How do you feel about your sense of belonging at work? Do you feel like you’re a member of a group? Is a lack of belonging affecting your health?

When we don’t belong, we feel guilty, rejected, anxious, depressed, angry, alone, jealous and isolated. We are more inclined to show behaviour problems, commit crimes and have suicidal ideation.

This means that a sense of belonging is essential for your mental health, and work can be a great source to find it. However, considering that many people are still getting used to working remotely and that travel restriction might make us feel more alienated from family and friends, now is an excellent time to begin focusing on our sense of belonging.

The good thing is that according to a study, we don’t need to be together in the same room to reap the benefits of feeling part of a team. 

But why is belonging to a group so important?

Why do humans need a sense of belonging?

According to Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, belonging is part of one of the fundamental needs that motivate human behaviour.

Belonging is not only a want but a necessity, according to research by psychologists Baumeister and Leary. A need that is almost as intense as the need for food in humans.

belongingIn addition, a recent MIT study discovered that we crave relationships in the same brain region that we crave food and that we experience social exclusion in the same brain area that we experience physical pain.

A lack of sense of belonging at work can also lead to job dissatisfaction and health problem, and it’s a strong predictor of depression.

We define a sense of belonging as that feeling of connectedness to a group or community. It’s the sense that you’re part of something. You feel attached, close and thoroughly accepted by your people.

While there is no consensus yet on how to define a sense of belonging, some factors have been proven to be critical in achieving it. These are:

  • Acceptance
  • Attention
  • Support

While been together in the same room can help, none of these are impossible to accomplish from a distance. Surely we all can remember a person we saw daily but with whom we didn’t feel any connection. 

Create a sense of belonging for yourself

Relationships require time and effort, and in order to build them, the work needs to start with you. 

Using the three aspects above, we’ve compiled a list of tips that can help you, as an individual, to feel like you belong:

Work on acceptance. Validation is one of the most effective ways to convey acceptance. Validation is the recognition that someone’s internal experience is understandable, and it helps you stay on the same page, feeling like you belong, even if you disagree.

Look for similarities instead of differences. Try to find things you have in common with your peers. 

Be open to new possibilities and avoid judgment. Participate in activities with others, even if it’s not something you’d typically do. Be willing to try new things and form new relationships.

Be aware of nonverbal communication. Keep a close eye on your nonverbal communication. When we don’t feel comfortable, our nonverbal signals can appear unfriendly. 

Ask for support. Don’t be hesitant to seek help when you require it, even if it is minor. Asking someone’s opinion or input can be a terrific way to start a relationship and can help you discover mutual interests.

Speak up and be seen. On the other hand, don’t be scared to speak up if you have anything to say or add. Everyone has something to contribute, and you will have skills and expertise that others will undoubtedly value. This might also assist you in achieving acceptance.

Make an effort and be patient. It takes time and effort to form connections with other individuals. Be patient and give it your all.

Help your team to create a sense of belonging

Creating a feeling of belonging is not something we can do for others, but we definitely can help. 

Want to help the people in your team to achieve a sense of belonging? We have gathered some tips here:

Create opportunities for people to connect. It can be challenging to find things in common when working remotely or with someone you have never met in person. However, as a company leader, you can help. Create events outside of work to foster connections based on shared interests, even if they are remote. You can also build forums where people can discuss various topics. (Read more about team building activities here)

Set up a mentoring programme. According to research, encouragement of mentorship can help with the development of a sense of belonging. This is excellent for new employees or people who have a hard time making connections.

Foster alliances. The same study shows that even having one ally inside a group can improve our sense of belonging. A way to do this is to connect two people you know can help each other or have shared values and goals. 

Ask about people’s views on what they would do. Even soliciting suggestions on how to foster a sense of belonging can be beneficial, which is helpful to newcomers and those who feel excluded. (Read more about how to use questions to empower your team)

Create psychological safety. It’s critical to create an environment where people feel safe and can be themselves. As we said before, a sense of belonging is based on acceptance and support, and it would be challenging to feel accepted if the environment doesn’t allow you to be yourself. 

Allow freedom and autonomy. While sharing common goals and values contribute to a sense of belonging, autonomy is also essential. It’s nice to be a part of a group, but we must maintain our individuality and freedom.

Practise recognition and appreciation. Being able to express one’s thoughts and feeling respected, as well as being appreciated, are crucial parts of experiencing a sense of belonging. As a company leader, you must help ensure that your employees are at ease with one another and with the organisation as a whole.

Reimagine the recruitment process. You can start helping your team to create a sense of belonging from the start by choosing people who you know would fit with the rest of your team. Wes MD uses the “speed dating” style as part of their interview process. When they have a candidate they like, they arrange for them to meet different people from the team. This ensures that they are a good fit and that you are selecting the best applicant for the job. (Read more about their experience here)

The Optimist View…

We all belong somewhere, we just need to find our tribe. Likewise, finding our tribe will require some effort on our part too. 

At Optimist Performance, we have our tribe too. A tribe of Optimists! 

This week we are starting a year-long research project, where we partnered with Communing with the Campbells, a family that will spend a year living in communities around the world to explore if there is a better way.  

If you want to receive news about our findings and all the ways we can apply those learnings into our day to day lives, sign up below.