By now everyone in higher education, and frankly the entire country, has seen the countless blog posts, television stories and newsletter articles about the Great Resignation. Well, I am here to tell my fellow supervisors we must try to stem this tide. We need to figure out new supervision styles to keep our staff members engaged and gainfully employed.
A recent study from the Society for Human Resource Management reported it costs a company an average of six to nine months’ salary to replace a departing employee. I am not privy to many of your budgets, but I highly doubt anyone has $30,000 ready to throw into replacing employees each year. Let us look inwardly to change our supervision styles as we know happy teams make happy supervisors.
1. Be Present
When I was a young professional, I loathed when my supervisor(s) would come watch Intramural Sports games or visit one of my club sports competitions. I felt they were just looking over my shoulder to critique everything I did wrong.
Now I realize these supervisors were trying to support me as a young professional and show they care. The time-honored “management by walking around” is very important to your staff, whether you believe it or not. Employees love to see supervisors supporting their events, which in turn makes them feel valued.
No, you do not need to work every night until 9 p.m. to see intramural games, fitness classes or an adventure workshop, but you do need to show up after hours or on the weekends occasionally. I always try to check out club sports competitions on weekends, attend an intramural game or two, welcome students to an adventure pre-trip meeting, and talk to our athletic trainers on the sideline.
Your staff will notice your increased presence, and you might help a student staff member realize their passion for this field.
The Leadership and Programs area at East Carolina University, which I currently supervise, lost five out of six employees in the last two years. All departures were related to better opportunities both internal and external to the industry, yet all stung a little as a supervisor. I wondered if I had listened to their wants and needs enough, or if I had just brushed them aside and moved on to the next thing.
As supervisors, it is more important than ever to listen with empathy and remember what it was like to be a young professional navigating the tribulations of a new position. When we listen to understand and empathize, we are much more likely to be an advocate for our supervisees and find productive solutions to keep them satisfied in their current role.
Advocating for yourself is a tough task, but advocating for your team should not be difficult if you approach the situation with a results-oriented mindset.
Yes, all employees think they should be paid more, receive 20 vacation days a month and be allowed to work from home until the year 2065. But, that is just is not feasible in the recreational sports world. Giving an employee a salary bump is very difficult in many state systems. However, I bet you can get it done if you advocate the right way.
Telling an employee who is underpaid and over-utilized that there is no chance for increased pay is wrong without at least asking your superiors. Sometimes the focus is not money but the extra hours spent at events. The gift of time may be all an employee needs to feel reinvigorated.
Lastly and most importantly we must be flexible in the new world of work from home. Physical presence is important. However, allowing an employee to work from home when a child is sick or the electrician is coming to make a repair is now an expectation rather than a privilege.
4. Be Active
During the fall semester I returned to a frontline supervisor role after nearing seven years behind a desk. I quickly realized I was a little out of touch with the current generation of students. What we sometimes forget in our elevated supervisory roles is what it takes to do the job of our direct reports.
The stress of worrying if a fight is going to happen at an intramural sports game or if an adventure trip is going to get lost heading into a national park is real. I lived both in the past six months. If we fail to put ourselves in the shoes of our employees occasionally, we will never know what they are going through, often for much less pay.
Take the time to:
- Work a special event
- Supervise a night of intramural sports
- Teach a group fitness class again
It will do wonders for your perspective and allow you to relate to those you want to remain employed.
5. Be Current
As we progress in our recreation careers, this is often our most challenging task. Relating to student employees, to graduate assistants and to our first-time professionals is hard.
I am 20 years older than our current first-year class, and the gray hairs are starting to show my age. As supervisors, we must be willing to adapt and educate to find common ground. Take a little time out of your day to listen to a podcast from their generation, peruse social media and, as difficult as it may seem to them, have a face-to face conversation with a student.
Working as a front-line supervisor these past six months brought me much closer to this most recent cohort of students. It has opened my eyes to the way I need to adapt my supervision styles for successful employee retention.