Part 1 of the Cultivating Belonging Series • Why Belonging Matters
We are inextricably linked to one another. In the constant emergence of a pandemic year, the invisible threads connecting us have tightened even as they frayed. The effects of pandemic, climate change and social unrest have uprooted us from our comfort zones, separating us from our familiar ways of thinking and being.
In a complex time, relationship matters more than ever.
Fostering a sense of belonging is key on every level - in partnerships, teams, organizations, and the larger culture, as well as in personal, community and economic spheres.
Here in the USA, our environment has become one of division descending into chaos. To move forward, we must find ways not only to accommodate diversity, but to welcome it. While creating a sense of belonging within a diverse group brings its own and different challenges, this work is essential. The reality is that there is not a single system, human or otherwise, that does not contain the systemic notion of diversity. If our nation, the world, and humanity is to unite in reality as well as in name, we must service this evolution.
Now, our greatest challenge is to actively cultivate connection and belonging. Without a recognition of our interdependence and a conscious commitment to support it, we will remain in chaos.
Belonging in the workplace
In a recent Deloitte & Touche Global Corporate survey, 93 percent of corporate leaders and managers said that fostering a sense of belonging in the workplace is the biggest challenge their organization faces in 2021.This agreement on the importance of belonging was one of the highest rates of consensus in a decade of Global Human Capital trends reports.
Deloitte & Touche advocate fostering a culture in which employees find comfort, connection, and contribution. In the survey, 44 percent of participants agreed on two top drivers which create belonging:
Leadership that promotes purpose emphasizes the quality of relationship and aligns employees in working towards mutual goals. Having taken this approach, Unilever’s Brands with Purpose initiative is growing 69 percent faster than the rest of the business.
Belonging on a personal level
Not only do we need to feel a sense of belonging at work, it is also integral to our personal lives.
Sheltering in place brought a shift to the workplace and our home environments. It redefined the social construct in the office, challenged intimate relationships and added complexity to parental roles as kids began learning from home.
The social fabric, as we knew it for decades, changed. Radically.
To better understand the impact of this shift, consider psychologist Susan Pinker’s groundbreaking research on the phenomenon of longevity.
In her work, Pinker explored why the Italian island of Sardinia has ten times as many centenarians as North America does. She speculates that long life is connected to social connection and a sense of belonging.
Pinker references the work of Julianne Holt Lundstadt, a Brigham Young University professor in Utah who conducted studies with middle-aged people over decades. The research measured the impact of scientifically known factors for good health, such as diet and exercise. In addition, social elements such as a person’s significant other, circle of friends and colleagues were considered.
The efficacy of these factors was measured repeatedly as the researchers returned with a standard and repeated cadence. The results supply a picture of who remained alive, and which factors were most significant in reducing the chances of dying.
Over several decades, researchers were surprised to learn that known and trusted good habits like diet and exercise were not the most important. In terms of social factors, having a significant other – the spouse or trusted friend that you can call in the middle of the night when in need – only ranked second.
The first and most significant factor impacting longevity overall is something defined as social construct or social integration. This refers to casual, even passing interactions with people whose names might not even be known. Waving at somebody walking their dog, a casual conversation with a vendor in the marketplace – these brief, “insignificant” social interactions turn out to be key to our health and happiness.
Indeed, it is social construct that impacts longevity more than anything else, by creating a sense of community and belonging.
Cultivating belonging is essential. Not only is a sense of connection necessary in our private and professional lives, it is integral to the health of our larger society. We have seen the division and discord that appears when we lack a sense of connection to one another.
What then do we need to consider in nurturing a sense of belonging?
In consciously nurturing belonging using the principles and tools of Relationship Systems Intelligence (RSI), we chart a course that will allow us to progress through and past chaos.
This is the first in a series of articles on belonging. Stay tuned for the next two articles in this series, in which we’ll examine how the shift to working and learning from home has resulted in a large-scale sense of disconnection – and what we as leaders and coaches can do to address it.
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