What do you expect – from your family? Your friends? Your employer?

For some reason, I had a number of conversations recently with St. Thomas employees about their feelings regarding the university. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s the high unemployment rate. Maybe it’s the overall economic uncertainty. Maybe it’s just that stage in people’s lives and employment.

Attitudes varied.

One administrator who had worked for several different companies found her feelings for St. Thomas unique. The attachment was incredibly strong and positive.
Another administrator and a faculty member told similar stories of considering employment elsewhere but rejecting the move because of the sense of community and shared mission here.

I heard both a faculty member and a staff member express concerns about being asked increasingly to do more and more. I asked why they thought that happened. The answer was that they didn’t think anyone knew quite how much they do. Perhaps there’s a lesson there: we need to make a better effort to realize what other people’s responsibilities are before we ask for more or for different.

A staff member was grateful that in troubled times St. Thomas has not laid anyone off, reduced pay or resorted to involuntary furloughs. Survey data indicate that we all have a similar hierarchy of issues that we complain about in the job. When salary is adequate, we complain about benefits, work conditions, the boss. When the pay is too low, fewer people mention the lesser irritations. Everything pales in comparison with having no job at all.

Another told me that the caring and supportive members of his unit made all the difference to him in his consideration of his employer. I’ve read studies that show the No. 1 factor in how much we enjoy our job is the people with whom we work closely.

A long-time faculty member noted how the sense of commitment has changed over time, observing that newer faculty are less involved. When I suggested that might be because they didn’t have the half-century here that she and I shared, she said the new faculty just didn’t feel appreciated enough; that the evaluation process has created a wedge. I’ve heard similar complaints about the pay-for-performance standards on the staff side. Sometimes it is hard to say how much we appreciate someone for fear of sounding sappy. (Veronica, you do a terrific job and I am grateful.)

I remember in the old days, then-president Terrence Murphy would compare St. Thomas to a family. The implication was that we all pulled together no matter what. When disaster struck one of us, we all pitched in. If we had a fight, we still loved each other.

That may have been true when the institution was smaller and more homogenous. I’m not sure. But by the time I arrived, I don’t think family was an accurate comparison. Most of the time I’ve been here, I’d say the better comparison would be to a small town. Especially with tenure, faculty are unlikely to move out. Young people do move on. When disputes arise, we have to figure out how to live with each other after the storm passes. No one is moving down the road, but there isn’t the tie of love or blood that keeps us together. Fairness is important. When one suffers, others suffer. We know a lot of each other’s business. Okay, we gossip.

Contemplating my employer, I recalled the reasons I came here 28 years ago. The landscaping – it indicated a financially solid institution. The other economists – their interactions told me that St. Thomas is a community of caring and respect. The purple trash cans – I love purple.

The trash cans are gone, but I am still here. Those other two reasons count for a lot.

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3 Responses

  1. Linda Halverson

    Your other two reasons (the solid landscape and caring community) do count for a lot. St. Thomas also has been a community of caring and respect for me the past 25 years. And, while I agree we are not a family for all the reasons you describe and maybe others, we are still unique. Our convictions make us so: Pursuit of Truth, Academic Excellence, Faith and Reason, Dignity, Diversity, Personal Attention and Gratitude.
    We are not, however, as good as I think we once were (family or not) at living these convictions, which maybe is a form of disaster around which I think we could rally once again. Otherwise, we are at risk of becoming more of a working collective than a community.
    Early evidence that we are moving in that direction includes: 1) The subtle ways that we have become more selective about new ideas and rigorous thinking, dependent upon whose ideas they are and who’s doing the thinking; 2) How we less often hold each other accountable for the respect and dignity of others that we say we value; 3) How we have become more tolerant of things like email bashing of a “colleague” in response to a perceived poor level of service; 4) How we have become so quick to attribute motives to one another absent conversation or an attempt to better understand; and 5) How we stand unresponsive as others criticize employee longevity and without exception equate that longevity to lack of creative and critical thinking rather than to commitment, loyalty and the “unique contributions that each of us brings to the greater mosaic of the university community.”
    Like you, Susan, I am still here, in this small town where I choose to stay as a contributing member with the hope that we honestly still value a workplace that is more community than collective. This requires that I call attention to and am genuinely appreciative of those around me who continue to build our community through living the university’s convictions as a code of conduct rather than a list of flowery intentions, as well as calling equal attention to and holding accountable those who do not, including at times myself. This has become harder work than it once was when purple trash cans dotted The Quad.

  2. Cari Haaland, School of Law director of admissions

    I reflect often on my feelings for St. Thomas. I am continually reminded how fortunate I am to be part of such a wonderful community. I am blessed to love my job, enjoy the people I work with and get up each day looking forward to coming back. I have been at UST for over nine years and have felt happy to be here from day one – even during difficult or challenging times. There is a unique quality of life here.

  3. Matt, Minneapolis

    Susan, I think you are correct when you state, “When salary is adequate, we complain about benefits, work conditions, the boss. When the pay is too low, fewer people mention the lesser irritations. Everything pales in comparison with having no job at all.”
    In this economic environment, there are basic needs that are not being met for all. Many are without jobs or fear the loss of a job, and an entire generation is struggling to just to start a career. A recent Business Week article notes that the unemployment rate for 16-24 year olds has grown from 13 percent to 18 percent in one year. Many in this age group are struggling just to grab onto the bottom wrung of the career ladder. These unfortunate many will suffer lasting damage from this recession. The article suggests “an extended period of youthful joblessness can significantly depress lifetime income as people get stuck in jobs that are beneath their capabilities, or come to be seen by employers as damaged goods.” Moreover, this generation will compete with younger, recent graduates for the same pool of entry-level jobs during the recovery. Are we creating a bubble in the job market? I would argue yes.
    You mention that the older staff and faculty stay while the young move on. The same seems to be happening in the corporate world. The young are moving on (or laid off), while the more seasoned veterans linger on. This is only adding to our bubble. Who will replace the baby boomers when they start to retire? We’ve already let our young talent walk out the door. Organizations that neglect younger employees are building a gap in their leadership. There needs to be some continuity between the baby-boomers and the influx of employees during the future recovery. I believe organizations need to retain young talent, even at the expense of losing some veterans, or risk the long-term future of the organization.
    Here’s the link to the BusinessWeek article.