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We ALL want to have a strong sense of belonging within our families, friendships, workplaces and communities. What does true belonging look and feel like for YOU?


As thought leader Verna Myners says: “diversity is being invited to the dance and inclusion is being asked to dance.” How does belonging fit in? Our build on this quote is:

Diversity is being invited to the dance, inclusion is being asked to dance, and belonging is knowing the tune.

Here is a great definition of belonging from thought leader and social entrepreneur Radha Agrawal, author of the book Belong:

“Belonging is a feeling of deep relatedness and acceptance; a feeling of ‘I would rather be here than anywhere else,’ it’s a feeling of home. I can exhale here and be fully myself with no judgment or insecurity.”

This is a high bar to aim for! Another perspective on belonging comes from Bréné Brown. She believes belonging is the opposite of “fitting in.” When we try too hard to fit in, we sacrifice too much of our true selves. In our pursuit of connection by “fitting in”, we actually end up feeling more disconnected from others because we aren’t expressing who we really are.

What are the vital attributes of belonging for you?
How well is your workplace doing at nurturing a strong sense of belonging?
What is your sense of the relationship between belonging and engagement?

At 1-DEGREE/Shift we believe belonging is VITAL. It’s at the heart of our work. In this blog, we will explore the concept and practice of belonging.



There are four elements of belonging that we will explore. We can imagine their relationship to belonging as two axis converging – each element feeding into our sense of belonging (Figure 1).

  1. Purpose/Meaning
  2. Places/Spaces
  3. Association
  4. Differentiation

(Figure 1)

… shared Purpose/Meaning becomes a light and energy source: it guides and motivates everyone under a common cause.


At the top of the vertical axis is Purpose/Meaning. There is an incredible sense of belonging that comes from knowing that we are part of something bigger than ourselves. Having a shared Purpose/Meaning at work means that everyone is working together to move forward with intention. Belonging is amplified by being part of the team and knowing that your individual efforts make a meaningful impact.

There’s also a business case clearly linking organizational purpose with profit. Gallup research shows that just a 10% improvement in employees’ connection with the mission or purpose of their organization leads to an 8.1% decrease in turnover and a 4.4% increase in profitability. (Gallup) That is truly remarkable! The more purposeful we are at work, the more engaged and productive we are. The shared Purpose/Meaning becomes a light and energy source: it guides and motivates everyone under a common cause.

The second aspect to Purpose/Meaning is the importance of aligning our personal purpose with the shared organizational purpose. For work to be meaningful and engaging, there must be some alignment with your personal purpose and that of your organization. Individuals feel closer and more connected with the shared purpose resulting in a strengthened sense of belonging. In our experience when an organization has a strong, shared purpose that resonates with everyone it becomes rocket fuel for its people.

..[It] is about creating and holding the space for meaningful connection with ourselves and each other


At the other end of the vertical axis we have Places/Spaces. ‘Places’ refers to physical places where we gather. One thing we learned during the COVID pandemic is that social interaction plays more of a role in our lives and work than we realized. Teams and organizations everywhere were forced to leave their shared spaces and begin working remotely. Physical distance impacted the sense of belonging in organizations. Working together in a shared space strengthens team relationships, allows people to feel ownership and enables staff to stay focused and engaged. The face-to-face interaction causes the human body to release oxytocin – a hormone that plays a key role in social affiliation, attachment, and trust!

Spaces is about the importance of creating and holding the space for meaningful connection with ourselves and each other. In fully virtual environments, this plays a vital part in cultivating a strong sense of belonging. , Transactional relationships and feelings of loneliness take root when space is not held for connection. Feeling lonely is a symptom of an unfulfilled need for social connection. It indicates a starved sense of belonging.

We know that as humans we are naturally social creatures – we cannot ignore our humanity! It may be easier to strengthen belonging in a shared physical space, but it is possible in the virtual world too – it just requires being intentional and open to adapting to it.

Association needs alignment in both values and action!


Association is fundamental in belonging. It’s the feeling you get when what matters most to you is shared with others. This alignment of values within the organization is important – on an individual level by feeling more connected to others, and on an organizational level by having company values that resonate with all. Beyond that, the alignment of values with action also contributes to the levels of trust and belonging at work. For example, if a CEO says that one of their personal values is accountability and they are consistently blaming others, it is likely their team will lose trust in them and feel disconnected from them. Association needs alignment in both values and action!

To be clear, association is NOT assimilation. Being able to relate to others is vital in human connection and belonging – however, like Brené Brown said, we should not sacrifice ourselves to ‘fit in’ because that is not true belonging.

Empowering uniqueness is an inclusive practice that nurtures diversity. This leads to a deeper sense belonging.


At the other end of the horizontal axis is Differentiation. This is about recognizing, appreciating, and developing our uniqueness. We each have different strengths, perspectives, and experiences – every one of them valid and worthy of celebrating. Enabling the exploration of all our unique gifts and strengths allows for a deeper understanding of each other – we become able to make genuine connections. A team is not made up of copies of one person – it is a group of individuals with their own unique superpowers. Empowering uniqueness is an inclusive practice that nurtures diversity. This leads to a deeper sense belonging. By celebrating and nurturing our uniqueness, we will also fuel higher levels of performance and innovation.

We all know the Golden Rule: treat others the way you want to be treated. In order to honour the uniqueness of each individual however, we believe in the Platinum rule – treat others the way they want to be treated. For example, if you know a coworker needs to think questions through you might adjust yourself and ensure space is made for them to have time to process. This is celebrating and respecting each others’ unique needs and preferences.

Everyone in the organization is enabled to feel a strong sense of connection at work when all of the above four elements are respected and nurtured. . Connection fuels belonging which fuels engagement.

How can you apply this belonging framework in your community to advance humanity at work?

“We are born in community – fully connected to another human. Without connection, we cannot survive. It’s in our DNA to belong.” – Radha Agrawal, Belong


What resonated most with you from this blog? If you want to explore these belonging dimensions to elevate your sense of engagement, let’s connect!