A great workplace culture shouldn't be limited to term-time
Happy staff who feel valued are important to any organisation - and universities are no different. More than ever University staff are the key to ensuring students bums stay on seats and institution fulfil promises and avoid churn.
It’s important to remember, then, that making your staff feel valued and recognised shouldn’t stop when the bell rings. Even when school's out for summer for everyone else, university staff may not feel like they’re getting time off as they rush to get things ready for the new academic year.
The last of the exams are underway, results are being finalised, and soon the students will be gone for the summer, giving staff just a couple of months to organise the arrival of a new cohort and greet old students returning for crunch time.
So, how do you ensure employees are making the most of the summer, and come back to work feeling appreciated and invested in the institution? Here are our tips.
Away days and team-building
The end of the school year is normally celebrated by students in a blowout fashion before they go their separate ways for the summer, so why shouldn’t university staff be allowed to have a little fun too?
Away days and trips are a great way of boosting staff morale and reminding them of just how valued they are with a special treat. From trying something brand new, to an exercise in team building – the options are endless.
Staff retreats are a great way for teams to get off campus and avoid worrying about new year preparation for a while. The University of Bolton believe in the power of engaged staff – and two years ago, they invested £100,000 to send all 700 of their employees on a staff development programme.
The programme ran for a full academic year and saw 20 group visits across the country, including to the Lake District – where staff attended workshops, team-building exercises and formal presentations – all expenses paid. The result? The University of Bolton managed to break the Guardian’s top 100 in its university league table, jumping an incredible 20 places from 113thto 93rd since the first year of the staff development programme.
The words ‘team-building’ can strike fear into even the biggest extroverts – but they don’t have to be all role play and ice breakers. Successful, out of the ordinary trips could include camping, hiking, competitions, or even sports events- the most important part is making it enjoyable for your staff. They should go home buzzing about the great place they work – the kind of place that give them extra opportunities to learn new skills, travel and relax..
Brian Scudamore, CEO Of O2E Brands, wrote in Forbes about what makes a successful team-building event. He said: “The most successful, memorable team-building events are ones that don’t feel like a day at the office. Spending time together, sharing an experience or working towards a common goal allows bonding to happen more organically and far more effectively.”
It’s OK to take a break
Remember, holidays and breaks are there for a reason- so people can relax and recharge themselves for the next academic year. Staff may feel like they have to prep everything straight away for the next crop of students and the returning ones, but not having time out can be damaging.
A review into burnout in university teacher staff found that they are likely to experience a number of negative symptoms, with female teachers scoring higher in emotional exhaustion, while male academics suffered more from depersonalisation, a detachment from their mind, body or themselves. So, take steps to make sure your teams aren’t at risk.
Even postgraduate staff who may still be hard at work on their thesis over the summer need some breathing space, so be sure to communicate that you want employees to actually take a break so they’re energised on their return.
A little team email from more senior members might not do the trick, so why not go out for a spot of lunch out of the university and tell them there, as it will feel more genuine. Devolve this responsibility to different departments, as a personal touch is key. Employees will value this, with 50% saying bosses who share information have a significant positive impact on staff satisfaction and morale.
If they’re reluctant to take a break from the university, then why not offer a temporary respite on campus? Allowing staff to use the sporting facilities onsite at a discounted rate can help with motivation, and could be easily made more flexible when term-time is quieter, such as encouraging academic staff to fit exercise around gaps in their timetable or extending the opening hours at the university’s gym.
And why not reward well-performing staff with treats that will help them have some fun outside of work? Employees with children can be encouraged to spend time as a family with tickets to theme parks, zoos or other days out – whereas younger staff could be given vouchers for meals out or for some fun, quirky experiences – taking a break may help people reflect on the positives of having some time out.
If you have staff from overseas – or even staff from the UK working overseas at branch campuses – then be mindful that they may want to use their summer break to travel home and see their loved ones. Allowing flexibility in the use of holiday time for those who may be working – whether by giving them extra time through an annual leave purchase scheme, or by arranging cover to allow for longer breaks – can help keep people enjoy a stress-free trip home.
And there’s more you can do to help, too. The journey home can be incredibly pricy, and may be difficult for some of your staff to afford – particularly postgraduate lecturers or admin and maintenance staff at the lower end of the pay scale, for example. Offering an employee discounts programme that includes travel discounts can really help people make a saving on their flights.
Remember: for some, it’s still business as usual
For some staff, whether they’re keeping the library open, preparing for next year’s intake, or working in maintenance and security roles, the summer months will still see them working something approaching their normal jobs. With the university campus a bit of a ghost town, it can be easy for tedium to set in, so keep it lively with events, rewards and a more relaxed culture to ensure people feel great about being at work.