A Sense Of Belonging

A Sense Of Belonging

Only when we feel that the organisation’s larger purpose is synchronous with ours will we feel a sense of belonging. It is for us to decide if the one it possesses now excites us.


“Our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance” — Berne Brown


As the pandemic wears on, we see companies struggling to come to terms with the changes in the business environment. Some companies have adapted well and continue to flourish, while others are not faring that well. I believe, the main difference between these two sets of companies is the leadership which provides strategic direction and ignites the fire of esprit de corps within the team. The former is a function of the collective intellect that the leadership team possesses while the latter is subtler. The feeling of esprit de corps is strongly linked to a sense of belonging felt by the employees in relation to the organisation.


What is this sense of belonging? We feel belonged to a place when we are accepted for what we are and are respected for our individuality – our opinions are heard, our strengths recognised, our weaknesses accepted and supported, and most importantly, we feel we are treated as equals. We may have different jobs, and all of us are equal stakeholders and everybody’s contribution according to their respective job is appreciated. This is not easy to experience – even top-notch professionals feel that they are “not belonging” to a group in the beginning. Sachin Tendulkar had shared that at the beginning of his career he doubted if he belonged at the “Test level”. Only when he faced down the fearsome Pakistani pace attack, battled on with a bloody nose which he suffered from a Waqar Younis bouncer, did he feel he “belonged”. There is a lot to learn from this story.


We could consider this subject from two perspectives – one from an organisational view where the organisation puts processes in place that help cultivate an environment to make an employee feel welcome and the other related to the mental makeup of the employee herself.


There has been a lot of literature on how an organisation can create a healthy work environment that fosters a feeling of engagement and belonging - reward and recognition schemes, people engagement activities like annual days, birthday celebrations, picnics, etc. Employee engagement surveys and subsequent action planning, open feedback culture are some examples of tools that are employed by companies.


One believes the three main drivers for an employee to feel belonged are –


Value Systems


All of us grow up cherishing some values. These values define us - our identity. We look at life and all that is happening around us through the lens of these values. We even judge people based on our value system. The same event can be interpreted in completely contrasting ways by two people who nurture a different set of values. Speaking up in the face of authority is a quintessential way of life in some cultures like Australia, where personal and individual freedom of expression is valued and even celebrated while the same is frowned upon in most Indian families and organisations. In India, we are always expected to “obey” our parents.


This is not to say which value system is better – it is just the way it is. We feel at home in an environment where we feel the value systems of the larger group – read organisation – matches with our own. It follows that it is the employee’s responsibility to identify the values she sees demonstrated by the larger organisation, and thereafter, introspect if these match with hers. Here, it is important to note that behaviour and demonstration are more a reflection of the values of an organisation rather than a document that is framed and displayed.


Sense of Purpose


Psychologists say that all of us seek meaningful lives and not necessarily happy ones. What constitutes a meaningful life? This question has been addressed in a Ted talk. The speaker, Emily Esfahani Smith, enlists a sense of purpose as one of the critical factors contributing to a meaningful life. We think we want to lead happy lives, she says, but truly, at a deeper level, we seek a sense of purpose that makes life worth living. An organisation that paints a portrait of a vision that offers a purposeful endeavour gives itself an opportunity to connect with its employees.


Thereafter, it is for the employee to ascertain if this sense of purpose resonates with him. We all want to lead lives with a purpose and these purposes could be different for each one of us. Only if we feel that the organisation’s larger purpose is synchronous with ours do we feel a sense of belonging. The organisation will not change its purpose – it is for us to decide if the one it possesses now excites us.




Often our own feeling of low selfesteem prevents us from feeling belonged. A way to overcome this is by completing Rites of Passage. Baptisms, transition to adulthood, marriage, death are all examples of rites of passage that refer to events that make an important transition.


As a 23-year-old, I was working as a shop floor supervisor in an electric appliance company managing a group of workmen in their fifties. I had in a way no ascendency over them either in terms of knowledge or experience. This was clearly a place I felt inadequate - I did not belong! One fine day, I was presented with an opportunity (it did not feel like one at the time, though) to change this for myself.


On having my entreaties for having the aluminium furnaces emptied before the weekend shutdown ignored on account of tools down strike, I had a choice – shut off the furnaces without emptying them which could lead to a loss of production of an entire shift or emptying them myself which was a difficult physical task of at least 5 hours. I chose the second and completed the onerous task with the assistance of a colleague. That moment, I had passed my rites of passage - became a leader from a rookie. I sensed a tremendous boost to my self-esteem - I belonged. All of us come to these crossroads and the choice we make makes all the difference between belonging or not.


A modern progressive organisation must provide all the necessary wherewithal to help create an atmosphere that encourages an employee to feel belonged. And an employee, on her part, should invest in the efforts of belonging as this could be the difference between success and failure for both the organisation and the employee.


Ashish Pradhan is President, Siegwerk Asia. He comes with over 25 years of experience in the Packaging industry and has worked in Huhtamaki, Positive packaging, Henkel, and International Paper. Ashish is a Mechanical Engineer with a Management Degree and holds a Diploma in International Trade from the Indian Institute of Materials Management and a Diploma in Packaging from the Institute of Packaging, UK.


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