Where Do You Belong?



It was early morning and I was sitting on the front steps leading up to our house tying up my shoes before taking our two dogs for a walk, when the thought crossed my mind of how good it was to be home – because this is where I belong. 

Our need to belong is essential to our health and wellbeing. As Brené Brown reminds us it is that innate desire to part of something greater than ourselves. It’s the sense that we’re in the right place, that it’s part of who we are and we’re safe. 

On a recent work trip in Chicago I found myself chatting with a lovely lady discussing how different workplaces have such a profound effect on an individual’s life and happiness. As she spoke about her own experience it was clear she not only loved her work, she loved going to work and spending time with her work colleagues. She spoke animatedly about how if felt good to be part of an organisation she was proud to be associated with, where there were lots of opportunities for professional development, the leadership was super proactive in seeking out ways to improve things for their staff and there was a strong emphasis on giving back to the community. 

I came away from our conversation inspired by her story of a workplace doing so well, that was providing meaning and purpose to all that worked there. Heck, I’d work there too. Her happiness made me feel happy too. 

 How does your workplace stack up? 

Is it a place you look forward to going to each and every day? 

Does your work give you purpose and meaning? 

Do you feel that you are in the right place – that you belong? 

Whether you’re a start-up, an entrepreneur, manager or business leader it will be your ability to build a team or company that shares that sense of belonging that will determine your success. 

Our need to belong is universal.  

In a recent workshop on Smarter Thinking that I ran in Beijing, the big question everyone wanted answered was how do I attract, inspire and motivate great people to work for me? 

This is exactly the same question I get asked all the time whether I’m in Australia, New Zealand, the UK or the US. 

The answer is easy. 

Be inclusive. Make them feel they belong. 

We use our social intelligence to determine whether we are in a place of safety or not. It wants us to part of the in-crowd. It is our ability to form relationships with others, to find those we consider like us sharing common values, ideas and beliefs that provide the sanctuary of safety, reward us with friendship and make it easier to do great work because we’re not expending valuable mental energy dealing with toxic people, intense emotion or boredom. 

It’s true we live in a complicated and rapidly changing world and some of the problems we face such as the massive rise in stress related illness, mental distress (anxiety, depression) lack of engagement and high presenteeism are huge. 

As a medical practitioner it worries me that in our search for the holy grail of how to boost productivity and performance, the size and complexity of the problem has blinded us to the understanding we have the solution and it doesn’t include the latest fancy app or psychometric test to colour-code our preferences/behaviours. 

We are human. 

We need to belong. 

Research backs this up too. One study revealed how providing autonomy, options and greater relatedness led to higher levels of workplace happiness and satisfaction. Other work cites the results of a survey indicating how the happiest, healthiest employees are up to 12% more productive then their less happy and unhealthy counterparts who are up to 10% less productive. 

Building relatedness and belonging at work can be helped by 

  1. Starting with the intention. 

We’re all busy – even the dog is busy these days. The problem is that when you are locked in your personal busy bubble two things happen.  

Firstly it gets harder to see outside because all that effort of busyness has created so much condensation on your bubble window – you no longer see what’s happening with others around you. You know you’re not an unfriendly person. If you weren’t so darn busy, sure you’d make the effort to get to know Belinda who has just started at the company a bit better, wouldn’t you?  

Secondly it gets super hot in that busy bubble as stress and emotion rise in intensity. Being hot and bothered shows – not only in your red and shiny face, but also in your demeanor. You’re now signaling, “stay away unless you want to have you head bitten off”. None of which is exactly conducive to building great interpersonal working relationships. 

Why not choose to step out of that bubble? Not only is it easier to breathe and far less hot, you’ll feel so much more inclined to relax and take an active interest in what else is going on and you will appear more attractive to others, they now want to get to know you better too. Now, who wants to catch up for a drink after work? 

  1. Demonstrate your trustworthiness. 

Your brain has already decided within 1/5 of a second, so make every first impression count and use your body as well as your words to make another person feel safe around you. We can spot a fake-smile a million miles away, so be genuine, and demonstrate real interest by asking open-ended questions to find common interests and values.  

It’s your observable behaviour that counts so as your mother always reminded you, be nice and show you care. 

Have you ever thought how weird it is when we’re on holiday overseas we’ll gravitate to another person because they are from Australia even though we have nothing else in common, and become instant best-holiday-friends-forever, and yet we can work along side someone in an office for months and never know their name. 

2. Create social support at work. 

Outside that very special place we call home, work takes up a disproportionate amount of our life. We send 1/3 of our lives asleep and 1/3 at work (for workaholics even more) with work accounting for between 20 and 25% of our overall level of happiness. 

Many workplaces now have specific roles for a chief happiness or events officer to build greater social interaction in the workplace. Some have a buddy-up system where every new employee has a buddy to show them the ropes and ensure they are feeling welcome and included. 

Traditionally the lunchroom provided an easy meeting place but the advent of “al Desko” meals and lunchtime seminars have encroached on this important social space. So seek out other places that encourage social interaction – coffee catch-ups, meditation groups, walking meetings, water-cooler gatherings and as every woman knows – the bathroom conference, all work fabulously too. 

3. Create recognition. 

Extroverts and introverts alike feel great when acknowledged for their contribution and known for who they are. “Sheila from accounts” or The I.T. guy is depersonalizing. The junior school headmaster of the school our son attended greeted every student as they walked to assembly each week with a smile, a handshake and their name. Was he a memory-whizz for facial recognition and names? No, he just believed it was important to make every student feel part of the school community – and they all loved him for it. 

 We are human and we all want to belong. 

 How do you know if you’re in the right place? 

By asking yourself this one question – do I belong here? 

Dr. Jenny Brockis is an international speaker, trainer and author specialising in smarter, faster thinking for greater confidence, competence and happiness. www.drjennybrockis.com 


Jenny Brockis

Dr. Jenny Brockis is passionate about all things “brain”. She helps businesses and individuals develop and benefit from a brain friendly work culture. As a Medical Practitioner and author of 3 books, Jenny can show you how to improve your mental flexibility and agility necessary to thrive in our increasingly complex world.





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