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  • 1.  staff encouragement

    Posted 9 days ago
    I have - no one will be surprised to note- gotten myself into a bit of a jumble on this topic.

    I have always operated from the perspective that ours is not a customer service profession.  Rather, we are colleagues in the research enterprise - colleagues armed with an array of information so arcane that no more than a few people on a campus ought to have to know it.  In my role as a supervisor, I try to support, encourage, laud my staff operating from this worldview.  Start from the premise that people are amazing and very many of them turn out to be - always were, no doubt.

    But here's a thing.  Amazing people (all people) deserve to be acknowledged.  And our work is HARD and high-pressure and...  (you know this.  I'm just setting the scene here.)  So many of the quick-tips for staff encouragement are.... misguided, it seems to me.  They sometimes err on the side of treating staff like children.  ("Let's play word games at a staff potluck."  Someone please shoot me now.)  Other times, they inadvertantly pit colleagues against each other, competing for some reward that no one wanted very much in the first place.  (Hawaiiaan Shirt Day, from The Office.......)

    Moreover,  we find ourselves -across higher ed- in confusing and troubling times.  Alarmingly low enrollments, post-pandemic disorientation, ...on and on.  I can't give the staff the raises they deserve.  I can't grow the staff census in ways that would alleviate burden - at least not right this minute.  And weirdly, time off doesn't help all that much.  (What kind of weird profession is this????)  I can't really relax when I'm away, knowing that my email is growing at a rate of about 400 messages/day.  So then, we check email on vacation - making it sort of NOT a vacation.

    So, how do you reward the everyday excellence of your staff?  To get us started, I write hand-written thank you notes every once in a while.  I stop by their offices to point out the amazing.  I sing their praises to the people to whom I report.  I look around campus for committees that are distinct from research admin that they might find interesting - no pressure or requirement.  Just.... you have this interest.  I saw that this committee is forming.  Go join if you want to!  What else have you got?

    And, how do you reward surge effort - the things we do when someone's out on family leave or resigns and we all step up until the ship rights itself?  Universities -any employer, I suppose- control time and money, and really not much more.  We don't need extra time off.  Most of us aren't taking the vacation we've earned, as it is.  And there's no extra money lying around.  Are there creative ideas out there?

    And, how do you as a Director prevent surge effort from just becoming expected effort?  Because THAT's a real risk and it's sort of the exact opposite of encouragement.

    What have you got, oh wise ones?  And "wine breaks in the middle of the day" -while tempting- are probably not going to fly ;)


    Andrea Buford
    Director, Office of Sponsored Programs
    Oakland University

  • 2.  RE: staff encouragement

    Posted 9 days ago
    A handwritten note is still my favorite, Andrea. 

    A couple years back I got some stickers from that were handed out with a small
    treat. Here's an example:

    They were about $6 for a sheet of 20.

    If the photo doesn't come through, see

    And it wasn't just me who nominated people.

    I asked our team to nominate as well which

    added to the fun.

    We tried coming up with silly references 

    that used the name of candy such as:

    "We're raising a cup to you. You're awesome!" with a Reese's PB cup

    or "You're worth a mint to us. Thanks for being awesome" with a York mint patty.

    Sometimes we moved to popcorn: "You're really poppin' this week!"

    It got to the point where I welcomed standing in 

    a store line by a candy counter so I could see how

    many candy names we hadn't yet used.

    Anyway, it was well received and I think staff

    appreciated being part of it in nominating people.

    I've seen some suggestions on Pinterest if you

    want to look there as well.

    All the best,


  • 3.  RE: staff encouragement

    Posted 8 days ago



    I don't have any more wisdom to add at the moment, but can't wait to see what others add.


    I'm also wondering what people do when they have staff who are struggling to learn their jobs as well during these challenging times… new hires or staff with longer tenures.  As you said, time off doesn't necessarily help, much to our dismay, and particularly for someone already having trouble keeping up and learning new things.  Having them serve on committees also may not help if they don't have the time or knowledge to get their jobs done at the moment, unless the time commitment is truly minimal.  And it that's the case, is being on a committee "in name only" enough of a perk or reward for the individual?  How do you provide some incentive for someone who can't afford time away from the work?


    One thing I can add… when I do travel, particularly out of the country, I bring back some little gifts for the office.  I have a very small office, so it's not that difficult, but of course it is more challenging for a larger office.  (Maybe think food!)


    On a related note, I've seen so many memes and social media posts blasting supervisors/leadership for providing pizza parties, when what people really want/need, they say, is more staff or better pay.  I try to remind people that their leadership probably wishes they could do those things, but given the circumstances in higher ed these days, maybe a pizza party is all they can give and we need to consider that maybe they are trying to do something, anything, to show they care, despite limited resources.

    Pamela Vargas
    Director, Research & Grant Development
    Southeast Missouri State University

  • 4.  RE: staff encouragement

    Posted 7 days ago

    In our situation, difficulties were/are compounded because our Administrative staff tend to be over-looked just by sheer volume when there are celebrations for staff who work in the animal facilities.   So when I first became part of the administrative staff group, they often voiced that they felt their work wasn't appreciated.   That was doubly so when we shifted to remote work during the pandemic.   Those facility staff who couldn't do their work remotely were shifted to a 30 hour work week to keep them spaced out in the facility while Administrative staff were still working their regular hours and many had to pick up special duties as a result of the pandemic and were working 50 and 60 hours a week.   Then administrative staff were asked to help staff the front office desks in the facilities so their impression was that people assumed they were just sitting at home doing nothing.    It was a tough hill to climb for sure.    My approach with the administrative staff is to be open and honest with them.   Tell them you realize that some don't realize/recognize how hard they work but that you do and go that extra mile to try to get others to see it as well.   I will randomly bring in full size chocolate bars - not just candy bars but the actual bars of chocolate and they are very well received.   I tell the staff that the chocolate is a very small token of appreciation for all of their hard work.   We also celebrate Administrative Assistants day with a lunch.   There's no substitute for a pay increase obviously but verbally telling each person how much you appreciate their efforts, and be specific when possible (hey thanks for getting task A done so fast!), does help them feel seen.    It also helps to put in the effort to learn how to do the jobs of some of the staff so that when they are off, you can help cover some of it.    I also started adding an agenda item for each of our staff meetings to remind all of them to take their lunch away from their computers.   To just stand up and go find a quiet place to not be looking at their screen and answering emails.   While that's definitely better for their mental health, it also demonstrates to them that I see just how hard they are working.

    Lorraine Bell
    Training Program Coordinator
    University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus