For most of us, this year has been a roller coaster of emotions, events, and big life decisions. On my social media many of my long time friends and colleagues are celebrating leaving the field or finding new roles at different institutions. What I like about the posts is that all of them are reporting that they know what they deserve and they went after it. That is so powerful.
And for those of us who are giving it another go in residence life and housing, I want to honor and thank you! Why? Because maybe you are one of the many humans that feels exhausted or maybe you are one of the many who are wondering if the work you do matters. Or maybe you are brand new to the field and you are cautiously optimistic–excited for this new journey and also hoping you said yes to the “right” place. As a returner to our field and as an employer I am asking myself daily, “are we making good on what we shared during the interview process?”
During July and August, most residence life and housing departments are nearing the end of some form of training for their professional staff. This is typically a time when the TIPS happen: Teambuilders, Icebreakers, Policies and Processes, and the giving out of departmental swag. I really enjoy this time of year because although I am an introvert, I still get pumped up because this is the time for tone setting, community building, and to begin realizing all of the hopes that I have, not only for the students, but also for myself and my team!
As I welcomed my new team members, I shared my hopes for them: experience joy, find community, and learn! To me, gettting “pumped up” for the year includes a ridiculous amount of puns, jokes, trinkets, themes, and coffee 1:1s to get to know folx. It also includes being present and accessible to all levels of the team. As the Director I think it is especially important to be approachable. I am very aware of how power dynamics, titles, and identity factor into the work I do each day. I try to connect in ways that honor my staff members’ direct supervisors but also show that I am not hiding out in a tower somewhere unaware of their lived experience. This year that seems to matter even more.
I have held a lot of roles during my career and I wanted to share some of the things that employers did well. I am sharing them now because I hope that you will consider some of these as we go into a new year–a year that allows you to really showcase your thanks to the humans who signed up to work for or with you. The things I want to share are going to be broad but I invite you to reflect and decide either “um yeah, duh these are staples in the work we do” or “oh wow, maybe we could try that”.
Here are my TOP 5 list of things that I loved about past work experiences that helped me feel connected, valued, and happy to show up most days.
- Ongoing training and development! Training sets the tone and introduces employees to the culture of the organization and the campus. This is also when you get to meet other folx who are committed to getting you connected to internal and external stakeholders. Spend time developing a program that helps your new folx navigate the system and your returners demonstrate their learning while preparing for their next role. Training helps at all levels—yes even as a director–because although I have years of experience in the field, I do not have that experience at a new campus.
- Community and Connection! It is so important to provide resources AND cool things to help folx get acclimated to their new home. For example, I will share formal things, like information about the equity office and HR, but I also share things like where I find hair care products, food from my culture, churches, programs for children, etc. I also always encourage staff to invite me to all the things! Don’t stop inviting me.
Ask yourself, have you asked your peer or supervisee about their life and what brings them joy or makes them feel connected? Do you ask them how you can support them as they are going through a personal crisis or traumatic event? Do you know the names of their partner, children or pets? This models kindness and shows that they are not just a warm body.
- Supervision! Ya’ll we have all had or been that not so great supervisor. Your supervisor is your key to success in understanding your role. If you are supervising this year, brush up on your skills and add to your toolkit because you literally can make or break someone’s spirit. Effective supervision can lead to work satisfaction and productivity. Thankfully 85% of my experiences with supervisors have been excellent and the other 15% made me want to leave the field. It was former good supervisors and mentors that kept me in the game and reminded me that one experience does not define who you are or what you are capable of. Remember that supervisory relationships are a partnership.
- Work/Life Integration! I have thrived in places where family and attention to wellness and mental health took priority. Places where folx asked you how you were doing and meant it. We spend so much time at work that it is imperative that we act in kindness and understanding towards ourselves and each other. Quick tips: Please don’t send that email after 5 p.m. Guess what? Everything is not an emergency! Do not put your work email on your personal phone or at least do not check it after hours if you do not have to! And please, take your vacation time because you earned it. I have been on the receiving end of the after hours 2 hours Teams chats or phone calls that could have been an email or waited until the next day. Communicate your boundaries and learn the culture of how a group functions!
- Recognition and Appreciation! I am not a huge fan of verbal appreciation. It is weird for me to receive it but I give it, because it is important! How are you saying thank you to your team members? Have you asked them how they want to be recognized? Is there a divisional or departmental fun or recognition committee? My supervisor in my current role thanks me for my work, offers snacks (my love language), and gives fun trinkets. In short, make folx feel good to be in your department! Make them feel good for saying yes to your department every day.
I could go deeper but where’s the fun in that for you? Think about the favorite places you have worked and write down 5 tangible things that made your heart and spirit feel good!
As we go into this next academic year, I wish you joy, community, and learning because you deserve it. Your team deserves it. How will you be the steward of all three within the scope of your role?