger did. Jointly called BLT, the wild animals formed an unbreakable bond through years of captivity and neglect. Twelve years after they were rescued, they live together peacefully, spending their days “playing, cuddling and eating.”
Humans are social animals. We are hard-wired with a need for belonging and connection. Most of what we do and our need to belong drives our behavior. To a certain extent, we define ourselves and measure our self-worth through our connections to others. We need positive consistent and stable personal relationships. We need to care about others and know that they care about us. In fact, our strongest emotions are tied to our sense of attachment and belonging – love and hate. Belonging is defined as a feeling of choosing, wanting, and feeling permission to be part of a community or group, such as a work team, department company, volunteer organization, church, sports team, etc. A sense of belonging gives us a feeling of being valued and respected. (1)
Need for Belonging
Research conducted by psychologists Geoff MacDonald at the University of Toronto and Mark R. Leary at Duke University found that when we have a sense of belonging, when we feel accepted, welcomed and included, we are more likely to experience positive emotions such as happiness, calm and satisfaction. (2) And, as workers. we are likely to:
- Be more productive.
- Be more helpful to our co-workers without the need for personal gain.
- Encourage and support one another.
- Work more cooperatively with other teams.
- Take fewer sick days or be late to work.
According to Greg Stewart, Professor of Management and Organizations at the University of Iowa, A sense of belonging and attachment to a group of co-workers is a better motivator for some employees than money. (3)
My friend Joe gave me permission to tell his story. Like millions of others, he lost his management job in the Great Recession of 2008. However, Joe was fortunate that a friend offered him a part-time job as a merchandize clerk in a retail business while he looked for a full-time management job. The part-time job helped Joe and his family stay afloat financially; but it also posed a challenge for him.
Joe is excellent at building relationships, helping employees develop their skills and serving customers. However in the stock clerk job, he had no one to manage or develop but himself; there were no customers and no co-workers for form a team. He worked alone in the early morning hours before the business opened. Even when the store opened, he worked in the stockroom, isolated from other employees and customers. He was a team of one.
He felt isolated and adrift; but Joe, a smart and resourceful person, worked to end his isolation. He talked to everyone who crossed his path – delivery drivers, vendors, custodians, and sales clerks who came into the stockroom. He developed positive relationships with those who crossed his path, so he felt he was part of the store team, even though he worked alone. That sense of belonging helped him enjoy his work and feel useful and productive at a very stressful time in his life. And yes, he found a full-time management job at which he excels and it is a pleasure doing business with him.
Our desire to belong is universal, but expresses itself in different ways. ~ S. E. Hinton
How does your desire to belong express itself in the workplace? Share an example with us in the Comments section below.
1. Cobigo, V., Stuart, H., and Mahar, A. Conceptualizing Belonging.(Disability and Rehabilitation. Vol 35 (12). June 2013. P.1026-1038) http://informahealthcare.com/toc/dre/35/12
2. MacDonald, G., & Leary, M. R. (2005). Why does social exclusion hurt? The relationship between social and physical pain. Psychological Bulletin, 131, 202-223.
3. Snee, Tom, “Friends at Work,” Iowa Now,” March 8, 2012, http://now.uiowa.edu/2012/07/friends-workplaces