Seeking to Belong: How the Words of Internal and External Beneficiaries Influence Performance

54 Pages Posted: 6 Feb 2017  

Paul Green

Harvard Business School

Francesca Gino

Harvard Business School

Bradley R. Staats

University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School

Date Written: February 6, 2017

Abstract

In this paper, we examine how connecting to beneficiaries of one’s work increases performance, and argue that beneficiaries internal to an organization (i.e., one’s own colleague) can serve as an important source of motivation, even in jobs that — on the surface — may seem routine and low on potential impact. We suggest that this occurs because words of beneficiaries strengthen one’s sense of belongingness, a key driver of human behavior. Employees, in fact, seek to belong — and seek to enhance their sense of belongingness in work settings. We conducted two studies using both field and laboratory data from different populations to investigate the psychological consequences and performance benefits of connecting to beneficiaries of one’s work. In a longitudinal field experiment of fruit harvesters, we find that though beneficiary contact with the overall customer did not significantly improve productivity, contact with an internal beneficiary that made connectedness salient yielded a persistent increase in productivity relative to a control group. We validate this effect in the laboratory, and provide evidence that the effect is mediated by an enhanced sense of belongingness.

Keywords: Prosocial motivation, belongingness, motivation, job design, field experiment

Suggested Citation

Green, Paul and Gino, Francesca and Staats, Bradley R., Seeking to Belong: How the Words of Internal and External Beneficiaries Influence Performance (February 6, 2017). Harvard Business School NOM Unit Working Paper No. 17-073; Harvard PON Working Paper. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2912271 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2912271

Paul Green (Contact Author)

Harvard Business School ( email )

Soldiers Field Road
Morgan 270C
Boston, MA 02163
United States

Francesca Gino

Harvard Business School ( email )

Soldiers Field Road
Morgan 270C
Boston, MA 02163
United States

Bradley R. Staats

University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School ( email )

McColl Building, CB#3490
Chapel Hill, NC 27599
United States

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