Do I Belong Here?
Belonging is Good Business
Retaining the best talent requires that leaders meet one of the most basic human needs – the need to belong. For decades it has been well established that the desire to belong is a fundamental human need. It has even been argued that belonging is the most basic social need we have as humans. Belonging is not just a desire that helps us feel pleasant or satisfied. It is, in fact, beneficial to our survival – truly a need.
Consider that the average employee spends about 1/3 of their adult life working or at work. In addition, "when people feel like they belong at work, they are more productive, motivated, engaged, and 3.5 times more likely to contribute to their fullest potential.“  They are also less likely to depart from their workplace in search of another. Researchers found that feeling excluded is significantly more likely to lead to job dissatisfaction, quitting, and health problems. It follows then that business owners and leaders should create a strong sense of belonging for all of their employees. It is good for your business and good for their health.
The Science of Belonging
Our brains are created for belonging. We all have the innate desire to experience healthy relationships. Our sense of belonging increases with two factors: 1) we have frequent, positive, personal interactions with others, and 2) we are recognized and valued for our uniqueness. In other words, we want to be known and appreciated. These two needs are driven by the relational circuits in our brains. (Learn more about these neural circuits here.)
Modern brain science research shows that our brains are answering four key questions leading to our survival and satisfaction in life:
Is this person or thing important to me?
Is this person or thing good for me?
Does someone understand me?
Do I know, or can someone help me to know, how to act here?
When it comes to belonging we need our brains to respond with a resounding “Yes!” to all four of these questions. For us to feel like we belong, we need someone who is important to us to be safe and pleasant, know us, and behave similarly.
Two no-fail techniques to create belonging are: practicing genuine appreciation and curiosity. Because these two expressions are generated in the right prefrontal cortex it is a guarantee that you will have your relational circuits on when you’re practicing either.
Appreciation is simply actively remembering something positive. These positive memories are stored in the right prefrontal cortex. When we reach back in time and relive one, our brain must be actively using the relational circuits to recall that memory. The more your practice this recall, the more relational you will become. Practicing appreciation prepares a person to be relational with others. It enhances every aspect of our interaction and collaboration with others.
Curiosity is the strong desire to learn or know something. When we are curious we are more innovative, have reduced group conflict, make fewer errors in decisions, have more open communication, and increase team performance. It is crucial that being curious is genuine and others-focused, not self-centered. When we are asking others questions to better understand their ideas and perspectives, we are expressing genuine curiosity. Questioning to gather information to win an argument or poke holes in someone else’s ideas is not curiosity. That’s self-justification – a true killer of belonging.
Belonging is healthy for each of us. Feeling like we belong at work is beneficial for us and for the company. Leaders create and nurture belonging by practicing appreciation and curiosity and helping their team members do the same.
Let’s talk more about how you can create a deeper sense of belonging in your team and your organization.
I have to give credit for much of my insight to my friend and mentor Barbara Moon, who patiently invests in me weekly (using her book, Joy-filled Relationships) and ad-hoc Q&A with me via text messages.
 Baumeister RF, Leary MR (1995) The need to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. Psychological Bulletin 117:497–529.  Karyn Twaronite, The Surprising Power of Simply Asking Coworkers How They’re Doing, Harvard Business Review, February 28, 2019, https://hbr.org/2019/02/the-surprising-power-of-simply-asking-coworkers-how-theyre-doing  Jane O'Reilly, Sandra L. Robinson, Jennifer L. Berdahl, Sara Banki (2014) Is Negative Attention Better Than No Attention? The Comparative Effects of Ostracism and Harassment at Work. Organization Science 26(3):774-793.  Francesca Gino, The Business Case for Curiosity, Harvard Business Review, September-October 2018, https://hbr.org/2018/09/the-business-case-for-curiosity