A sense of belonging
A sense of belonging is associated with wellbeing
The deepest human need is to belong.
Research evidence demonstrates that a strong sense of belonging and connectedness is positively associated with wellbeing, happiness and mental health. Feelings of belonging are understood to influence an individual’s identity and the extent to which they feel accepted, respected, valued for who they are, and experiencing a level of supportive energy and commitment from others, so that they are able to take on a role in society.
The pluses of belonging – and the minuses of not belonging
Our belonging shows up in how we seek out the company of people who think like us, and with whom we feel a sense of approval for thinking like them: they make the same kind of value judgments as we do. When we feel we belong, we have a sense of strong relationships, safety, security and trust – of being ‘home’ and included, and often of a sense of capability.
We have a variety of groups with whom we feel we belong – at work, in our families, amongst our friends, in the interest groups we are part of, and in our religious and political groups.
When we have a sense of not belonging and not being able to trust our group, we risk loneliness, a sense of not being accepted for who we are, and the stress and anxiety that come through not being able to trust the people around us. This can manifest in agitation, withdrawal, physical conditions such as eczema, difficulty in sleeping, lack of ability to focus or concentrate, difficulty in building or sustaining relationships, obsessive physical activity – and in a work context, overwork, low levels of productivity, engagement and effectiveness.
Belonging, exclusion – and outcomes
While it may not be on the leader’s job description to notice those of their reports who lack a sense of belonging at work, it may nevertheless explain differences in levels of performance, participation and effectiveness. Cliques and tighly-knit groups are another way in which people seek and preserve their sense of belonging. With such groups there’s a risk of exclusion too, if they’re not open enough to diversity of all kinds – state of health, gender, job grade, ethnicity, colour…
What often binds groups together is a sense of shared values: as a leader are you consciously aware of the values that your group holds? Do you feel you belong? What is the outcome of that sense of belonging: what does it enable, and as leader, what now do you want to create from that outcome?