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At the very core of our being – we want to feel connected to something bigger than ourselves. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs speaks to self-esteem and respect – and respect is very much about being in a place where you can be yourself.

When I left corporate life and started my own business I wanted to build a business ‘where I wanted to work’… I wanted to be myself, be respected for my contribution and more than anything I wanted to work in a place of shared values…  I started RedBalloon was because I wanted to create a place that I belonged to – having worked in many that I just didn’t!

My colleague Jemma Fastnedge recently penned this post for This explores whether employees long to belong and how belonging creates a sense of community at work.

Are you creating community in your company?

Have you ever worked somewhere, where you felt like you didn’t quite fit?

You liked the idea of the role and the company and you liked to tell people what your job was, but all the while you were struggling with something internally. The people were ok but you didn’t really connect with them. The work was adequate but you were never inspired to give or do more. When morning rolled around you weren’t genuinely happy. Could it be that you just didn’t ‘belong’?

‘Belonging’ isn’t traditionally high up there in the workplace vernacular. But there’s a shift underway towards a new way of thinking and talking. Mindfulness, connection and gratitude are powering the conversations – and jobs – in some of our most influential organisations:

“I am Google’s Jolly Good Fellow (yes, it is my official job title). I used to be a Google engineer. I’m now semi-retired.  My current job description at Google is, “Enlighten minds, open hearts, create world peace”. In my free time, I try to save the world.” Chade-Meng Tan

Some might even say putting people first and creating a sense of community are what will drive business success in the next few decades. Which begs the question: is creating a sense ‘belonging’ really that important for business?

In her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, Dr Brene Brown describes ‘belonging’ as:

“..the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us. Because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval, which are not only hollow substitutes for belonging, but often barriers to it. Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”

In Australia’s Early Childhood Education framework, “Belonging”, “Being” and “Becoming” form the core pillars supporting how we prepare and teach our future generation.

“Belonging acknowledges children’s interdependence with others and the basis of relationships in defining identities. In early childhood, and throughout life, relationships are crucial to a sense of belonging.”

So, if from our earliest age, we’re encouraged to ‘belong’, why does the concept get dismissed in the workplace? If there is, as Dr Brown suggests, a primal desire for humans to be part of something “larger than us”, why are we uncomfortable with creating a sense of belonging in our companies?

After years of talking about “culture” with businesses from different industries, I suspect there are three main reasons for this discomfort:

  1. We associate ‘belonging’ with ‘conformity’, which has a negative connotation
  2. Our recruitment process lets us evaluate fit for job, but not fit for company values
  3. We think creating a sense of community is too hard

But I argue that there is nothing wrong with wanting to hire people who are aligned to your company’s purpose. In fact, hiring people who are aligned with and want to live out your

company values means they don’t have to change to fit in. They can go to work without feeling like they’re becoming someone they don’t want to be. I argue that doing this – creating something “bigger” that your people can belong to – is not only good for your business, it’s actually easier than you think.

Here are three ways you can start:

1. Make your company purpose clear.

The core purpose of an organisation talks straight to an individual’s internal drivers. If an individual doesn’t believe in what your company stands for, then they simply won’t do their best work. Communicate this purpose clearly from day 1 of the hiring process, so you only hire people who not only understand what your company defines as success, but are also driven to help you reach that goal.

2. Make sure your values align to your purpose

Whether conscious of them or not, every company has values. Values are what shape the decisions you make every day – from the way you treat your customers to the way you run your meetings. Spend time in working out what these values are, and make them known to your employees.

3. Align your people with your values

Communicate your company values to your employees. You’ll get the best results when your people feel a sense of connection between what they’re doing, how they’re doing it, and the people they do it with. It’s not about making everybody friends; it’s about creating working relationships based on a common purpose (which will guide individual goals) and values (which drive individual behaviour).

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to oversimplify these culture-building activities. RED has worked with plenty of companies in this space, and we know it requires time. But I’ve never known a company that believes that investment is not worth it. We also know how effective recognition is when embedding values and creating a connected culture and sense of belonging.

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