I was interested to read the recent article by Jack Grove in Times Higher Education (August 2016) about Professional Services staff feeling undervalued.
The article is based on a research paper ‘Exploring the contribution of professional staff to student outcomes: a comparative study of Australian and UK case studies’ published in the Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management (July 2016). It stated that academic staff appear to gain more credit for a Universities high performance than their non-academic peers. There was also a critical suggestion that senior management did not positively value their staff. Perfect food for thought for the blog!
Certainly, there are merits on debating whether Professional Services staff receive adequate praise from which an institution benefits. However, it would be remiss to make such a sweeping generalisation. This will vary across all institutions and Universities.
It’s fair to acknowledge that sometimes this is an area where Professional Services find it harder, as the research noted, to see their individual contributions within the bigger successes of University achievements. But the landscape appears to be changing swiftly.
Obtaining excellent student satisfaction scores, such as through the Student Barometer, has become business critical. And it is widely acknowledged by Senior Management that gaining excellent feedback for support experience and student engagement is a vital component as is the quality of teaching, no question.
This ensures there is personal accountability and recognition for Professional Services at an individual level, and not just as a team. In my case, I was part of a team that came first in the UK amongst Russell Group Universities in the area of Student Support for domestic students. I can take pride in that result and feel a sense of achievement at a personal level.
From someone working at a middle management level, I would also argue that I have had sincere and kind words of gratitude for my individual achievements from Senior Management Executives.
For example, I was recently presented with the 2016 Student Employer of the Year award for the North East region (by National Association of Student Employment Services). The ceremony was led and conducted expertly by a member of the University Executive Board with warmth and enthusiasm. There was definitely a personal touch which I noticed and appreciated. Similarly, when my team went through a complex service delivery model change we received many congratulatory messages from the Executive Board acknowledging the efforts involved by our team.
So the stream of recognition might not always flow directly to our door, but it might appear indirectly. By the same token, staff working in Professional Services should feel able to take credit directly or indirectly. It works both ways.
And so I find myself looking back at my previous blog post – ‘Keeping a record of achievements…’ and fundamentally believe that it is a personal decision, a choice almost, whether to accept and recognise the reward in what we do. Professional Services should, therefore, see the value in the work they are doing. Our good work need not be greeted with public displays of gratitude from Senior Management. If it happens, great, but it should not impact on our motivations or sense of value to the organisation. It should be sought and understood within ourselves, to inspire us and drive us further towards the next stage in our University careers.