Spiral of Pursuit 0

Spiral of Pursuit - Rashmi Agarwal
Humans have always naturally craved to seek affiliation through families and tribes. With industrialization and globalization, the linkages to the natural tribes like family weakened over time but the tribal instinct still survived, which is why people are constantly looking to be part of new tribes to meet their evolving needs. The article attempts to explain how as organisations, we can try to leverage this pursuit to fit in to have a more engaged and productive workplace. 

“We seem to be in an infinite spiral where we are always toiling for something and working on ourselves to reach the next milestone or to acquire the next shiny thing. The upside of it is the exponential development in the society which is resulting from this constant pursuit and the downside is the dissatisfaction, stress and the associated mental disorders arising from the constant struggle to fit-in.”

Survival of the fittest, the Darwinian Theory coined in the nineteenth century suggests that the species which develop to better compete for resources eventually survive.

A behaviour which has proved to be equally important for existence is ‘Tribal instinct’. If we refer to the animal kingdom, the monarchy of the jungle, the wild cats are endangered whilst animals like elephants, deers are thriving. Is it because the cat family lives alone, predates alone and consequently is preyed upon also alone!

We humans have lived in ‘Tribes’ from the beginning when we were leading just a nomadic life and were dependent on hunting for food. Initially, living in a tribal community, helped us meet the physiological and safety needs. Gradually, we learned to grow and store food, dependence on nature reduced, commerce also developed and self-sufficiency kicked in. ‘Security’ became a state subject with the evolution of societies. With this, the tribes that provided us with food and security have outlived their utility however the tribal instinct has still survived.

Modern TechnologyWith industrialization and globalization, the opportunities for education and jobs got created more in certain locations compared to others which resulted in the migration of people. Following this, the linkages to the natural tribes like family and neighbours have further weakened along with the coupling effect of digitalization. Therefore, humans are lonelier than ever and are longing to be part of new tribes at some level of consciousness.

Having met our basic and security needs, we are now looking for tribes to meet our love/belonging, self-esteem and actualization needs in line with Maslow’s needs hierarchy pyramid. And, different people and different communities may be at a different level of the pyramid.

While migrating, our primary exposure to a tribe is at the workplace or colleges where we look for relationships and support and feel the need to be accepted as part of a micro tribe. The quest for fitting-in starts then and there.

It is scientifically proven that people prefer to socialize with people who are similar to them and has been coined as Affinity Bias. This results in the need to ‘fit-in’. Initially, when people lived and died in the communities where they were born, the fit was natural.

However, with the migration and looking for new communities, we face constant pressure to fit- in the new world.

The same can manifest in many ways and pursuits. The need for getting rid of ‘Mother tongue Influence’ (MTI) is an example of disassociating ourselves from the old tribe to associate ourselves with the new tribe which could be at our workplace in metros or bigger cities.

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In this phase of adjusting and adopting people unlearn and relearn the new norms of existence. The mere change in lifestyle like getting branded clothes, footwear and accessories and the constant endeavour to climb the brand ladder also comes from the need to fit in. The people aspire to move from local brands to national to global and then to the luxury brands even if it burns one’s pocket. As we rise up the Brand Ladder, the incremental value addition of the product becomes subjective, however, the brands help people meet their self-esteem needs and also qualifies them for certain tribes. At the zenith, ignoring the stereotyping, the females look forward to own solitaires, Gucci or LV and similarly the males aspire for a BMW or a Rolex.

“It is scientifically proven that people prefer to socialise with people who are similar to them. The term has been coined as affinity bias, which refers to the tendency to warm up to people like ourselves. This results in the need… Click To Tweet

Similarly, people are willing to spend exorbitant sums to own i-phone sometimes just to fulfil their self-esteem needs. The brands like Harley Davidson and Royal Enfield are classic examples that have leveraged the tribal instinct successfully with their brand clubs. People buy these brands to up their cool quotient for the world by being part of associated tribes.

Like for everything, we are moving to digital even to fulfil our social needs. The flourishing of apps like Tinder, Meet-up, Hinge indicates that we as human beings are more than ever looking for avenues to meet our ‘love/belonging’ needs.

Either we have moved out of our hometown or our friends have moved out of our hometown, thus the generations born in the late ’70s and later are looking to establish those connections virtually with real people. This concerns the organizations at large because this refers to the population under 45 years of age which form the majority of the active workforce today informal employment.

Alas! Even in order to meet their self-actualization needs, people are seeking for groups which meet their need to be a better version whether it is through art, happiness or any other group. The affinity bias plays a huge role in gaining entry to these tribes hence the constant striving comes into play.

ProductivityWe seem to be in an infinite spiral where we are always toiling for something and working on ourselves to reach the next milestone or to acquire the next shiny thing. The upside of it is the exponential development in the society which is resulting from this constant pursuit and the downside is the dissatisfaction, stress and the associated mental disorders arising from the constant struggle to fit-in. The spiral appears to be unending and so does the pursuit.

In the ideal world, we would like to emotionally operate in personal and professional silos however more often than not we don’t succeed in the same. The inadvertent osmosis of emotions, both positive and negative takes place inevitably. As per recent study employees on an average spend about 32% of their time on social media during working hours. Needless to say this results in the loss of productivity as well as engagement at the workplace. This has been partially even recognized by most of the engagement models where they talk about the importance of having the best friend at work but is that enough?

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What can organizations do to cater to the tribal instincts of its employees so as to reduce this decrease of productivity? Some of the organizations already are trying to leverage this tribal instinct by creating common lingo, symbols, vision and mission for its employees. In the process, they are able to tap into the loyalties and energies of the employees to different extents. More organizations need to follow suit in spirit and not just in the letter. However, this probably is not enough as observed through the amount of time being spent on social media.

We as human beings are evolving and so are our needs, expectations and aspirations. So organizations need to up their game. One of the approaches to steer the needs can be the creation and encouragement of interest groups within the organizations. The idea is age-old but now more than ever the organizations need to implement them with more vigour and sincerity. If it requires a day off every fortnight or so to employees to connect and socialize in these groups, giving right nudges for employees to truly adopt these groups by choice, the organization should go for it full throttle. Once the initial inertia is overcome, the groups are likely to become free-flowing and not bound by the space and time given by the organizations. However, to give that initial thrust, organizations need to make it their strategic priority.

The groups should be created and managed by the employees with minimal linkages to other organizational processes.

A participative approach is a lever which can make this idea a successful initiative where the onus of success is co-owned by both employees and the management.

“We will not be able to take the employees out of the ‘spiral of pursuit’ by being proactive, however, by providing a safe space to pursue their interests and aspirations, we are more likely to leverage the tribal instinct better to have a more engaged and productive workplace.”

Productive WorkplaceThere can be numerous approaches nonetheless there is no hiding from the fact that the lines between personal and professional spaces are blurring. When organizations expect employees to take work in their personal space the reverse is also bound to happen. So it may be best to take it head-on rather than brush it under the carpet.

We will not be able to take the employees out of the ‘spiral of pursuit’ by being proactive but by providing a safe space to pursue their interests and aspirations, we are more likely to channelize the pursuit to have a more engaged and productive workplace.

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Rashmi Agarwal is leading Corporate HR function in BFSL. Prior to this, she has worked as Vice President- HR at IDFC and HR Specialist at State Bank of India. She is an experienced HR professional with over 10 years of experience in the finance industry. She is a postgraduate in Human Resource Management from Management Development Institute, Gurgaon. Her area of expertise includes - Compensation & Rewards, Manpower Planning, Performance Management System, Change Management, Learning & Development Strategy and HR Policies design. 

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