By Marcelo Cardoso for Valor

Columnist Marcelo Cardoso talks about the importance of companies being more welcoming and willing to encourage the evolution of professionals

When, during the pandemic, the boundaries between personal and professional life collapsed, the theme of belonging at work became one of the most important in organizational management. Before covid-19, we were in a context with a certain stability, in which most people had daily rituals, with configurations that delimited work from other roles in life. Somehow, this predictability accommodated some issues that were already important, but that were hidden in the normality of the rituals. However, the pandemic completely modified the rituals that kept everything in its place.

At the moment when these rituals ceased to exist and borders became tenuous, the sense of belonging underwent an unprecedented shake-up, and we still cannot understand its long-term extension.

Managers have asked themselves, now, what the implication of this new moment for the evolution of the culture of organizations and the experience of belonging of employees, so necessary for the new reality.

But what is belonging? I invite readers to put aside the notion that has been superficially disseminated by some research and the banality of the value proposition offered by the company, the so-called Employee Value Proposition (EVP), which borrows from consumer marketing a model that does not no sense for our topic.

The experience of belonging is subjective, complex, and happens simultaneously in multiple systems of which we are a part. Its starting point is the memory imprinted in each of us, based on the ingrained experience of belonging that we live in the early years of childhood.

In the definition of Bonnie M. Hagerty, professor at the University of Michigan, the sense of belonging consists of the feeling, belief and expectation formed through the experiences of “being valued, needed or important” and “the feeling of having a place and congruence” .

Our experience of being valued and having a space is built very early, in our childhood. Each one of us has a record of experiences that deeply marked us, generating a pattern of behavior that we need to repeat in order to feel accepted – what we normally call a personality script.

The important issue is that in our life, affective relationships, friendships and our relationship with work, we are tested by experiences that reinforce or contradict our script.

Emotional maturity then becomes fundamental for us not to project unrealistic expectations of acceptance and recognition onto work and onto the people we work with that were left behind in our childhood. And these projections and transfers are more common than we imagine.

As organizations, we still have a long way to go, but good leads are already emerging. Recently, Sonja Blignaut, founder of the consultancy More Beyond, found some patterns in a survey on the topic and offers some suggestions.

The first is that we need to change the focus, moving away from the search for alignment and cultural fit to seek coherence and cultural diversity.

The second is that new and different boundaries are needed to create containment that helps employees navigate tensions and deal with the anxiety of losing control. These new frontiers must be “liberating structures” that replace traditional governance processes and policies, built with technological support.

It is also necessary to seek coherence between the “system that is in people’s minds and hearts” and the new workspaces. Physical and digital places need to maintain the connection between the various subsystems and the greater whole, in the service of a purpose. Physical and virtual environments should be designed to create in people an experience of fairness, care and belonging.

How work and its meaning will evolve is still uncertain, however, the feeling of belonging is intrinsic to the human experience. That we, as leaders, can embrace uncertainties and have the courage to propose new spaces that welcome, stimulate and awaken the evolutionary potential of people and organizations.