Updated: Apr 5, 2022
It's no secret that diverse teams are more innovative, have a greater chance of solving problems, overcoming obstacles and making smarter decisions than teams comprised of people with similar skills, backgrounds, and interests. While many organizations are touting statements and scorecards that detail their DEI efforts -- Enough already!
By now, most enlightened leaders buy into the idea that diverse teams are better teams. But employees are demanding more than reports and talking points. What's the point of hiring and training folks with different skillsets, perspectives and backgrounds if they don't stick around? So what makes them stick around? Recent surveys indicate employees have greater company loyalty when they feel they belong.
With all the emphasis on improving employee engagement and job satisfaction to keep top talent around, many companies are blowing it. U.S. businesses spend nearly 8 billion dollars each year on diversity and inclusion programs but fail to address the fundamental human need to make employees feel that they are valued - that they belong. A diverse workforce is critical to building rockstar teams, but diversity is not automagically inclusivity. In fact, recent surveys indicate that more than 40% of people say that they feel isolated or that they don't fit in at work. Despite the growing number of DEI initiatives, the result has been lower organizational commitment and engagement and higher turnover aptly named the Great Resignation.
“Diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion is being asked to dance.” - Verna Myers, VP of Diversity and Inclusion at Netflix
We don't need scientific evidence, studies or stats to know that when people belong to a group, tribe or organization, they have a strong intrinsic motivation to contribute to its success. It’s just how we are wired. Belonging is a basic human need, and it brings meaning into our lives. Whether we belong to a school community, a sports team, religious organization, or workplace, belonging connects us through purpose and makes us feel valued by others.
Neurologically, our brains just work better when we belong. When we feel safe, we are able to engage higher-level executive function and tap into optimum cognitive capacity. A sense of belonging serves as a protective factor helping manage stress and other behavioral issues. When we feel supported and connected, we are more resilient, often coping more effectively with difficult times in our lives.
The Roseto Effect
The most famous study of the effect of belonging was the case of Roseto, Italy which gave birth to the Roseto Effect. Roseto is a small quarry town in Italy about 100 miles from Rome. For centuries, life was hard for the people Roseto. They worked in the quarries and lived a meager life.
In January 1882, 11 Rosetans 10 men and 1 boy set sail for the United States and ultimately found their way to an area near Bangor, PA. The next year 15 more came over, and the trend continued. By 1894, more than 1200 Rosetans had made their way to America.
Now this small group of people would have lived in obscurity had it not been for a local Roseto doctor who encountered Dr. Stewart Wolf, then head of Medicine of the University of Oklahoma. The doctors discussed the unusually low rate of myocardial infarction in Roseto compared with the neighboring areas. The two closest towns, Bangor and Nazareth were both about the same size as Roseto, populated with the same number of European immigrants. Yet, the death rates in both towns were more than 3 times that of Roseto.
Researchers found that their protection from heart disease had nothing to do with environmental factors. Nor was it that they lived a healthy lifestyle of diet and exercise. Rosetans ate cholesterol-rich salami and cheese as well as sausages and meatballs fried in lard. They smoked old-style unfiltered Italian stogie cigars. They drank wine…lots of wine.
And the quarries in which they worked were dangerous and full of hazardous air particles.
The Rosetan Secret
The secret of the Rosetans was the way they lived together. In their shared origins, and shared journey and shared vision to create a new Roseto, they took care of one another, they were unified and connected. Regardless of income and education, the success of the individual depended upon the success of the team. There was no demarcation between the socio-economic divides. Those who had more money didn't live above the others. They patronized one another’s businesses almost exclusively, even with bigger stores in other towns.
In essence, they had created a powerful, protective social support structure insulating them against stressors of the outside world. The Rosetans were healthy because success was a community endeavor – each individual was committed to the success of the group.
However, the investigators made a prediction that the “Roseto effect” would not last.
A relatively recent (1992) study, as published in the American Journal of Public Health, confirmed this sad prediction. The officials of the AJPH examined the death records of Roseto, and again they compared them with the surrounding towns of Nazareth and Bangor. They found no difference between the heart condition of Rosetan community and any other. They did find a direct correlation between social ties, community and belonging and heart disease death rates, resilience, and overall well-being. In the late 1970's, large-scale suburbanization swept the region. Single family homes, fenced yards, and country clubs changed the landscape and the community dynamics.
“The wearing away of intra-marriages (Italian to Italian), the careless dismantling of the social ties between family and community, the return to conspicuous consumption by wealthy Rosetans, and ignorance of common values, could be charted with precision from decade to decade.”
The Roseto Effect is a stark reminder of the power of social connectedness and the steep costs we pay without it.
Creating Organizational Culture of Belonging
What if organizational culture was developed with that same kind of belonging? What if employees came to work every morning with the commitment that success was a team endeavor, that all team members had a role in that success and shared values, mission and vision were the unifying force in the way work got done?
Employees want experiences that support, connect, and empower them. Belonging means being included and accepted by colleagues, valued for your contributions, and engaged by team challenges and success. The benefits to employees translates into a better bottom-line for the company too:
A 56% rise in job performance
50% lower turnover risk
75% fewer sick days
A 167% increase in employee willingness to recommend the employer to others
Paul Haury, an executive leadership coach who incorporates behavioral, psychological and neurological science into his practice, maintains that the majority of our work world relies on influencing just two of our base hardwired emotional states: aspiration and fear. But, he points out that belonging has a powerful influence on both. Without belonging, fears are larger, more intense, and more powerful than the reward of the aspirations. Moreover, aspirations ultimately turn into fears resulting in deficient thinking patterns. When people belong, they not only embrace challenges, they thrive utilizing challenges as bonding agents that energize the team rather than deplete and demoralize it.
Haury believes that for real belonging to exist it has to go both ways and not be transactionally dependent. Belonging is both "embrace" and "boundary." Haury identifies six belonging areas of any organization or team:
· the ways you belong in accord with the tribe’s core values
· your shared beliefs that you hold, together
· living in your personal values that work with the company core values
· you, joined in story, your personal strategic story in concurrence with the company’s strategic story
· your get-shit-done practices that you personally and cooperatively perform for your tribe
· your growth for each other first; the tribe grows or it dies
Hmmm... sounds a lot like Roseto...
To learn more about what it means to belong to an organization - according to Paul Haury - check him out here. I promise you, you'll leave smarter than you arrived.