On December 2nd, the Academic Affairs Division Staff Senators, Mandee Lancaster and I had the opportunity to sit down and have a discussion with Provost and Sr. Vice Chancellor Sheerer. Dr. Sheerer shared with us her concerns about staff participation, during this meeting as well as during professional development and training activities. It was mentioned that one of the most well-known reasons for the limited staff participation was lack of support from the immediate supervisors. Dr. Sheerer stated she and all the other VCs, Deans, and administration are highly supportive of staff participating on the Staff Senate as well as all other University Sponsored professional activities, but they are also aware that the “middle management” support is somewhat lacking and the “trickle down communication” and leading by example is not as effective as they had hoped. In attempts for communications to trickle down to the management/direct supervisor groups, Dr. Sheerer said she would like to initiate a training and awareness campaign to identify the exact issues preventing senator/staff participation and professional development opportunities.
As part of our participation conversation, Dr. Sheerer gave an example of unintentional intimidation, where a manager would regularly work late and include a staff person in the projects that required extended hours. Eventually the staff person found another job and during the Exit Interview mentioned that the extended hours presented a problem. When the manager was made aware that the person left because of all the late hours, the manager was shocked and exclaimed “S/He never said anything to me about not wanting to stay late.” The manager had assumed that the staff person would feel comfortable enough to say “no” when it fact, that wasn’t the case, and the department lost a valuable employee because of the lack of communication. Dr. Sheerer continued with this conversation saying that she would really like to see the university offering more “I” communication training and that she feels this is the most valuable piece of education we can provide as employers, because in her experience, employees that don’t feel treated fairly will either seek other employment, or they will accept the situation and accept, and accept until one day they snap and communicate their frustrations in aggressive and unproductive ways such as: “You are the worst person I’ve ever worked for! I’m sick of this job!” rather than productively saying “I am unable to work late on such a regular basis, and would appreciate it if we could work something else out.”
Dr. Sheerer suggested that maybe the Staff Senate could advocate for employees in situations such as the above, by defining a clear input mechanisms for staff to file grievances. Dr. Sheerer was very specific in stating that she is not advocating the Staff Senate provide any Human Resources functions or services, but rather assistance with the “Chain of Command” an employee should follow if they would like to file a grievance. Dr. Sheerer said Human Resources would definitely be in the Chain of Command, but she has seen many instances where an employee would have been better served by having a conversation with their supervisor before becoming so dissatisfied that they feel the need to go to Human Resources or coming directly to her. She even stated that she tries to enforce communications herself by first asking the employees to discuss the issue with the direct supervisor/department head/dean before scheduling an appointment with her.
Dr. Sheerer concluded our discussion with a reminder about her “First Monday” emails which are sent out monthly, on…you guessed it….the 1st Monday of each month.