“A deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need of all people. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. When those needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart. We numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick.” (Brené Brown)
Human beings throughout the ages have had an innate desire to connect and require a sense of belonging. With this said, it’s understandable why gangs do so well in some areas of society, they create a ‘place of belonging’ – as those joining gangs have been considered as outcasts in society.
The gang becomes a safe haven where the individual is recognized and is part of something bigger than themselves.
The Third Place
Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, famously created the vision of Starbucks as a third place – a place somewhere between home and work where people could feel a sense of belonging and find true human connections.
Sociologist and author, Brené Brown, through her research has discovered that all people have two basic human needs, being loved and a sense of belonging. The prerequisite to belong is undoubtedly a powerful social force.
Today, we find people searching for ‘belonging’ through social media, through membership of clubs or through some sort of allegiance to a belief, a cause or a political party. Many people are going to extremes (even though these extremities might only give short term fulfilment, but have long term consequences) just to fit in or belong.
People become susceptible to drug use, alcohol misuse and other destructive social behaviours, all to quench this seemingly insatiable need to belong. The desire to belong is a very powerful driven emotion.
What does it mean to belong? Belonging starts with self-awareness and acceptance of oneself. For example, we will find it difficult to belong within a social context if we are battling to accept who we really are.
Belonging also means feeling accepted and appreciated by others around us – essentially fitting into ‘the group’. People feel a sense of belonging in a situation or context with associations due to interests and values, or if an authentic connection arises between people.
Romans 14:8 reminds us that “If we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.” We belong to God so start from a place of belonging.
When Jesus was baptized, as He came out of the water, the Spirit of God came upon Him and a voice declared from heaven: “This is my beloved son with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17). These words are an absolute proof of the need to belong. God delighted in Jesus even before He had done anything for His Father. He belonged to God and this sense of belonging gave Him the foundation and the strength to walk in obedience to what His Father had called Him to.
The Family Concept
Similarly, if we can create a place of belonging within the workplace, this too can serve as a strong foundation for impacting the employees through our business. In our own family business, a major area of focus is helping people to find one area of belonging, a sense of belonging within our broader family business.
I say one area, because a business can only provide a small place of belonging, the larger places are reserved for marital, home and religious settings.
Providing the Setting
Encouraging a sense of belonging in the workplace can be achieved in these ways, albeit that these are only a few examples:
- Create the environment where people are free to express themselves (provided this is not against Company policy), freely outplay their own creativity and where they feel that they have control over their world and can act into it.
- Encourage teams to feel that the workplace is a safe place, where they can be true to their abilities and echo these out into the marketplace. Brené Brown has said that “because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”
- People need to feel the flexibility to experiment and to make mistakes. This means maintaining the right levels of accountability but also allowing for risk and experimentation.
Belonging also implies that you have a voice. I belong in a context where I am heard and feel that I matter within that context.
My grandparents and parents taught me (and they lived it) the commercial virtues of ‘partnerships of the heart’ and shunned ‘partnerships of the pocket’. The former virtue gave me a great sense of belonging when I started to work at House of Louis. A partnership of the heart is assisted by the common traditions and values the parties share, but mutual respect and love is key.
Our business policy with our colleagues is that if we are going to have a fruitful business relationship, and if all parties wish to enhance the relationship, then any individual should be able to raise any issue with frankness and discuss it with the only motive to develop the relationship.
Innuendos, insinuations, accusations and staunch silence are mannerisms not acceptable in our business partnerships. It’s this delicate balance of love and discipline that creates a safe workplace, a place to belong.
About the Author: Dr Alan Louis is a third generation entrepreneur in a family with a 100-year business history. He devoted his life to Christianity as a child. Awarded a PhD in Commerce, is an Ultra Ironman Triathlete Gold medallist and was inducted in the IBC Hall of Fame for entrepreneurship. Internationally he has served on more than 100 private corporate boards, and has experienced the trials and successes of commerce for 3 decades.