Higher Ed Leaders: Listen up! This Isn’t Good.

Last week, Grant Thornton, LLP, a large accounting firm based in Chicago, released the results of a survey asking over 5,000 faculty and staff about what they think of the institutions they work for. If you are concerned about the culture at your institution, and about keeping your best workers, pay attention.

Almost 60% of respondents said that they did not feel their voice was being heard. Only 34% said their salary is sufficient for their lifestyle. Fifty-six percent would prefer to work from home at least 3 days per week. Barely over 40% feel that their leadership understands the work environment on their campus, and only 41% of leaders model their institution values. 

What is going on here?!? We all know that higher education is a people-business. You might have a beautiful campus with comfy dorms, great food in the cafeteria, and market leading sports teams; but students attend your institution to learn from their instructors. They want the folks in student life to care about them. They want the registrar and financial aid teams to be friendly and helpful. If you don’t have great, motivated, and enthusiastic people working on your campus, the quaintness of your quad isn’t worth a hill of beans.

As a Higher Ed leader, you need to be in touch with your faculty and staff. Go beyond your traditional shared-governance practices and really talk to people. Get to know them. Make them feel valued. Don’t just talk about your institution’s values – model them – every day! Get out your office and go to where the people are and ask them how they are doing – and really listen. Engage with them so they will stay engaged with your institution.

Almost certainly your institution has real problems. Hopefully that’s because you don’t have enough room in the dorms and the classrooms are overflowing. But more likely, enrollment is down, and the pending cliff is going to hit you hard. Either way, it is a good bet that the people in the president’s cabinet don’t have all the answers; but I bet your faculty and staff have some of them. Be open about your concerns. Initiate cross functional conversations about what needs to happen. Agree to stop doing some things so that you can shift resources to where you need to do more. Maybe be willing to pay fewer people more money.

A dentist friend of mine used to say that if you simply ignore your teeth, they’ll go away. The same is true about your faculty and staff – especially the good ones. Engage them on a frequent and personal basis.  Ask for their help and really listen to what they have to say. Even if you can’t solve your problems, if your faculty and staff know that you value their help to address those issues, they’ll stay and help. But continue to ignore them (and your values) and you’ll find yourself all alone.

Roger Dusing, PhD, is a Senior Consultant and the Higher Education Practice Leader at OMNI. He previously served as Chief Human Resource Officer at Park University for eleven years. With over 40 years of HR experience, including 30 years in C-suite level roles, he looks forward to reflecting his passion for higher education in his work to bring affordable, high-quality HR services to small- to medium-sized colleges and universities. 

Roger holds a PhD in Business Management, with a concentration in Human Resources from Northcentral University, a Master of Science in Administration from Central Michigan University, and a BS in Industrial Engineering from Bradley University. He also authored the book “I’m Fired?!? A Business Fable About the Challenges of Losing One Job and Finding Another.”