Studies show that feeling a sense of belonging in the workplace leads to more than just good vibes and friendships. Belonging is what allows employees to feel like they can be their authentic selves without fear of different treatment or punishment—and it has a major impact on performance and retention.
When people feel a sense of belonging, they spend more time working instead of worrying. And when people feel like they don't belong, they spend much more time worrying than working.
This sense of belonging goes well beyond the workplace. When people feel like they belong, they feel comfortable being themselves. They don't have to worry about who will say what about them. They don't have to worry if they will be treated differently when dining in a restaurant, shopping at a nice store, or going through airport security.
Belonging creates feelings of caring, compassion, and camaraderie for both parties involved. Belonging is a core part of each person's need for acceptance and well-being in a world of complexity, comparison, and competition.
Challenges to Belonging
We all want to feel a sense of belonging, but it isn't always easy to find. You've probably experienced a time when you felt like you didn't belong. You were snubbed in some way, ridiculed, rejected, or just ignored. It hurts when you don't belong. And there's not much that can be done to fix the pain except for someone to say a kind word and make you feel like someone cares about you.
But how did you find yourself in the situation where you felt separated or isolated? It may have been that you were a different gender, a different color, or somehow different looking from the rest of the group. Maybe you were just wearing the jersey of the opposing team at a sporting event or viewing party. It's interesting how people find ways to exclude others or make them feel uncomfortable when they are quote "not on the same team."
Most people feel more comfortable with other people who look, speak, dress, and act as they do. It's just human nature. We tend to associate with people who we think are similar to us and avoid people who we think are different from us. Based on our upbringing, our early experiences, our culture, and what we've learned from our parents and friends, we decide what is familiar and what is not. When things are not familiar, we tend to avoid, ignore, or neglect those things. We do the same with people who are not familiar. And it comes out in three distinct ways:
In the next lesson, we'll explore the definitions and differences between those three behaviors.