What does it mean to belong?
Belonging is an emotional journey, not just a definition. When you belong, you truly feel it and when you don’t, the feeling becomes an ache.
If belonging were a song for me, it would be that one line from the Cheers TV show theme song. “Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name and they’re always glad you came.”
I have been privileged to belong to a few groups and to be in a few places where I really belonged and do still. But far too many times I have experienced not belonging.
There is a group I belong to for life and that is my E.A.R.S. family. That’s Effective Alternatives in Reconciliation Services, which is an organization founded by my good friend Marcy May, that changed the lives of countless tweens and teens for over 25 years. Even though E.A.R.S. is no longer up and running, the family still runs strong and can arrange a get together pretty quickly, and when we do, anyone who is a part of this family can walk into the room and feel welcomed.
I remember one year when a small group of teens, two young adult leaders, and myself were in the E.A.R.S. building and a young man came running in dragging two of his co-workers behind him. When he came into the room where everyone was prepping to deliver a conflict resolution workshop, he broke into a huge smile. We stopped and he said, “I am so glad that E.A.R.S. is still here. I flew in to do some work and was about to pass the building and I told my friends I have to stop in and see if my family is still here and you are!”
Most of us in the room didn’t know him, but the two young adult leaders did, and they reminisced about their time together at E.A.R.S. as teenagers while the rest of us laughed and smiled knowing similar experiences ourselves. When he finished talking, he let out a huge sigh and said, “I’m home,” and we all agreed because we felt like we knew him, but what we also knew is that he was a part of the family. Now that’s belonging.
Right now, in this moment I want you to think about where you belong. Is it a group, an identity, a place or all of these? Ask yourself: Why do I belong there? What feelings come up for me when I think about belonging there? Where do I feel it in my body?
Now, how would you create that sense of belonging in your workplace? Many companies are losing employees because they lack a sense of feeling safe, valued, and respected, in other words, they lack belonging.
My friend, Marcy May was a genius at it, but not every business or leader knows how to do that, so let me share some things that I have learned over the years. If you are looking to create belonging at work, then these four things should start you off well.
Inclusion – taking the time and making the deliberate intention to create workspaces that welcome, include and keep people. As you seek to be more diverse in many ways including identity, geography, abilities and thought, you need to talk to folks about what makes them feel included, welcomed and that they belong and then act on it.
Connection – in your meetings and retreats, make sure you don’t just jump into “business”. Find ways to connect to the personal. Belonging is created by having people come together on a regular enough basis that they get to know you, each other, and their value to the community/company. Belonging is just as much a part of “business” as the jobs we do.
Create opportunities to have difficult conversations whether it be about how things are going in the workplace, getting and giving feedback, holding yourself accountable, giving genuine apologies or creating space for people to talk about world events that have an effect on them.
Be ready to respond to requests for the company to change and grow. Something that may not be in your vision right now may need to be considered, because the people in your company see the need for you to head in that direction. Belonging may require you to grow by learning things you did not know that your now diverse, inclusive community requires you to. Don’t be afraid to listen and then Go With it!
Right now, I’m going to challenge you to come up with one idea to create belonging in your business community and write it down.
To belong is something we all deserve, I know we can create it.