Belonging feels like being an essential member of a community. When one feels that they belong someplace, or belong to a group, they can relax – they are in their comfort zone or at least a comfortable zone. They are not on the lookout, spending precious energy scanning the room for signs of danger from others. They aren’t paying attention to or having to respond to eyes rolling or facial reactions to them or what they are saying or doing. Let’s think about this in terms of a single man being in a team of all women, or vice-versa. Have we ever been in a situation where we didn’t feel we belonged? How does that feel? What are we spending our energy on? My guess is that our energy is not going into our best performance – bringing our fullest and most focused selves to what’s going on – we’re monitoring the environment and those in it with whom we feel we don’t belong. So, belonging comes from knowing and being known by others; feeling a sense of psychological safety to be myself, to bring my full self to the situation, to not be on the lookout. And developing a sense of belonging is often something that takes time and takes intentionality by everyone in the room or the group, as our unconscious auto-pilot of thoughts, beliefs and behaviors can leave us each stranded in our small, private comfort zones, which leaves everyone with a sense of potential discomfort and energy spent on the look-out, rather than the buy-in.
Being able to explain belonging invites every voice into the conversation so that people can share from their lived experiences what belonging means to them. Unless we can clearly describe belonging, how can we possibly recognize belonging? And when we can recognize belonging, we can be certain that we are on the road to cultivating belonging.
I want to leave you with this thought: employee engagement is an outcome of the employee experience. When employees experience a sense of belonging, employee engagement is limitless. During these final days of summer, let’s load up the bases, swing for the fences, and hit a home run in the belonging ballpark!