Work and the art of belonging

| October 17, 2014

Belonging brings feelings of inclusion and safety and is a predictor of mental health. Executive coach Leah Sparkes says it is important to create a sense belonging and connection at work.

Last week I listened to an interview with Hugh Mackay, social researcher and author, about his new book “The Art of Belonging”. He spoke of the important effect that social connection and sense of belonging have on our well being and happiness. He suggested the changing structure of our society is having a major impact on how or where we derive our sense of belonging. In the past, belonging was something we experienced close to home in our own neighbourhoods. But increasingly people are finding a sense of belonging elsewhere.

Belonging is that sense of being part of something where you are accepted and can bring feelings of inclusion, safety and identity. Having a strong sense of belonging is a good predictor of mental health and flourishing in life.

In the interview it was suggested that today people are more likely to derive a sense of belonging and connection from their workplace or online than their own neighbourhoods as was in the past.

I recently ran a workshop for a sales team using some positive psychology techniques as a way to boost job performance. The organisation is a high pressure and demanding work environment. The practice I was introducing was ‘gratitude’. The practice entails setting a regular time of the day where you note down or mentally focus on the things that are good about your workplace. This practice has been proven to boost happiness and improve resilience to stress.

In the workshop shop I asked everyone to write down three things that they were grateful for at work and then share the list with the group. It was a lovely moment when every single person acknowledged the friendship, support and connection with colleagues as something they were grateful for. It is not something we often acknowledge publicly and rarely do at work.

It certainly supports the notion that the workplace is becoming an important place for people to experience a sense of belonging.

Smart employers are the ones who actively foster and nurture this connection and sense of community at work. The organisation I mentioned also did some volunteer work as a team, putting back into the community in a very hands-on way. I am sure this helped to strengthen this sense of belonging and connection to each other.

Hugh Mackay says “communities can be magical places, but the magic comes from us, not to us.”

This is a very important distinction. Regardless of where we work, how good or poor the leadership, we can still create a sense belonging and connection. It takes effort from us to make that happen. To slow down from being so busy, endlessly ticking things off our to-do list, and attune to others with kindness and consideration. It is a choice. It is an art. It is something we create.