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Sep 23, 2015
This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.

“Connection” is a basic human need, residing on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs just above physical safety.

According to Daniel Pink’s book Drive, when Robert Reich was U.S. Secretary of Labor, and he visited a company to talk with the employees, he would often conduct a “pronoun test” to discover the level of employee engagement. He found that employees who referred to their company in terms of “we” were more engaged than those who referred to the company as “they.”

When an employee buys into something that your company is doing, they take ownership.

  • When satisfied, they say things like “We’re successfully implementing a new program” or “We have great camaraderie, so we get things done.”
  • When they’re dissatisfied, they remove themselves from the equation. They say things like “They don’t pay us well” or “They don’t get things done.”

Reich concluded that an employee who uses we feels more integrated into the company, identifies more with the company, and takes more ownership. Presumably, these people are more likely to be satisfied, engaged, and effective in their work.

Employee engagement— connecting with the organization

Connection is the feeling that being part of your organization makes you part of a community of people who are engaged in something that’s bigger than any one person.

There’s a sense of belonging to the organization and the people around you. There’s a deep sense not only of social camaraderie but of kinship, of shared culture, values, customers, and mission. Connection manifests as the sense that a place is “special,” that you and your colleagues are a “band of brothers” who have each other’s backs unconditionally.

In 2014, DecisionWise studied a group of more than 363,000 employees across 52 international organizations of all sizes and shapes and asked them to rate the statement “I am proud to tell people I work at this organization.” Over three-quarters (78 percent) of these employees gave a positive response — a relatively high favorability rating.

But what’s really interesting is that in some organizations, more than 90 percent of employees responded with positive ratings to this question. In these organizations, not only did the employees connect with the organization, the organization connected with its employees.

The type of connections that drives engagement

When employees feel a deep, strong connection, they are more likely to expend extra energy for one another, to give more to the organization, and to be more positive in the things they say both at work and away from it. Effort, attention to quality and detail, and morale go up … and generally, so do profits.

Yes, connection can make a team more than the sum of its parts.

However, connection doesn’t happen all at once. It’s rare for a new employee to join an organization and immediately feel that he’s part of a band of brothers. Instead, people typically pass through a few preliminary stages before achieving connection:

  • Fit — Fit is similar to, or a congruence with, an employer’s culture or environment. This might manifest as an appreciation for the physical artifacts in the work space, a connection to the social structure, an appreciation for the work environment (digging your cubicle, the break room, etc.), job fit, or a fit with the organization as a whole. A person who fits with an organization may find that the people working there have a background like his own or that the work being done is the kind of work he’s trained for and enjoys. He fits in with the company.
  • Belonging — If fit exists, then the employee may move on to feel that she belongs with the organization — that it’s a place that shares her values, where she can enjoy her work and find motivation and reward. Together, fit and belonging produce positive outcomes.
  • Integration — Once employees feel they belong, they become an integral part of the organization. Rather than being just a part of the organization, the organization is a part of who they are.

Fit and belonging are necessary precursors to connection, but they don’t constitute a connection. If an employee finds fit and belonging, he may one day feel that his colleagues “get” who he is and accept him, that the company values him and his work, and that his “they” thinking has changed to “we” thinking.

And that’s connection — one of the critical keys to employee engagement.

This was originally published on the DecisionWise blog.

This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.
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