NACA BLOG - Focusing on Belonging for Campus Staff - 1/9/2023

​Jan. 9, 2023

Focusing on Belonging for Campus Staff
Sarah Keeling, Ph.D.
NACA Director of Education & Research

NACA’s vision is to “create college communities where everyone belongs.” In fact, in our recent school member survey, 93.5% of respondents indicated that creating a sense of belonging is one of the top three benefits of student involvement/engagement on campus. The survey also showed that burnout among colleagues and personal burnout are two of the top three current challenges they are facing.  

This leads to the question - who is focused on sense of belonging for staff? After all, we spend the majority of our lives in the workplace. While professional staff members on campuses excel at creating a sense of belonging for their students, they often do not think of themselves. Professional staff members and senior administrators must consider their own sense of belonging and that of their staff. 

Sense of belonging on campus is defined as the extent to which individuals feel their authentic self is personally accepted, respected, included, supported, and safe in the university environment. Focusing on a sense of belonging for staff can lead to increased job satisfaction, employee retention, and productivity. There are several key components to consider: 

  • Open Communication – Open, transparent communication is key to fostering a sense of belonging. Transparency helps build trust and provides needed insight into why decisions are made. This speaks to the larger campus environment and culture. Leaders at all levels of the institution need to practice and model effective communication skills. 
  • Collaboration - Another important part of building a sense of belonging is collaboration. Most people want to feel like they are a vital member of a team, so it is important to find team projects or connections that bring people together. This will also help increase social interactions, which are important to both team and culture building. When people feel involved and engaged in their daily work, they are more likely to bring positive energy to the workplace and stay with the organization. 
  • Opportunity for Growth - Professionals want to feel like they can grow and learn in their positions. This is where professional development comes in. Investing in professional development benefits not only the employee, but also the organization. Any knowledge and skills that are gained can be utilized to benefit staff, students, and the organization. NACA offers professional development opportunities, such as the Mid-Level Professionals Course and The Forum for Student Organization Advisors. These opportunities will benefit participants with the professional development which will positively impact the institutions they serve. 

College communities can expand the idea of sense of belonging to also encompass professional staff members. What other key components contribute to sense of belonging for employees? For further reading on this topic, check out Imagine Belonging by Rhodes Perry and Inclusion on Purpose by Ruchika Tulshyan.

Sarah Keeling, Ph.D. serves as director of Education & Research for the National Association for Campus Activities and has over 20 years of higher education experience. Her doctorate in higher education administration is from the University of South Carolina.

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