All humans have the need to belong. Belongingness, awkward as the word might sound, is the emotional need or drive to be part of a group. This emotional needs drive our motivation to groups whether it be family, church, boy scouts, or the workplace. This feeling can motivate individuals to stay or leave a group. This being a basic and common need among all of us, we should focus not on creating belongingness but removing obstacles to this need.
“For our ancestors, belonging to a group that shared the workload and helped protect each other was essential for survival. As a result our brains are hard-wired to motivate us toward connection and belonging. In fact, recent research in neuroscience has indicated that social needs are managed using the same neural networks as used for primary survival needs such as food and water. (Lieberman, Eisenberger, 2008) Belonging can literally feel like a life or death matter.”
Workplace engagement strategies and philosophy tend to focus on creating belongingness. Initiatives that attempt to promote engagement without removing the barriers to engagement tend to result in compounding a negative result. As efforts are made to develop artificial engagement, the underlying causes of disengagement will grow. A person who feels no sense of belonging in an organization needs hear less about engagement efforts and more about how the organization wants to understand why they do not feel like they belong.
The best strategy is to reduce negative influences on belonging and engagement. Actions that address barriers to these emotions will return three or four times the value of those efforts which address only the result of not belonging. We talk about similar strategies when it comes to customer service. We often quote statistics about the cost of retaining customers versus the cost of finding new customers. The same strategy should be applied to the emotion of belongingness.
Workplace discussions should be less about engagement and more about unification.