People just want to belong, and you can help them!
A few years back I was laid off because the product I was working on, supposedly a key strategic part of the org’s foundation, was terminated. Of course, getting laid off and losing my income was not fun. Not fun at all. What I wasn’t prepared for was the loss I felt when my project, my future product, my team, and belonging to (and creating) something amazing, was being taken away and thrown in the garbage.
Since then, I’ve been paying attention to this idea of what people lose when they lose a job, or a role, and how that might impact them.
People Just Want to Belong to Something Great
I’ve worked at or with companies who were somehow able to quantify their greatness. This might be because their name was a household name and the boss would regularly talk about how they (we) had a responsibility to the public, to society, and to our brand. I’ve worked at companies that are prestigious enough that when I tell people where I work they are quite impressed. I’ve worked at or with companies that have won (earned, maybe paid for) those “best places to work” awards.
I’ve also worked at and with organizations that have a stringent application process and only accept a small percentage of people who apply.
All of this can help people feel like they belong to something great.
Another way to help people feel like they belong to something great is when the product, project, or service they are associated with (either directly or indirectly) is awesome. Maybe it will change the world, reduce hunger, increase access to clean water, etc.
There are a lot of ways to help people feel like they belong to something great. You probably have your own ideas. I invite you to step it up and put those ideas into practice.
People Just Want to Belong to a Team
I was sad when I realized I wasn’t going to be a part of an amazing team with legendary leaders, great colleagues, and great customers. The organization’s leaders were well known in the tech space in my area. They had built an amazing brand. Some people from various departments were the best I’d gotten to work with, and some were changing and redefining their own professional spaces. It was so exciting to be there!
My immediate boss was one of the best I’d ever worked with. My team was fun. We were all optimistic and focused on our work.
And then all of that was taken away.
I am still sad that my team was taken away from me. I am sad that everything we were building was taken away. I’m still sad I don’t get to see my friends I was working with and building something that would change our industry. I’m sad that what we were so invested in, so bought into, was so easily discarded by leadership.
When the project got terminated and I got let go I realized I was going to lose a part of my social system. I was going to lose the walks I had with my colleague, the talks I had with my boss. I would lose feeling built by them and feeling like I was a support to them, both professionally and personally.
Realize how important it is for your employees to feel like the team they are on might be like a second family. I know, I know. Some people can’t stand the idea of that, but for others this might be the only positive social experience they get during the day. Whether they live alone or have a poor home environment, or they are overwhelmed with responsibilities that they get to put on hold while they are at work, going to work might be one of the biggest social boosts they get.
I have a great home life and I feel appreciated at home. My household is pretty busy. But there was something, some social element, that I was going to miss.
People Just Want to Belong and Feel Valued
When your team knows the work they do is valued by you, and leadership, they are more likely to feel like they belong. They feel important enough to come to work, to keep contributing, and to give more. This can happen when they are paid appropriately and when they get proper recognition.
Everyone wants to feel like what they are doing is important. Remember the story of the traveler hundreds of years ago who walked upon a construction site and asked two workers what they were doing? One worker said he was laying brick after brick, brick after brick. It sounded tedious, boring, monotonous. The other worker said, “I’m building a cathedral!”
When your job is laying brick after brick, brick after brick, it can be easy to not care about your work. Another day another brick. But when your job is to build a beautiful building that will be used for a special purpose, you think about your work differently. The tasks might look the same but the purpose is different. Calling in sick and not laying more bricks is no big deal but calling in sick to delay building the cathedral might feel harder.
NOTE: We are fans of calling in sick when you need to!
Do your employees know why they do what they do? Do they know why others are working on the tasks or projects they are working on? Do they understand why leadership makes certain decisions?
When they get the higher “why,” and are bought into it (or, perhaps said better, when that higher why is aligned with their values or goals), then they go from a boring-task worker to someone who feels like they are part of something bigger. They belong to something bigger, and know the contributions are important.
How do you help your team feel like they belong?
Here are five ideas to help your team feel like they belong:
- Tell them they belong and make sure your actions support what you tell them. You can’t walk around telling everyone how important they are but then have them feel underpaid or undervalued. Do everything you can to pay fair market wages (and then some) and get a good employee incentive program in place (Snowfly specializes in employee incentives programs!). Telling someone they belong is one thing, showing they belong and putting your money where your mouth is impactful.
- Remind your team that they are working on something great. You might assume we remember the organization’s “why,” but maybe your team is dealing with personal issues that make them get unaligned with your organization’s why. Leadership should continue to remind them what they do, and who they rep (or, work for), is bigger than just them, and they are helping do great things.
- Implement a peer and manager recognition program and do everything you can to ensure people use it. Employee recognition is another core feature in the Snowfly suite of culture and engagement products. We have seen that when employees are recognized they feel like they belong. We know that the exercises of recognizing others creates a more cohesive culture where people actually feel like they belong.
- Build room for individual growth. When your team feels overworked they can feel like cogs in a wheel. They can feel unimportant in the bigger picture. Worse, they can feel like they are getting left behind and not growing. You need to reinforce the idea that you value each person and want them to grow. Give them access to courses (these are my soft skills courses) and make sure they get time to work on them. Create a book club or other trainings and environments where they can grow and encourage them to participate.
- Be consistent! Whatever you choose to do to help your team feel like they belong, make sure you do this over time, consistently. You can’t do a recognition system and use it for a few weeks, then abandon it. You can’t do a training thing once every other year. Make sure that the things you put into place (programs, tools, systems, etc.) are part of the DNA of your culture, not just flash-in-the-pan exercises. The more consistent you are the more they’ll trust you actually care, and they really do belong.
There’s great power in feeling like you belong. I bet you value belonging, and losing that could be crushing. I encourage you to help your people feel like they belong and see how that impacts your culture!
Want to learn more about the Snowfly tools to increase employee engagement, performance, and culture? Reach out to us here and let’s set up a time to chat.