The Importance of Creating a Sense of Belonging in Organizations

People need to feel a sense of belonging in order to find meaning in their work and to engage the power of their emotions. The more employees discover links between personal ideals, a meaningful organizational mission or intention, and larger social values, the greater their commitment to their goals. They need to be able to connect their own identify to the organizations intrinsic identity in order to feel a part of the collective. This provides them with a mechanism for the expression of caring about the organization they belong to. 

The basis of our individual identity comes from the way in which we construct our view of ourselves and of others when we are in interaction with each other. As a result of our relationships and interactions, we may grow, or our growth may be thwarted. Ideally, through our initial relationships within our families, we identify with a scheme of socially imposed values that are deeply linked to our own personal motives. These values can create profound connections and a common language between individuals and groups because of their emotional intensity. 

For this reason, when people talk about what they want for themselves and for their organization, it is in a very emotional and idealistic fashion. It is spoken of with similar fervor as when speaking of what they want for their children. If leaders do not understand the need to incorporate a set of values that employees can relate to and identify with into their missions, employees feel deflated and disconnected. As a result, they can easily lose sight of the larger meaning of their work and will withdraw their emotional commitment and its pursuant energy. 

People need to feel a sense of belonging in order to find meaning in their work and to engage the power of their emotions. The more employees discover links between personal ideals, a meaningful organizational mission or intention, and larger social values, the greater their commitment to their goals. They need to be able to connect their own identify to the organizations intrinsic identity in order to feel a part of the collective. This provides them with a mechanism for the expression of caring about the organization they belong to. 

However, as a result of the ever changing and evolving society that we live in, the identity that people once developed through a sense of organizational membership has all but disappeared. As well, the notions of job security or identity have become obsolete in rapidly evolving organizations. The intrinsic identity of an organization leaving has all but disappeared, leaving it dependant on how it is performing relative to other companies with a similar function to measure itself against. 

For most organizations, it seems to be a question of “Who are we like?” rather than “Who are we?”. Instead of possessing an identity that reflects the inherent intention of the company, one in which employees can share this sense of purposefulness, company identities are now extrinsic in nature, and how the organization is seen, and its ability to adapt to external demands, have become the source of its identity. The core value shifts from the value placed by the organization and its leaders on its intrinsic identity (i.e. people, quality, community), to striving to achieve what is valued externally (i.e. how large, how much profit, how many awards). 

What is critical for leaders today is their ability to connect people to their values, which can be achieved through understanding what their employees need in order to achieve emotional connection and commitment. It requires leaders to focus on organization-specific connections between personal, organizational and social values: leaders in organizations must understand the need to articulate this threefold set of values, in order to get employees emotionalized and energized. Leaders must be able to make the connections between their own passion, the organization’s core intention, the organizational culture, and a connecting set of social values that will motivate the employees. 

Although the identification and promotion of organizational values has become popular, and forms part of most strategic planning sessions, it does not always reflect the true values of the leaders. In addition, these activities are rarely linked to human resource systems that might enhance their implementation. Many organizations have articulated their values; however, the stated values are often idealistic in nature and unilateral in their scope. They do not differentiate between personal, organizational and social values; any one of which can be a priority to an employee. This means that they are not likely to provide employees with the foundation for attachment; and, consequently, employees will continue to feel disconnected and to act out of their anxiety and fear of abandonment, in ways that are detrimental to the organization. 

Cheers, 
Anne Dranitsaris, PhD