Higher-ed leaders can apply the same listening skills and level of investment put forth for students toward their faculty and staff.

Attention higher-ed leaders: Faculty and staff have something to say

Higher-ed leaders can apply the same listening skills and level of investment put forth for students toward their workers

An organization’s greatest asset is its people. In no other industry is that more true than in higher education. The importance of faculty and staff can’t be overstated; they are, in every way, core to carrying out the mission of higher education.

The sharp increase in retirements and resignations in recent years has hit colleges and universities hard. Stress and burnout are intensifying and turnover trends show no sign of slowing: a new survey from the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources found that more than half of respondents (57 percent) said they were likely – very likely (22.4 percent), somewhat likely (22.3 percent), or likely (12.5 percent) – to seek work elsewhere within the next year.

A recent survey that polled more than 15,000 respondents, 1,000 of whom work in education, may offer more insight into this mass exodus:

  • 89 percent of respondents who work in education believe their employer should be doing more to listen to the needs of their workforce.
  • 83 percent of surveyed educators expressed wanting to make changes in their careers.
  • 73 percent said they felt stuck in their careers in the past year.

Faculty and staff are redefining and realigning their personal and professional priorities, and higher-ed leaders need to listen and respond accordingly, or risk losing their best people. While there’s no silver bullet to improve retention, there are some best practices that institutions can adopt to improve job satisfaction—and technology can help.

Invest from day one

Institutions should put employee satisfaction at the top of their list from day one: investing in the growth and success of faculty and staff with as much determination as they invest in student success. This mindset should extend to job candidates as well.

Some institutions still have a months-long, onerous hiring process with illogical formalities and little communication throughout. While some of these hoops are matters of compliance, unreasonable interview processes send the wrong message and scare off qualified applicants. Institutions need to up their game when it comes to recruiting and onboarding new employees. The good news? Institutions already have a blueprint for thoughtful, engaging, and exciting recruitment practices… because they’re already doing it with prospective students.

Make applying easy. Be clear and concise with position descriptions. Do away with unnecessary hurdles—are seven rounds of interviews really necessary? Ask candidates about their career goals. And finally, show them that if they join your team, you’ll invest in them for the long term.

Get aligned on career goals

Colleges and universities already closely track the career development of graduates, and of faculty tenure and professional development. That same approach can be applied to staff members as well. Leaders should spend time helping staff identify current competency levels, such as strengths and gaps, and build a development plan that aligns long-term career interests with the direction of the institution.

This is a perfect opportunity for institutions to incorporate career development and succession planning initiatives into their strategic priorities. Oftentimes, institutions have failed to capitalize on the talent that’s already available to them. I don’t just mean existing employees—I’m also referring to current students, temporary employees, and more. Succession planning helps them look at their current talent pool to identify and develop high-potential workers for key roles when they arise or become vacant.

A well-executed succession plan benefits both the institution and the employee: it helps organizations focus on the future, ensuring teams are staffed with competent and well-trained workers; in tandem, the growth and development of emerging talent is nurtured, increasing employee engagement, satisfaction, and retention.

A bit of a personal anecdote: I worked at a higher education institution for more than a decade… and the story of my exit is one that tends to surprise people. When I was interviewing for work outside the institution, I was transparent with my supervisor throughout the entire process. That’s because I trusted my manager, who was a true leader–one that invested in the personal and professional growth of each team member, even if that meant going outside of the institution. If that same level of care and long-term investment were applied to higher-ed workers everywhere, the culture would be magnetic.

Less time on process, more time on people

I’ve always been a fan of Annie Dillard’s well-known quote: “How we spend our days is how we spend our lives.” If you were to observe some higher-ed leaders and teams, you may get the impression that they’re spending their days, and therefore their work lives, on paperwork.

To free up time to pour into their people, leaders must embrace change and support innovation to enable their teams to move away from redundant, manual administrative work. This would create a win-win scenario since many workers want to do more high-value and fulfilling work that contributes to the greater good.

Fortunately, technology exists to tackle most menial tasks. Not sure what processes should be automated and streamlined? Consider some of the following questions:

  • Where can self-service be put into practice?
  • Where do bottlenecks exist?
  • Where have we introduced needless complexity into our processes?
  • Where do we have potential for inaccuracy or inconsistency?
  • Where can proactive services be delivered?

By minimizing lower-value manual work such as entering paper timecards, inputting invoices, and processing paper contracts, leaders can refocus resources on the far more important task of taking care of people.

The good news

Higher education institutions are already in the business of professional development and mentoring. If leaders can apply the same listening skills and level of investment put forth for students toward their workers, they’ll be well on their way to a more intentionally caring culture… one that attracts, develops, and retains top talent for the long haul.

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