Dysfunction of "Office Space": Staff Appreciation 101

March 27, 2018
  • AACRAO Annual Meeting
  • Career Navigator

By Lisa Erck, Associate University Registrar & Law Registrar at the University of the Pacific

In a Monday session at the AACRAO Annual Meeting, presenters Amber Todd and Virginia Leathers of Oklahoma State University discussed the impact that staff appreciation has on increasing loyalty and decreasing turnover rates. Practical tips for creating a positive work environment were provided.

Challenges in higher education

The presenters emphasized that the number of student in the higher education population continues to rise, yet there have been significant decreases in the “university employee to student ratio."  This higher student load coupled with reduced staffing is producing burnout and turnover.  Developing creative strategies to effectively use recognition and appreciation with staff members helps to mitigate negative effects.

Costs associated with turnover

Multiple research studies suggest that the cost of replacing key employees is 70-200% of a person’s annual salary. This cost reflects about 6-18 months of pay. Those staff in managerial, professional, and high-tech positions may cost up to twice as much as other employees to replace. There are additional hidden expenses incurred which are not easily measured and cost institutions within their current and prospective student populations.

Beyond the paycheck: Engagement

Amber Todd stated, “According to research conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor: 64% of Americans who leave their jobs say they do so because they do not feel appreciated. The managers that are involved with their teams will have a higher percentage of engagement versus managers that are hands-off.” Virginia Leathers explained that “most employees are leaving their jobs due to managers that aren’t supporting them.”

We often think that employees want to be rewarded with higher pay, yet what they most desire is appreciation.  Leathers emphasized, “Knowing that most institutions do not have the ability to give the salary increases, you have to find other creative ways to show your appreciation.”

It is important to build morale. Per statistics from Ellucian, 69% of institutions are having a hard time retaining staff.

It is important to look beyond the paycheck and use creative ways to show your staff you care about them and want them to be satisfied. Suggestions to increase satisfaction include: recognition for work, career growth opportunities, knowing they make a contribution, being part of a team, fun on the job, autonomy, pride in their institution, and inspiring leadership.

Todd explained that recognition focuses on behavior and appreciation focuses on performance plus the value of the individual.

Benefits to the institution consist of reduction in turnover, increased productivity, employee satisfaction, improved interpersonal relationships, and a positive work environment.

The presenters provided a checklist of possible motivators that supervisors could provide to staff which allows them to rate the level of importance of each job element. The use of the tool helps the supervisor to understand what is most important to the employee and match the type of reward more closely to the desires of the employee.

Importance on providing quality time for your staff was highlighted. It is essential to give focused attention with eye contact when interacting with staff. Refrain from doing other things when you should be listening to them. Finally, listening for feelings as well as thoughts and observation of body language is essential.

Additional samples were passed around to demonstrate ideas for thank you notes and small items that could be used to show your staff you appreciate them. Todd suggested that even small items from the dollar store could be paired with a thoughtful or playful note. Leathers stressed the need to personalize and customize the recognition to make staff feel valued.  Overly generalized recognition can do more harm than good. The presenters suggested a book titled, The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace by Gary Chapman & Paul White, as a resource for more ideas. The session wrapped up with a quick brainstorming activity that had groups making lists that covered the five languages of appreciation in groups around the room.


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