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The Belonging Paradox for Men

Belonging is a fundamental human need and key to happiness, but men are lost in their search for it.

Here’s a riddle. What can be both vital and fatal, leads to happiness and causes misery, and has increased in importance — exponentially — since 2020?

Answer: Belonging (a sense of being accepted for your authentic self).

Before 2020

Before 2020 — and this has not changed — social belonging was a fundamental human need. Also before 2020, U.S. businesses spent nearly $8 billion each year on diversity and inclusion trainings, but 40% of people still said that they felt isolated at work, resulting in lower organizational commitment and engagement. Meanwhile, “High belonging was linked to a whopping 56% increase in job performance, a 50% drop in turnover risk, and a 75% reduction in sick days. For a 10,000-person company, this would result in annual savings of more than $52M” (Carr et al., 2019).

Before 2020, there was a theory that belonging and true happiness emerge when you feel useful to others, when you are contributing to the betterment of society. On the metaphorical Road to Now, many groups have paved onward in the name of belonging. The members of The Black Hand belonged to a cause greater than themselves, as did the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. One spurred a world war, the other a civil rights movement. The Nazis felt belonging, and so did the Allies. The Ku Klux Klan and the Black Panthers. The only connection I’m drawing here is that all of these groups sold a sense of belonging and a promise of improving the world.

Much has been accomplished and destroyed through the power of belonging. Nonetheless, it is needed now more than ever.

After 2020

The global pandemic in 2020 surged the virtual world — a shift that was accelerating already with the rise of smart phones and social media — into warp speed. As hard as we try to justify the connective potential of technology, the virtual landscape can be isolating. No Slack or Zoom or FaceTime will ever substitute for in-person connection, and being “alone together” will never be enough to satisfy the human need to belong.

Belonging’s stock is seeing exponential growth, driven by high demand and low supply. They’re calling 2021 “the year of Belonging.” In 2020, belonging became 12% more important for employee happiness during COVID-19, and by the end of that year, it was the strongest driver of employee engagement, more than trust in leadership and ability for career growth.