Read about things faculty and staff say boost employee engagement

As UNT is nearing the end of the 2018 Gallup Employee Engagement Survey, faculty and staff may be looking for ways to improve engagement within their work areas. In this second installment of InHouse’s two-part series about engagement, faculty and staff from UNT colleges and other areas discuss creating a culture of value and appreciation at the university.

Faculty and staff at UNT who would like to share their success stories can do so by sending an email to engagement@unt.edu.

Autonomy and trust

UNT employees in divisions and departments that exhibit strong engagement also have a tendency to highly trust for one another.

When Eric Fritsch, chair of the Department of Criminal Justice in the College of Health and Public Service, received his Gallup survey feedback from last year’s survey it showed that his team engagement was very high. But he didn’t want to make assumptions as to what that was ― so he asked the faculty he leads.

One of the recurring responses he received was about autonomy.

“My criminal justice faculty say this department is a great place to work because of the people,” Fritsch says. “They believe that all of us work diligently and meticulously on our individual crafts, whether teaching, research or a combination of both. The autonomy that we are given allows us to really put our own imprint on each course we teach. They say that they are grateful for that level of freedom to develop and conduct their courses in the manner in which they think is best.” 

Fritsch says he was told that autonomy between departments also is important.

“I was told that sufficient departmental autonomy to explore new methods of course delivery, research and collaborative opportunities ― knowing that if they do not succeed, future efforts will still be supported ― is important,” he says. “We’ve got to support the ability to fail.”

“The absence of micromanagement, questioning, pressure and guilt trip tactics, is a large reason our department is engaged,” Fritsch went on to say. “Individuals in this department are left alone to do their job — and that level of autonomy is important to creating an engaged department.”

Jean Schaake, associate dean in the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, oversees the dean’s advising office for the college. She says that staff in her area are enabled to work autonomously, but can easily access their supervisor when needed.

“As the staff get to know each other, we develop respect, trust and team skills, through our social activities and through professional development opportunities,” she says.

Melissa McGuire, assistant vice president for Student Affairs, echoes Dr. Schaake’s sentiment.

“We give staff autonomy to make decisions, but support them along the way,” she says. “We all know we are on the same team and need to work together.”

Having a common goal and cooperating

In order for faculty and staff to feel valued, they have to feel they are all on the same team and working toward a common objective. 

Schaake explains how this is crucial when advising students.

“Three assistant deans and the office manager serve as the senior leadership for the office,” she says. “Each assistant dean is the director of a team of advisors and counselors reflecting the academic divisions of CLASS. The office is a team of teams with the one goal ― serving students to achieve success.”

Sometimes that common goal can be to achieve something that directly benefits the team.

Ashley Olsberg, director of systems integration with Classroom Support Services, says her team pursued a certification program together as one unit. She found materials to help them study and they all became certified together.

Fritsch also emphasizes  how important that sense of cooperation is among his team of educators.

“Fostering a culture of cooperation instead of a culture of competition makes an engaged department,” he says. “My faculty say that it’s important to reward faculty engagement and success with meaningful stuff, not just pats on the back and to get out of their way. You can’t be overly controlling or micromanaging. Instead, let people be creative and pursue their passions.”

John Holt, chair of the Division of Instrumental Studies, shares that assessment of the importance of cooperation and teamwork.

“One of the most important things to aid engagement is that faculty must work together as a team with no turf wars going on,” he says. “If you function as a team that is how you increase your success. Sometimes you may not like what another area is doing, but you should try to get involved and make it work out.”

But Holt circles back to having a common goal being key to motivating faculty to see the value in what they do.

“If students are doing well it makes us happy and helps us do well,” Holt says. “In the last year I’ve had five students get professional full-time jobs and half of them were hired right after of graduation.”

Encouraging growth

Highly engaged divisions and departments share another common trait. They value and inspire growth among their team members.

Schaake shares how this is encouraged in the CLASS Advising office and how new employees are supported as they learn their new roles.

“Collectively, staff are encouraged to grow, participate in professional development, take initiative and excel,” Schaake says. “Senior staff members have developed a fabulous training program so new staff can gain confidence quickly and become active team members. The training includes assessment and feedback for improvement, all done in a positive manner.”

Fritsch says that in order for faculty to feel they are part of an engaged department, “each individual faculty member needs to develop their own interests. The department should not require or designate them.”

And Holt indicates how important this philosophy of encouraging growth is to pass on to students.

“We are training students to be competitive,” he says. “So we have to teach them to be passionate about training and constantly improving.”

Respect and appreciation for each other

Perhaps the most important shared trait of engaged employees in divisions and departments is their genuine appreciation for each other and mutual respect. Schaake sums up that concept by saying, “we value the 3 C’s ― communication, cooperation and community.

“We celebrate accomplishments and milestones, and generously say thank you,” she says. “We recognize staff for going the extra mile for students with a traveling award, the Albino Squirrel Award. We also have a Brag Board in the breakroom where we leave notes for one another about the good work we’ve done.”

Fritch says that respect is paramount for a faculty team to be successful.

“The absence of in-fighting and political power plays and the like means that they know that others are genuinely there to help them succeed,” he says. “This is especially true of the relationship of senior faculty to junior faculty. There is a nice mentoring atmosphere in this department, and it seems to be only getting better.

Fritsch says his support and the support of their fellow faculty members for internal and external awards and recognition is important.

“One faculty member told me, ‘it is my genuine belief that we are all happy when others succeed and get recognized for their work,’” Fritsch says.

Holt says that this same sentiment is strong in his highly engaged department.

“There is a great deal of comradery among us as colleagues,” he says. “Many of us perform together. And like an orchestra, we have to stick together. We function well knowing how to do things as a team.”

Faculty and staff can help UNT create a stronger, more inclusive culture by focusing their efforts within the areas in which they work. They also can help the university measure our progress by completed the Gallup Employee Engagement survey by Feb. 16, if they have not already done so. All faculty and staff received the survey in their UNT email on Jan. 29, and those who have not completed it should have received weekly reminders until they finished their survey.