Andy Kemp

The Importance of Belonging

By Andy | January 2, 2020 | 1 Comment

The idea that schools run essentially on the good will of staff who are willing to go above and beyond their contractural obligations is a concept well established. The real question is why are some so willing to give their time and energy so freely?

I recently read an article from the Harvard Business Review on The Value of Belonging at Work which reminded me of the question of what drivesdiscretionary effort ?

The HBR article, outlines the following advantages of having staff who feel a sense of belonging:

“If workers feel like they belong, companies reap substantial bottom-line benefits. 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.”

But more than these (important) benefits, I believe there is a also a positive correlation between someone’s sense of belonging to an organisation and their willingness to go above and beyond what is required of them.

So how do we go about building that sense of belonging? The article proposes three strands which are worthy of further consideration:

  • Gaining Perpsective
  • Encouraging Mentorship
  • Finding Empowerment

Gaining Perspective is possibly the least encouraging approach (at least in terms of what it says about the school’s culture) as it works by getting those who have endured feeling excluded to share their experience and give advice. The idea here is that the person doesn’t then feel alone in feeling excluded… It’s a start, but I’d like to think we could all do a little better than simply helping them feel, it’s not just me!

Encouraging Mentorship is about looking at how we support people who may feel excluded through coaching. I’m a passionate supporter of coaching approaches in schools, and feel that these techniques hold a transformative ability to radically improve leadership and management at all levels in schools. Coaching though also has the positive benefit of giving people a sense of belonging, with the other benefits this brings.

Finding Empowerment is looking for opportunities to restructure the work experience to make it more inclusive and enjoyable for the employee. Empowerment is fundamentally about how to increase the degree of autonomy and self-determination in people. Exploring possibilities for increasing the sense of autonomy is a key way through which we can develop the sense of belonging of our colleagues.

In addition to these more formal approaches, proposed by HBR, I also believe there is real value in building up the informal social interactions and relationships within the school. Whether this is through formal events such as staff Christmas parties, inviting groups of staff round for dinner, or informal Friday drinks after school, these types of informal interactions are incredibly powerful ways of enabling people to feel a real sense of belonging to the institution.

So it appears there are significant benefits to having people feel a strong sense of belonging to the school they work in, and we’ve identified some structural areas we can explore to improve sense of belonging. However most of these require a degree of seniority to implement these types of changes. Thankfully there is one final option we can all implement, that is acting as an ally to those who may feel isolated. HBR found that by simply treating everyone fairly, and including them in processes and decisions has a hugely positive impact on overall team performance.

So I challenge everyone to reflect: What can you do in 2020 to increase the sense of belonging of everyone in your school?


02 January, 2020 Reply

Challenge accepted!

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