Belonging is the feeling of security and support when there is a sense of acceptance, inclusion, and identity for a member of a certain group or place, according to Cornell University. It’s the basic fundamental need to form and maintain lasting, positive, and significant relationships with others. By nature we seek to belong. Belonging and feeling a sense of connection is so strong that we even bond with strangers who feel like outcasts with us. Having raised four teenagers, I saw this at school all the time. The misfits find each other and form a strong bond around not belonging, just to feel as if they belong.
Do you remember the school playground or lunchroom? Whether you were sitting at the popular kids table or sitting alone, you knew what it meant “to belong or not to belong.” I have been at large conferences where I walked in alone and had the dreaded feeling of not belonging. Not belonging to an existing group and having to put forth effort to begin connecting. It’s hard. A lack of belonging creates feelings of loneliness. [Read more on remote workers and loneliness]
According to a recent study done by Betterup, 40% of people say that they feel isolated at work, and the result has been lower organizational commitment and engagement. Whether you are a person of color in a mostly white organization, a woman in a highly male-dominated field, a trans person in a conservative company that favors conformity or a solopreneur working from home with a family who doesn’t understand what they do; feeling as if you belong to a group of people who “get you” and a group of people who “have your back” is critical. Not just to your level of satisfaction, but to your level of productivity and success at work and at home. People who feel they belong perform better, become more willing to challenge themselves, and are more resilient.
In a time where retention is critical for organizations and where we see a mass exodus of unhappy or just unsatisfied employees, belonging at work needs to be examined more closely. U.S. businesses spend nearly $8 billion each year on diversity and inclusion (D&I) trainings that seems to be missing the mark. Understanding our differences falls short of helping people feel included. Many of the D&I conversations leave out the basic concept that people need to belong and then take it even further to discuss what it takes specifically to help that happen.
Our Top Tips for Fighting Loneliness
- Do the uncomfortable. Join a group or class that is just beginning. When everyone is new, you are more likely to connect over your desire to learn something new or to start something. Check out Event Bright or your local free university for classes and events.
- Go deeper. Joining a support group, a local storytelling group, or book club can allow you to connect on a deeper level with people. These experiences are where deeper friendships are formed. Don’t go once and feel as if you didn’t fit in. Commit to a longer period of time to make sure it’s not just your fear of rejection rising up inside. We all have it and only by staying and contributing to conversations do you start to reap the benefits.
- Join in the workspace social side. Does your team send funny gifs or texts to each other? Be sure to join in. If your coworkers have social events, don’t make excuses to leave early because you don’t feel that you fit in. Commit to attending for a minimum of 30 min. Commit to getting to know one person a little better. If you are a solopreneur, join a local coworking space where other like-minded individuals gather. Most have regular events as well as resources to help you plug in and build your business.
Our Top Tips for Organizations to Go Beyond Inclusivity and Create an Environment where People BELONG:
- Look at your walls. Forget about “What’s in your wallet” and ask “What’s on our walls.” Are your photos and art reflective of your community or employees? I’ve been down those cold hallways where past “elders” and “founders” stare down at me. They usually don’t look anything like the community I want to belong to. As an organization, I know It’s not easy. You may have to go to more than store or website to find items that are as inclusive as you say you want to be. It’s not that we have to remove all people from the art on our walls, but we have to make sure that it makes everyone feel as if they belong!At The Village Workspace, we love fun and whimsical magnets in our bathroom stalls. Ann Taintor makes fun magnets that we started collecting, but after realizing there were so few that had people of color we wrote to the company and requested some with a more diverse look. We did do more searching and found 5-6.
- Plug people in. Do you tend to ask the same people to lead meetings and events? Tap into the talent all around you. Don’t ask the whole group at once, “Who wants to head this up?” The same extraverts will volunteer each time. Talk to teammates or members one-on-one and tell them you would love to see them get more involved. Encourage people in your organization to do “Random Knowledge Sharing” sessions where you have 2-3 people each month share something random that they are an expert at. Maybe you have someone show how they make paper or how to take better photos with a smartphone. You will be surprised at how fun this can be and the feeling of belonging that presenters get.
- Create a welcome ritual for new employees or members. It’s awkward enough to be new somewhere let alone to go through a quick “welcome meeting” and then be left alone to eat lunch at that Jr. High table all over again and find your way from then on. Help your new team members have a great feeling of belonging at work by introducing them to people you know have something in common with them. Make sure they don’t eat lunch alone for at least a few days.Play the game of “Find 3 things you have in common” and have your existing team members go and try to find things in common with this new person.I was overjoyed last week when we were setting up an office for a new team moving in and found a card that had been shoved under the door. Not sure what it was, I opened it and saw that it was a WELCOME TO THE VILLAGE note left by the two people who office on either sides of this new team. They were telling them how excited they were to have a “new neighbor.” We always put a welcome note with a small plant on the desk of folks moving in, but to have other members welcome them as well made me SO EXCITED!
Today’s workers, more than ever before, want to feel a sense of belonging and a sense that they matter to the organization. Take some time this month and over the next year looking for ways to create a true sense of belonging in your workspace. Help ensure people feel welcomed and comfortable. We spend far too much time working among others to feel isolated and lonely.
HOMEWORK: Reach out to one person this week to get to know them a little better and let them know… they belong.