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Inside The Office Management

Where Do You Belong? Connections At Work

Where did you come from? Who are your people? Who do you look like in your family? If you can readily answer these questions, congratulations. But for some people, these questions evoke anxiety because they have little to no contact with their family of origin.

Many non-profit organizations around the country take on the herculean and important work of meeting the needs of children in the child welfare system who require interventions to support their well-being. In the past, this frequently meant residential stays in group homes.

While some youth continue to need this level of special care and attention, more organizations are instead focusing on providing support for them in foster homes. And more importantly, they are prioritizing reconnecting them with their relatives. This means that as soon as they begin to engage with a child, they begin efforts to locate and strengthen bonds with their immediate or extended family.

We all need connection

These steps provide healing and positive identity development for those who know little about their family of origin. Data shows that they have improved social and behavioral outcomes. The underlying premise is that children want and need to belong to someone. They want to know where they came from. They want engagement frequently and consistently.

I learned about this approach to meeting the needs of children through a board of which I’m a member. It struck me that first, no matter how young or old we are, we all want to belong to a family or group. Second, this aligns with our desire for belonging at work. Much of the increased conversation about diversity, equity, and inclusion that we’ve had in our organizations over the past two-plus years stems from the need to feel a sense of belonging in our work. Not having a sense of belonging on a team can lead to quiet quitting and, dysfunctional team dynamics.

Should I treat my work colleagues like family?

To be clear, your employer is not your family. Families often know intimate details about each other (good and bad) and build relationships that can last a lifetime.

Your relationship with your employer will come to an end sooner or later. Your relationships with your coworkers may outlive your employment or fade with distance and time. And sharing personal and intimate family details with work colleagues is not advisable. It opens a great risk for others to misuse and misunderstand information. But wherever you are working, it’s important to belong to a team.

When did you feel like you belonged?

BetterUp leaders Carr, Reece, Kellerman and Robichaux’s research shows that “Social belonging is a fundamental human need, hardwired into our DNA. And yet, 40 percent of people say that they feel isolated at work, and the result has been lower organizational commitment and engagement.”

Think back for a moment to a team you worked with, but didn’t feel accepted. Maybe each day was a struggle. You hesitated to speak up and share your ideas, wouldn’t receive an invitation for coffee or lunch or didn’t have as many casual connections. No doubt this had a negative impact on your contribution and performance.

Creating connections at work

Now compare it to a team where you felt valued and had a sense of belonging. You contributed more to the work process. You received more positive feedback from your colleagues that in turn led to greater effort and better results. Stronger bonds with coworkers characterize and create a positive cycle.

You likely experienced several of the following positive family characteristics that fostered connections including:

  • Understanding and valuing the strengths of each team member.
  • Being held accountable to support the team goals.
  • Supporting the development and growth of each team member.
  • Providing a safe space to ask questions and share concerns.
  • Having the tools needed to be successful.
  • Sharing Information and resources.
  • When one person wins, everyone wins.

And leaders play a crucial role in creating an environment of belonging where employees can perform at their best simply by modeling and expecting these behaviors from everyone.

And what if they’re not like me?

Teams are sometimes challenged when a member exhibits behaviors different from the group norms. This might include religious practices, food preferences, personality styles, energy levels, hobbies or lifestyles. It may also include more visible differences such as race, gender, sexual orientation, or physical abilities. Rather than pull away from the differences, this is the time to lean in and get to know one another. You are likely viewed by them as different too. No single culture or group should “own” or “control” the team. The best approach is a group approach.

There are also times when someone isn’t working out on the team whether due to a lack of capability, motivation or some other factor. This is an opportunity to seek to understand their strengths, barriers to performance, and the type of environment that may be a better fit for them. Then, help them to identify and transition into a team or organization where they can add greater value. Celebrate their journey.

Above all, treating people with respect and helping them to connect with a team where they can shine keeps everyone engaged and optimizes their contribution to the group’s success.

Want to create more connections at work? Check out How To Create A Nourishing Environment So You Can Thrive.

About the author

Priscilla Archangel

Priscilla Archangel, Ph.D. is a seasoned leadership consultant, executive coach, author, speaker, and teacher. She has a passion for developing leaders, and motivating individuals and organizations to align their values, behaviors and goals with their purpose. Visit

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