Have you ever been somewhere and felt the need to make yourself fit in? Haven’t we all felt this way to some degree? Think back to your middle school years - when our bodies outpace our maturity and often our age, when we are all awkward but also not quite mature enough to be kind to one another. Many of us might not reflect fondly on these years, as they are a period when our brains were working desperately to feel understood and connected to those around us. We know this desire to belong leads to some real challenges in performance - the same can be said of adults in the workplace.
The internal desire does not change with age, as our brains are constantly trying to figure out where we belong. Belonging is a human need, as well as a critical psychological need. Are you more likely to feel safe when you are alone or when you are part of a group? In many ways, our workplace structures do not cultivate belonging or promote connection. How often have you heard people use the word “fit” at work? When we interview candidates, we reflect on whether they are a “fit” and when someone quits, we might say, “It’s for the best; they didn’t fit anyway.” Many organizations have mastered building talent in their own likeness instead of allowing their people to utilize their unique talents and perspectives (Fuller & Murphy, 2020, pg. 77). We often put the onus on people to mold themselves into what we need, rather than building environments where people can naturally thrive.
In their article “The Need to Belong: Desire for Interpersonal Attachments as a Fundamental Human Motivation,” researchers Baumeister and Leary define belonging as “the feeling of security and support where there is a sense of acceptance, inclusion, and identity for a member of a certain group or place, and as the fundamental drive to form and maintain a lasting, positive, and significant relationships with others” (1995, pg. 497). Showing up as our authentic selves builds our sense of belonging and supports the conditions for others to do the same.