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Published:August 23rd, 2009 18:40 EST
Professional Belongingness

Professional Belongingness

By Lalit Goel

To belong is to be naturally associated with something or to fit into a group naturally. The psychological sense that one belongs in an organization is considered a necessary antecedent to the successful learning experience. Employees succeed in an organization if they feel they belong, and consequently the organization also prospers; clearly a win-win situation for both.

Lack of Belongingness

The rapidly changing demographics of the society have shattered traditional sources of belonging. Breakdown of the nuclear and extended families, the increase in single parenthood and the number of hours that working parents are away from home, and the growing transience and mobilization of society have left the people with a sense of feeling disconnected. Consequently, whilst we boast about the great technological advancements of today, we are also witnessing an unprecedented sense of alienation and apathy amongst the people at large.

Disadvantages of Lacking Belongingness

Indeed, conventional practices may exacerbate feelings of rejection and alienation, and place these employees at higher risk for keeping away from routine activities or exiting the organization. Members may fail not because they lack necessary cognitive skills, but because they feel detached, alienated, and isolated from others and from the process. When members feel rejected by others, they may internalize rejection and learn to hate themselves, or externalize rejection and learn to hate others. Failure in work usually stems from feeling unconnected to the organization or employer, and all affected would feel helpless.

It is a lamentable paradox that the very people most in need of healthy human relationships tend to resist them. They are fearful and suspicious of, and often antagonistic toward others in general. Such employees do not seek out affirmation; they look for more rejection as a way of confirming that they are unworthy. Falling into the trap of this rejection-promoting behavior, many managers respond in quite predictable ways: They become controlling or counter-aggressive. The manager`s behavior usually manifests itself in one or more of following ways:

a)     Manager feels the need to win every battle and engages in a power struggle with the employee

b)     Manager needs to save face by having the last word

c)     Manager talks down to the employee

d)    Manager confronts the employee with frequent use of the question "why"

e)     Manager preaches, moralizes, and threatens the employee

Manager`s counter-aggression confirms employee`s sense of unworthiness, and she/he may usually respond in one or more of the following ways:

a)     Employee becomes resentful and withdraws

b)     Employee becomes resistive of additional efforts to gain her/his trust

c)     Employee becomes rebellious and refuses to cooperate

d)    Employee retreats by becoming truant, by staying away

e)     Employee becomes reluctant to do anything

f)      Employee becomes revengeful and engages in overt activities designed to "get even"

Overcoming Lack of Belongingness & Its Advantages

In order to break any aggression/counter-aggression cycle, managers must choose different behavior patterns. Sense of belonging can be increased for all members of the organization by emphasizing importance of the employer - employee relationship and by actively involving all members in the life of the organization. The bond between the employer and employee creates the foundation upon which a sense of belonging can develop.

By default, managers are the most significant others in lives of employees and an important source of security and stability. Cooperation promotes a sense of belonging because all members of the organization work together to achieve a common purpose. When goals are achieved, every member experiences a sense of accomplishment. Cooperation also helps the employees develop a capacity for teamwork, which increasingly is becoming a requisite skill for career success. Members of a cooperative team care about each other and feel committed to the welfare of others and show significant development in pro-social behavior and social competence. Members in cooperative teams are more effective in social problem solving and in resolving conflicts. Bonding occurs when an individual makes meaningful contributions to a group.

When people feel they belong, they have an enhanced sense of worth and increased self-confidence, they are more motivated, have higher expectations of success, and believe in the value of their professional work. Thus, their productivity improves and both the individual and organization grow.

Manager`s Role

Every manager can make or break the day of any employee. Other than the decisions made by individuals on their own, managers are the most powerful factor in employee motivation and morale at the work place, and even beyond. By his words, body language, and the expression on his face, as a manager or leader, he telegraphs his opinion of his value to the people he manages. Part of the success lies in liking and appreciating people to send the right message. Using simple, powerful, motivational words demonstrates that the manager values people in daily interaction.

All managers must make sure that people know what is expected of them. Managers think they have clearly stated work objectives, numbers needed, timelines and requirements, but the employee may have received a different message. The requirements may change in the middle of the day, job, or project. While the new expectations are communicated, reason for the change or the context for the change may not have been discussed or communicated. This causes members to think that the company leaders don`t know what they are doing. This is hardly a confidence or morale-building feeling. All managers must provide regular feedback for employee motivation

Feeling valued by their supervisor in the workplace is the key to high employee motivation and morale. Feeling valued ranks right up there for most people; it competes with liking the work, competitive pay, opportunities for training and advancement, and feeling "in" on the latest news. Building high employee motivation and morale requires that manager pays attention every day to profoundly meaningful aspects of his impact on life at work. Once understood and followed, small positive gestures by managers can contribute heavily towards building relationships for creating the right bonding to enhance the sense of belongingness for mutual benefits.