Time for a bit of theory. Let’s pull up some Maslow, shall we? If we’re honest, for most of us, it’s probably one of the only theoretical models which has really stuck in our head. This is likely for a couple of reasons. One, it’s pretty darn straightforward, compared to a lot of the models out there which you need a PhD in to even begin to be able to get your head around them. And two, it’s directly relevant to every single one of us.

My theory is that Maslow sticks with us because we can personally relate to it. If we think about just about any environment we might find ourselves in, it makes sense. We start with our basic survival needs. We move to focusing on our psychological requirements, and eventually reach the point where we are looking at self-actualisation.

A clear divide springs up

For me, though, there is one layer on the Maslow hierarchy which has always stood out to me more than any other. That layer is that which focuses on a sense of belonging. Sure, we all need to survive, and we all want to stay safe. 99.9% of organisations get at least the first two levels of requirement right. But the level at which we start to want to feel a sense of belonging – that, for me, is where you see a clear divide spring up.

You see, organisations get the first two levels of Maslow right because they have to. Because it is a legal requirement. Protected by employment law as we are, even the most kamikaze of businesses knows that it must keep its employees alive, safe, and with access to food and running water. We are fortunate to live in a time where, really, all of that is a given.

A stepping stone to do more

Take a step up to the third layer though, and that’s when you start to see a real differentiation. Organisations who work to ensure their employees feel like they belong aren’t doing that because they legally have to. They’re doing it because they see the relevance of that to the overall employee experience, and the benefits they as a business will see as a result.

We all like to feel like we belong. From our very earliest years we are seeking out friendship groups. Most of us naturally gravitate towards situations we feel comfortable with. And feeling that sense of belonging is then the stepping stone to us being able to do more. We commit. We work harder. We take greater risks – and reap the rewards of doing so.

So, how can organisations instil that sense of belonging in their employees – and why don’t more bother to do it? We’ll start with the latter question. There is still a school of thought that suggests that a sense of belonging creates entitlement. That, actually, rather than employees feel like they belong, it is better for them to feel fear, to force them to deliver. You will find a number of businesses out there where they have foregone a sense of belonging to instead instil a culture of blame and fear. The stick rather than the carrot approach.

Putting up barriers

Wondering where a blame culture fits on Maslow’s model? Well, you’re right. It doesn’t. And those organisations that choose to employ one are putting up a direct barrier to their employees being able to fulfil their potential and deliver results.

As to the how – well, that’s almost the easiest part. A sense of belonging is created by making your workplace real, transparent, caring, and human. Allow your employees to understand what is happening. Open up clear lines of communication. Show that you are prepared to invest in them and their future. Enable them to integrate their work and home lives.

When you do that, you break down your barriers to reaching the uppermost echelons of Maslow. Your employees will sense that you trust them, that you care about them. In the same way that these are vital qualities for friendship, the same is true for a sense of belonging in an employer/employee relationship. When we belong, we invest ourselves. We commit to giving more back – and both we and the wider business are able to achieve so much more as a result.

Motivated to do my best

In my career, I’ve worked for only one organisation which did not permit employees to ‘belong’ – instead taking that path of blame and fear. It was a good learning tool: I have no intention of repeating that experience again. Since then, I have made my career choices far more carefully. I now work for an organisation in Benefex who is fully committed to ensuring that every single one of its employees feels that sense of belonging. I go into work each day and I feel safe and secure… but I also feel that I am working somewhere that cares. Somewhere that I care about. And somewhere where I am therefore motivated to do my very best and deliver fantastic results, day in, day out.

Don’t underestimate the power of belonging to your business, and to your employees. Create an environment which allows your people to thrive, safe in the knowledge that they belong – and watch just how much you get back in return.