Organizations between sense of belonging and need to own

Summary : strengthening employees’ sense of belonging as a major matter for most organizations. That’s a concept that’s understood by everyone but hard to put into action : belonging (…is a a relevant word ?) is the result of a shared support of a big picture while organizations, trying to leave as few room as possible for chance, often try to own their employees. What have consequences that are the opposite of those were pursued. Should we use the words belonging, engagement or anything else, any HR 2.0 policy should focus on reconciliation rather that on isolation, lock-up and ownership. Not obvious.

It’s said that many employees have lost their marks in both their professional and personal lifes…and in how to articulate both as well. They’re looking for things that make sense, things to grab hold of. It’s often “sense of belonging”. Belonging to a group, to a project, to a group involved in a project. For any organization, strengthening their employees’ sense of belonging is a very complex issue.

Talking about belonging is one thing. Knowing to what it applies is another one.

Belonging to the enterprise ? Why not, but is some cultures where mistrust toward employers is the rule, it won’t work.

Belonging to a group ? May be a good thing but it must not mean that one’s private life will be swallowed by professional life, that the difference between a colleague and a friend will blur…even if they have to achieve things together.

Is Mintzberg’s community-ship the answer . Why not because it takes care of each one’s expectations and attitude toward engagement. What makes people get involved into a dynamic is their support of a project, of a corporate vision and that’s what makes employees engage with both the organization that carries the vision and the people who make it a reality. So, what is the base of anything is a project and the related values and not a direct link between people and organizations or other people.

As for them, enterprises have to find new levers for motivation and employees engagement. Improving sense of belonging ? Yes, at least tom some extent. Beyond fashion and buzzwords, all the 2.0 paradigm that aims at considering employees (and even customers) as stakeholders for more co-creation, exchanges and new relationships between the “corporte entity” and each of its members belongs to this logic.

But there will always be a limit : it’s not an exact science but a proposition. Organizations propose, ideally after a listening phase, and employees accept (or not) and choose how this acceptation will be turned into action and its intensity. Organizations don’t create either communty-ship or communities : they capitalize on existing values, desires and expectations.

That’s were a bias appears. Organizations respond to need for belonging with a desire to own. At first sight both are complementary…but in fact they aren’t. According to the above lines, the word “belonging” may even be unfortunate to describe what employees need. Since organizations aren’t sure 100% of their employees will buy their offer, they try to catch and lock in.

  • Employees have to give all their time to their employer because the latter own it. Hence the temptation of eliminating everything that may divert people from giving everything to their work or make them think of a non work-related thing while at work.
  • Employees don’t exist outside of the organization. They are not allowed to mention hobbies or even past experiences on their rich profile on the enterprise’s intranet. People are born the day they sign and will die the day they resign. Meanwhile, they’re not supposed neither to have lived before they sign nor to have a non-professional existence during the time they work for the company.
  • Employees don’t have the right to exist, even personally, on any media or social network. Having employees who are fans of fishing or of the old cartoon they loved when they were teenagers is not good for the company that does not even care of the impact of their own actions on employee’s reputation morale.

What has exactly the opposite result as what was pursued.

By the way…what’s the purpose of all these thoughts ?

I was recently asked some questions on HR 2.0, most of all from a values point of view. Don’t get ourselves wrong : I’m very far away the “care bears” sympathies : employees are here because they are needed to contribute to production activities and not because it’s nice to gather people in the workplace. What means that many things depend on the cost/added value ratio of anyone. Once that said, organizations have to find how to make everyone give their best while blooming, what is the best way to make sure they’ll all contribute to what is the goal of any business : making money today and tomorrow (in fact too many people forget the “tomorrow”). In this approach, anything that looks like an attemps to lock people in is counter productive.

Since I’m not always comfortable with words like engagement that are often used wildly, I’d rather say that the core values of HR 2.0 are rather about reconciliating (vision, people, project) than locking in. And, most of all, organizations should keep in mind that ownership is not the response to “belonging needs”.


Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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