Values, sense of community drive engagement at work

Lakefield College School knows what its staff can bring to the table

Jim Coghlan
Director of Human Resources
Lakefield College School

Lakefield College School is a private school in Lakefield, Ont. It employs 120 people.

The survey process identified Lakefield College School as a leader in best practices that leads to an engaged workforce. Jim Coghlan, director of HR, was interviewed about two best practice areas in which the school excels: meaningful work and healthy attachments.

Meaningful work

The boarding school for children in Grade 7 through 12 emphasizes values to the students — and faculty and staff live the values well. Whether a staff member has regular contact with the students or not, they all feel that they’re in the business of educating kids and they feel that these values are important, said Coghlan.

“We must live these values ourselves so our students will learn the values and become responsible citizens,” he said. “Work has exceptional meaning when it is value-driven. Trust is our first value because it’s the most important one. Trust is a precious commodity and at Lakefield it colours everything. It is part of creating healthy relationships between staff and students, and the staff nurture trust by seeking out students’ opinions and investing in them.”

This applies to staff relationships as well, he said. The school can’t engender trust with students if it doesn’t engender it with each other.

To illustrate a trust-building activity, all the faculty, including teachers and residential staff, have to be involved in co-curricular activities because all the students have to be involved in some form of athletics or the arts.

“I play hockey and I’m a goalie so I help the girl’s hockey team, because sometimes the team includes girls who want to play goal but haven’t played in the past,” said Coghlan. “They need a little coaching, so I go to team practices to be their goalie consultant. One of the cleaners who works in one of the boys’ residences goes to all of those boys’ games, whether it’s basketball or soccer or whatever.”

Wednesday afternoons are when many of the sports teams have games. On these days if a staff member, such as an administration assistant, wants to watch a game, he can leave work early to do so. Staff have the flexibility to be involved with student activities, said Coghlan.

“To give a non-athletic example, our drama class recently performed Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Staff were strongly encouraged to come back in the evening to see a performance,” he said. “There is also regular communication about student activities that helps build a trusting community, including a weekly e-newsletter that goes out to all parents, alumni and staff — to anyone connected with the school. It includes articles on games and events that have happened and those that are coming up.”

Building a trusting community involves knowing what skills people possess, he said.

“When all of the staff are hired, I make sure we do a skills inventory. We fill in what they’re interested in doing or what they have done,” said Coghlan. “We then know what skills people bring to the workplace and we try to use these in whatever way we can. For instance, we have a teacher and an administration assistant who both enjoy doing yoga and they decided to hold yoga classes once a week for anyone who wants to join.

“They feel that they’re contributing more than their particular expertise in their field. For example, I’m an HR practitioner, but when I go out to help the girls’ hockey team I feel more tied in and more part of the community. By being involved like this, all staff, even those who aren’t teachers, feel like they’re educating our students.

“You feel like it’s more than a workplace, and staff feel like they work for Lakefield, not for a particular department.”

Healthy attachments

Healthy attachments are a cultural thing in an organization, said Coghlan.

“It’s almost a sense you get that this is a place where people enjoy working and enjoy each other,” he said.

Lakefield staff have initiated Friday afternoon and evening gatherings called “TGIF.” Staff who live on campus or nearby host a party for all employees starting around 4 p.m.

“People pay $2 and have a beer and a snack and talk about their week or unwind or just socialize,” said Coghlan. “In my estimation the best programs are ones that the staff come up with. You can’t always have things developed and handed from the top down. If they start from the bottom up they’re usually better.”

All this emanates from David Hadden, the head of school, who is a very outgoing and affable individual, said Coghlan.

For Coghlan, the sense of belonging to a community extends to jobseekers. “For example, I receive resumés even when we’re not actively recruiting. I keep them on file pending future openings,” he said. “If someone talked to me and I ignored the person, that would be rude and I feel the same way when someone sends me a resumé. I send e-mails to thank applicants for their interest and let them know their resumés will be kept on file. Once the selection process is over, I contact all applicants. Even those who didn’t get the job thank us for all the communication.”

For last issue's coverage of How Much and How Important? Executive Views on Employee Engagement Factors, check out Misfiring on the rules of engagement as well as the case studies on Computronix and the Translation Bureau.

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