A Quality Workplace

Dear Campus Community,

Many of you have said you want to hear from me more often. I’ll admit it: I’ve struggled with finding the best way to engage and share information across a campus of artists, producers, maintenance crews, housekeepers, faculty, administrators, police, and other stakeholders whose schedules will never align. Then it finally dawned on me that I needed to launch Lindsay’s Letter, a monthly correspondence to highlight issues that resonate across campus.

For this kickoff edition, I’d like to address the Employee Engagement Survey, which I referred to in my email to campus.

I was thrilled with the response rate: nearly three-quarters (74 percent!) of our faculty and staff participated in the survey. That’s an unusually high level of engagement, which clearly demonstrates our shared interest in creating a better workplace.

The survey provides benchmarks to assess the health of our work culture. The diagnosis: We’re not on life support by any means, but we must improve the quality of life around here. We can start by doing exactly what our parents told us never to do: Compare ourselves to others. In this case, I’m referring to peer institutions. What are they doing that we could be doing? What best practices should we emulate? They offer flexible work schedules; could we? They offer a mentoring program; could we? They offer child care; could we? To help us sort all that out, ModernThink provided comparative data based on the “Great Colleges to Work For” Honor Roll Program featured in The Chronicle of Higher Education, as wells as schools in our Carnegie Classification (a framework used in higher ed to identify groups of comparable institutions).

You might wonder what it takes to be a great workplace.

There’s no magic formula. A sense of higher purpose, personal accountability, and a caring atmosphere figure prominently in all great places to work. Most of us want to make a difference in the world and to know our work is valued. To be considered a “Great College to Work For,” officially or not, we should feel good about our workplace. We must recognize how each member of our faculty and staff furthers the school’s unique mission. We must reward faculty and staff equitably based on responsibilities and performance. We must strive for greater efficiency and collaboration across our departments and disciplines.

That’s just the top of my list.

I consider our “Quality Workplace” initiative as important as the others in our Strategic Plan, and I’m proud that we’ve brought it to the fore during my tenure. 

I’m also proud of the strides we’ve made so far. I’ve reorganized senior administration to increase efficiency, improve performance, align us with other UNC schools, and simplify bureaucratic processes (still a long way to go!). When I came to UNCSA, the primary decision-makers comprised a small and exclusive Executive Council, which I expanded into a 12-member Cabinet representing diverse views and perspectives.

Just two years ago, decades past the dawn of the digital media revolution, there wasn’t even one person assigned to our website. Today we have a digital team that has dramatically expanded our online presence and is rapidly increasing engagement with prospective students, alumni, stakeholders, and supporters. We launched an award-winning, nationally-recognized brand identity and marketing strategy that has broadened our base of support and spread our story across the state and nation. Both areas have dramatically impacted admissions for the better. 

We’re only just beginning to feel the ripple effect of these changes. Studies show it takes at least five to 10 years for cultural shifts to occur in higher education. I’m not that patient. We may be short on funding and bandwidth, but we can leverage the huge advantage of being small and nimble. That’s why I’m confident UNCSA will be considered the place to be five years from now.

For some of you, job satisfaction comes down to compensation. UNCSA has the lowest-paid faculty in the UNC system, even with the implementation of faculty rank. There are equity and compression issues among the staff, and some are truly challenged by income inequality. 

I can assure you that we’re doing everything we can to address these realities. While we must keep our tuition as low as practicable for our students, tuition increases can be used over time to raise faculty salaries. They cannot, however, be applied to improve staff compensation. We’re taking every opportunity to advocate for all of you at the system and state levels, and looking for ways to offer more training to move people up the ladder.

As I wrote in my email, I’m tasking our Quality Workplace Committee (the working committee for this Strategic Plan initiative) to develop strategies to meet our goals and report back on next steps.

But a committee alone won’t solve our problems. We must work together to effect positive change. For the Cabinet and Deans, that means continuing the discussion of ways to transform our workplace, particularly around effective leadership, fair compensation, and collaboration. We must also find creative ways to improve our facilities, augment our resources, and optimize our teaching environment. For Faculty and Staff councils, that requires an increased commitment to strengthen administration/faculty/staff relations and foster mutual respect.

Each of you plays a part. How you respond to requests from your colleagues, how you treat each other in email and on the phone, and how you share compliments and celebrate success—all of this impacts the quality of our workplace. Pay it forward, and reap the benefits!

We’re all very well aware of the problems—finite resources, aging facilities, shortfalls of faculty and staffing, and so on. What we need now are creative solutions that fall within our means and control. Believe me, much more gets accomplished through a “can-do” mindset than “can’t-do” lists of complaints. Even in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges, progress can almost always be made through what I like to call “relentless incrementalism.” In other words, practically anything’s doable when you take it one baby step at a time. 

We have our work cut out for us, but here’s why I know we’re positioned to soar: The survey reveals how incredibly proud the vast majority of us are to work here. Many of you stay here because you love the school, its students, and its unique mission. I admire and appreciate that more than I could ever say.

We’ll continue to monitor our progress, and plan to conduct another survey within the consultant’s recommended time frame of two to three years. I’m hopeful we’ll have much more good news to report then.

Until next month,

Lindsay BiermanM. Lindsay Bierman

January 25, 2017