Leading from Your Lane

Like so many, I saw the report from Inside HigherEd that nearly half of higher education employees plan to leave in the next year.

And like so many of you — I found that I immediately felt multiple feelings:

  1. Shock – Is it really going to be that high?
  2. Fear – How are we going to do all the things without those folks?
  3. Sadness – I love higher education and the life-changing opportunity it provides. I was sad others aren’t fulfilled by it.
  4. Paralyzed – I feel so defeated because I can’t do anything to help

Doing What I Can

After I took some time to reflect, I realized I was right (and wrong) about the situation. I can’t solve the entire problem. However, I can help make sure the situation is as good as it can be for my team.

Here are some ways I’ve identified I can help and hopefully they resonate with you too.

Strategic Planning – Our team is in the process of crafting a strategic plan for our office. This will allow us to be on the same page about the work, ensure we are focused on the most important things, and provide a litmus test for when the team is approached for a project, to confirm it aligns with our vision and our strategic plan.

Shameless Plug: If you need help with strategic planning and how to begin, Alaina Weins with StrategyCar is fantastic. I took her workshop a year or so ago, and it was so beneficial.


Saying Thank You – I think gratitude is so important. And something that is often overlooked. Gratitude means different things to different people, so it’s important to understand what it looks like for your team. For example, some people want a thank you, others want a note to the supervisor, some want a meal. I am trying really hard to do all of the above, so the team knows how grateful I am for the work they do. Last week we had chicken nuggets, lemonade and cookies delivered.

People First – I begin all of my one-on-one conversations with how are you doing. People come first. Period. Sometimes big things. Big, not work things are happening. It’s important to understand and help (where we can). After all, if someone is worried about those things, they’re not able to do their best. If we can help, we should. I try to make sure my employees know they mean much more to me than the projects they produce.

Have Fun – This one goes back to your institutional culture, but it’s important to find ways to have fun at work. One way I do that, is letting my inner sarcasm roll in our chats. My gif game is strong. At a previous institution, we would play with a beachball when we got stuck on a project. Find something that works for your team. And have some fun.

Other Institutional Possibilities

As I shared at the beginning, I was discouraged because I couldn’t solve all the problems. Some were beyond my ability to solve. That said, sometimes we find ourselves in rooms where larger decisions are being made.

If you find yourself in those spaces, here are some of those larger conversations at the institutional level that you might be able to weigh in on to support your team.

Salary Reviews – We’ve all read the headlines about inflation. We’ve also probably felt it at the gas pump. As such, I’m seeing more and more institutions consider salary reviews and pay studies to assess where they stack up. CUPA data on higher education salaries is a great resource to approach this topic in a methodical, consistent manner.

Working from Home – Our administration has approved a partial remote work policy. It gives both flexibility for those one-off days when someone needs to be at home and also allows for regular work from home days. Across campus, this has been incredibly popular and has led to a big morale shift for university employees.

Talking about the Mission – I think it’s important to talk about the mission of our work and share successes of our mission. Our mission should be a sense of pride we share. I think the more we can talk about the mission as a positive, the better. Too often, we talk about the mission as a restrictive force (salary restrictions, lacking resources, etc). From my perspective, we as campuses need to be more intentional when talking about our purpose.

Keep Your Chin Up

Chances are, the Great Resignation will impact you at some point if it hasn’t yet. Keep your chin up and do right by your teams. Encourage. Support. Advocate. Say Thank You.

I know that won’t solve everything, but I believe it will go a long way in making the work we love remain meaningful for us all.

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