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5 ideas for boosting engagement at work

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UCSF Campus Life Staff

Every other year, the Council of UC Staff Assemblies (CUCSA) sends an engagement survey to a randomly selected group of non-represented UC staff. The results are now in and will be announced soon at your location (if they haven’t already). That makes October a perfect month to talk about how to boost engagement — yours and your team’s.

You don’t need to be a people manager to care about and nurture engagement. Whatever your role, you’ll benefit from working with people who are interested in and committed to their job and company. And, you have an obligation to yourself to find meaning in your professional life.

UCnetwork talked to communications staff at UC Berkeley and UC Irvine — two campuses that used their engagement survey results to encourage dialogue, spark positive change and bring staff together. Here’s what they learned.

1.    See “negative” results as an opportunity

Negative feedback happens to everyone at some point, and teams are no different. If your department or workplace overall scored low on engagement, try to avoid feeling discouraged and instead see it as an opportunity for growth. Meet with your team to discuss the need for change, considering each area of concern individually and brainstorming ways to address it.

For example: If your team reported low satisfaction around collaboration, devise strategies to create meaningful opportunities for working together.

2.    Acknowledgment goes a long way

When you do great work or go out of your way to help someone, you might not need a pat on the back — but being acknowledged makes you feel seen and appreciated. Recognize your colleagues when they’ve done a bang-up job or stepped in to help you out. And, if you have the resources, consider an official awards program to recognize staff achievement.

One great example: Each year, the UC Irvine Health ARIISE Awards recognize six individuals and one team or department who exemplify their core values. Held in the grand ballroom of a local hotel, 450 to 500 guests eagerly anticipate who the six winners will be — from a pool of more than 400 nominations. The commencement-style ceremony puts hardworking employees in the spotlight.

Have a small team or budget? No problem. Thanking your coworkers with their favorite snack, small gift card, note or even simple verbal praise can make a big difference to their overall feeling of satisfaction. Check out UC Berkeley’s great resource: 92 Ways to Recognize Your Colleagues.

3.    Everyone can drive change

Does senior leadership care about staff engagement? Of course. But they may not have the bandwidth to make it their first priority — and that’s where you come in. At UC Irvine, staff are encouraged to proactively provide ideas on how to make improvements on campus via an online platform. Each year, they share more than 500 ideas.

Even if your campus doesn’t have a vehicle like this, there are many ways to get involved at your location. A great place to start is by attending a meeting of your local staff assembly. There, you’ll find like-minded colleagues who are eager to get your support in building a collegial workplace.

4.    Invite and involve senior leadership

Even though your senior leaders are probably busy (see above), you may find that they’re willing to partner with you to boost staff engagement if you make their participation easy and fun, rather than creating more work. Create opportunities that require little effort on their part and that are mutually enjoyable for them and staff.

As an example, UC Berkeley instituted Campus Conversations two years ago. This event invites new and established senior leaders to regular lunchtime sessions where staff can bring up concerns and issues directly with them. Each conversation is taped and available online for those unable to attend in person. Similarly, UC Irvine hosts a “Meet the Chancellor” luncheon series, giving their chancellor and staff a chance to share ideas. And, Irvine’s “Appreciation Fridays” encouraged cabinet members to join with staff at an ice cream truck to enjoy sweet treats.

Even if your leaders don’t have the bandwidth to attend staff events in person, a feeling of community can be created by asking leaders to film a two-minute iPhone video to introduce an event. The point is that breaking down boundaries between staff and leaders helps everyone feel more connected — and higher engagement follows. 

5.    Make it fun

Recognizing the need for year-round staff appreciation, UC Berkeley began holding three Staff Appreciation Weeks annually, to focus on (and remind managers of) the need to thank staff and just have some fun. Their weeks are based around the themes of ‘Eat, Walk, Talk, Engage.’ Previous events have included food (Summerfest), wellness (gardening) and a special faculty lecture just for staff. 

Taking inspiration from Shark Tank — a reality television show where entrepreneurs pitch their ideas and inventions to potential investors — UC Irvine Health invited staff who had submitted engagement ideas to share their ideas to an audience of their colleagues. Everyone in the audience participated in the voting and the finalists’ ideas were enacted on campus. If you’ve ever watched the show in real life, you can imagine the palpable excitement! People were engaged because the event was set up to drive their interest, participation and buy-in.

To narrow the scope for your team, consider asking your coworkers to pitch their ideas around boosting engagement each month and then vote on each strategy. Many team activities — taking a group coffee break, going for a 15-minute walk or volunteering together for an off-site event — are budget-friendly ways to boost a spirit of collaboration.

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