Thursday, June 19, 2008

Ask the Administrator: Recognizing Staff

A returning correspondent writes:

The vice president who oversees the majority of support staff at my SLAC
is constructing a proposal for a year-long recognition of the
contributions of non-faculty employees to our university's operations.
Over the years, members of staff have noticed that faculty consistently
receive larger percentage raises (on top of higher starting salaries) than
support staff and that faculty enjoy significant benefits not afforded to
staff (tenure, sabbatical leave, employment for trailing spouses, etc.).
This coming fiscal year, for example, will see a 15% increase in faculty
salaries while staff raises will come from a pool capped at 4% of current
staff salary expenditures. The 2009 fiscal year will also see several new
tenure-track hires with a simultaneous freeze on the creation of new staff

Recognizing the substantial disparities in compensation, benefits and
overall treatment between faculty and staff employees, our vice president
would like to demonstrate in tangible ways that our university does, in
fact, value non-faculty employees. She has solicited proposals from her
subordinate directors and employees for programs that would benefit
support staff and improve morale.

So far, I have heard various suggestions, including:
• a one-time cash bonus awarded to each employee at her employment
anniversary or birthday
• a pool of services from which employees might choose (spa days, resort
weekends, etc.) in lieu of a cash payment
• an increase in paid vacation days allotted
• a peer-to-peer gift-card recognition program to tangibly recognize
service provided by staff to each other

Our university is located in a "right-to-work" state; faculty enter into
annual employment contracts while staff are employed "at will." No union
representation is recognized on campus.

What say your wise and worldly readers? How have their institutions
successfully addressed the gap between faculty and staff? What
compensation or recognition programs have they seen (or led or
implemented) that succeeded? What failures have they seen -- and what
have they learned from these failures?

I've never heard of 15 percent raises, period. So congratulations on that. And your VP is certainly right that good staffers are well worth recognizing. One of the lessons I learned very early in grad school was that the administrative assistants are remarkably powerful, and that you mistreat them at your peril. That has held true at an R1, a proprietary, and a community college.

Compared to a 15 percent raise, any of the possibilities you mentioned may well come across as unsatisfying consolation prizes. (Depending on local rules, though, there may be ways around that. For example, if your college 'buys out' unused vacation time upon retirement, some people would see picking up a few vacation days as a financial windfall.)

I would shy away from the peer-to-peer thing, since that pretty transparently shifts the cost onto the staffers themselves. Secret Santa is just not the same as a raise.

Some people respond to public praise more than to private reward. Public recognition in the right situation may count for more than a token gift, at least for some people.

One of the frustrations of administration is that doing a Good Thing – like finding money for faculty – inevitably results in blowback when others wonder why you didn't do the same for them. What you might see as “righting a longstanding wrong,” others will see as “favoritism” or “precedent.” No good deed goes unpunished.

I'll echo the call to my wise and worldly readers. What have you seen succeed or fail?

Good luck!

Have a question? Ask the Administrator at deandad (at) gmail (dot) com.