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Belonging and wellbeing

As we move in South Africa into the peak of our second COVID-19 wave, I am aware of the continuum of responses to this surge in the pandemic in our country.

On the one end is the ‘sunny SA’ response, with summer holidays beckoning people to be out and about as we are used to being in December, to the lock yourself down and resume self-imposed, level 5 restrictions.

I find myself somewhere in between, dependent on what news data I’ve just read or how many ‘happy family’ Facebook pics I’ve viewed!

But I realise that below the fear of the pandemic, lies some level of need to ‘belong’ in that if ‘everyone’ is out having fun in the sun, that I too wish to do so.

Or if we are all standing in solidarity by staying home (which is of course the right thing to do) that we forge some sort of togetherness in staying apart.

This brings me to some latest research by BetterUp (for whom I coach) who tracked belonging over the course of 2020. It is not surprising to uncover how intimately linked belonging and wellbeing are; I think pandemic behaviour has more than proved that.  But what they did reveal is the cost of what they term ‘unbelonging’.

And when we feel we do not belong (‘unbelonging’) this provokes an anti-social response. 

In the work environment, if I continuously feel as though I do not belong to a group or  a team, I may respond in an anti-social manner and act counter-productively to the team. On the flip side, if I feel that I do belong, then I am more willing to work for the greater good of the team. And hence we are continuously looking for ways to drive inclusion and belonging in the work place.

McKinsey, in a November 2020 article in response to flagging mental health, cite 5 key ways to design a “better mental health future” for our work force;

  1. Open the lines of communication
  2. Understand and meet the need
  3. Know the signs of distress
  4. Make help available
  5. Embrace and encourage self care

A lot has been written about these over the past 9 months and will need to be revisited as we enter 2021. But for me in December 2020, I suspect that what our national communications strategy needs to recreate is a sense of belonging in our second wave and of unity in suffering. It is when we ‘go it alone’ and feel dispersed and dislocated, that we act in anti-social ways and exacerbate the pandemic.

Part of our plan with our teens this festive season, was to get out and serve others in need. And one never needs to look far in Cape Town, as Living Hope co-ordinated efforts in response to the devastating Masiphumelele fire, which consumed 1000 homes, and the Hope Exchange sought to continue to feed the homeless, through a desperate festive season. It is when we actively choose to take care of our own and others’ wellbeing, that our sense of belonging is ignited, and as we start to feel that we belong, so the cycle of wellbeing gains its own momentum.

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2 responses to “Belonging and wellbeing”

  1. Lene Øverland says:

    As we go into 2021 we know more about what the year will bring than what we knew at this time a year ago. Energy levels are low as there is a sense that the result of continuing suffering is quite far into the future especially with the vaccine 6 months or so away for the first. We somehow need to find a way to cope with this real situation vs. being impatient and expecting big changes in 2021. It has to become more acceptable to say no to a meeting and no to 12 hour work days on a regular basis. Somehow we need to find a way to ‘close the office’ at home to go home to be with self and family and not be available to work when we have self and family time. Becoming better at protecting time to stay sane and healthy is my aim for 2021.

    • Karen Grant says:

      Excellent points here, Lene! If Covid is teaching us to boundary better and to say ‘No’ more often, then I think some good comes from an almost intolerable situation. I wish you well in whatever 2021 holds, with renewed resilience, energy and empathy levels.

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