Humans seek to belong.  None of us like to feel left out or rejected.  We want to feel part of a community, involved, integral.  This includes within our work life.  We can have so many ‘boxes’ ticked, a job we enjoy, a pleasant office environment, great perks such as cycle to work schemes and free lunches, but if we don’t feel like we belong, something is missing, and we feel off balance.  Not feeling a part of something, or actively being excluded, hurts.  In fact, evidence shows that we actually feel it like physical pain. So, it’s important to be aware of what matters and what we can do to improve things for ourselves and our colleagues. 

What we really need: career, community, cause. 

Research carried out by Facebook discovered that what people really want from their working life could be grouped into three different areas, career, community and cause; 

 Career - Unsurprisingly, this is about work. In particular, having autonomy, work that allows you to use your strengths and enables you to learn, grow and progress. 

 Community - This is people focussed, the feeling of being respected, cared for, ‘seen’ and acknowledged by those around us.  A sense of belonging.    

Cause - This is all about feeling that what you do is meaningful and has impact.  In terms of working life, it’s about identifying with the organisation you work for and feeling like your work serves a good purpose. 

 All three areas feed into our sense of belonging and feeling purposeful.  When we feel we belong, we feel more fulfilled and work better. 

 The dangers of not belonging 

As we’ve already said, we humans want to belong, it's a fundamental need.  If we don’t, problems may begin to arise.  Perhaps you recognise this feeling yourself? If you find that you are trying to conform at work, to fit into a perceived mould, it is quite possible you feel a sense of not fitting in. It may be that you are not being your true self.  This can be damaging, especially for self-esteem, however, there are a few steps you can take to improve things: 

Understand your differences - we all have them, life would be incredibly boring, otherwise!  You don’t need to hide them, embrace them, be honest and open with colleagues and you may find that it actually aids collaboration and will certainly help you understand each other better. 

Connect with others - if you feel left out, it’s easy to start to feel sorry for yourself and retreat further.  Whilst it can be difficult, it’s worth trying to push past this feeling and try to forge new bonds.  You could try asking a colleague to join you for a coffee or joining a group.  Perhaps even starting a group for employees yourself, you might find others who share your interests!  

Be flexible, open minded and adjust - whilst it’s very important not to fundamentally change who you are, it’s also worth remembering that this is a two-way street.  In order to feel like you belong can involve an element of compromise.  It’s important to observe your surroundings; how do the rest of your colleagues and leaders react to each other? Could you model their behaviour? Are there some adjustments you could make in the way you work that would better fit your team?  

Whoever we are, however old we are, belonging really does matter. If you can, in any small way, reach out to help others feel included, at work or within your community, every little helps. And helping others is good for our wellbeing too. 

To find out more about wellbeing at work, tune into our How to be happy at work podcast.