Does a sense of belonging really matter?

Imagine for just a moment that you have found yourself in a room, on your own. There are no windows, there is no furniture, and there are certainly no people. The room is stripped down to nothing. The floor is exposed, the walls are bare. There is nothing in the room but you and the clothes you are wearing. You stop whatever you are doing and try to clear your mind. What is the first thing you think about?

Chances are you think about someone you know—another person. That is because, when we are seemingly at rest, our brains work in the same way they do when we are engaged in interacting with other people. This occurrence is explained by something called the default mode network. The default mode network is a large brain network that becomes active when our brains are not focused on anything in particular. Researchers now understand that the default mode network can still be active even when we are engaged in other tasks. It enables us to think about others, our self, and our past or future. The default mode network reflects our need to belong and interact with others. Even though we sometimes want to be alone, most of us strive to connect with other people—to fit in and to belong.

Being surrounded by other human beings doesn’t guarantee a sense of belonging. Belonging actually has to do with identification as a member of a group and the higher quality interactions which come from that. It’s the interactions over time which are supportive of us as full, authentic human beings.

What Is a Sense of Belonging?

The need to belong, also known as belongingness, refers to a human emotional need to affiliate with and be accepted by members of a group. A sense of belonging involves more than simply being acquainted with other people. It is centered on gaining acceptance, attention, and support from members of the group as well as providing the same attention to other members.

Are you experiencing a true sense of belonging?

A sense of belonging – the feeling of being accepted, included, and part of something – has been described as one of our most important needs. In fact, belonging means that you feel accepted, included, or a part of something else. People can feel like they belong to a school, a family, a friendship, a sporting group, or a workplace. And we know two things: belonging feels good, but we tend not to realize this until we miss it. But what does belonging feel like, exactly? It is hard to say, but we know that the feeling of not belonging can feel like physical pain for some people. Not belonging can be linked to feelings of worthlessness, self-doubt, isolation, and sadness. It can affect your relationships with others, your performance and even your grades. Belonging is important and can be experienced differently by different people.

Why is a sense of belonging at work important?

Belonging in the workplace is an employee’s sense that their uniqueness is accepted and even treasured by their organization and colleagues. Belonging is an accumulation of day-to-day experiences that enables a person to feel safe and bring their full, unique self to work. Belonging in the workplace matters because it impacts business performance and employee well-being. Belonging is necessary for bringing out the best of everyone at work.

Belonging is not simply that employees feel appreciated for the work they do or the role they play in the organization – belonging runs deeper. This means valuing the various components of an employee’s identity. In this sense, belonging is a close cousin to diversity, and inclusion.

If employees don’t experience a sense of belonging, they are more likely to feel insecure about their place in the organization and feel less freedom to be their authentic selves. And that insecurity– that fear – undermines their performance, their creativity and their ability and willingness to collaborate. Belonging is vital to performance, innovation and retention, and starts with executive commitment. The pandemic and the Great Resignation have also made creating a culture of belonging more critical than ever – not just for employee well-being but for business success. Belonging at work builds on the work of psychologist Abraham Maslow and his hierarchy of needs. For Maslow and other researchers, the need for belonging and love sit in the middle of the pyramid of human needs, above basic physical needs but required before reaching the peak human need of “self-actualization.”

Creating Belonging

Belonging is a necessary ingredient for our performance—individually, in teams and for our organizations—because we can more effectively engage and bring our best selves to work. And even more importantly, belonging is good for our wellbeing as humans. It’s important for individual physical, mental and emotional health and it’s critical to the health of our communities. The pandemic has brought belonging into sharpened focus and we must be intentional about creating it with and among others. We can do this in tangible ways by embracing groups, being authentic and signaling acceptance.

Cynthia Chirinda is a Communications Strategist, Human Capital and Organisational Culture Optimizer. As a Life Coach, Author, and publishing consultant, her published books speak to matters that position individuals and leaders to achieve their significant goals. Looking at improving your career, DEIB in the workplace, personal effectiveness, communication skills, relationships, focus, faith and happiness? Our therapy sessions and coaching strategies can help you and achieve your goals. E-mail: cynthia@cynthiac.net. Whatsapp: +1 (646)641 5105. Website:www.cynthiac.net.