From creating a hub to help staff manage change to addressing parking needs, University of Michigan staff members shared their wishes for the university work experience with President Mark Schlissel on Thursday.

The discussions occurred at the Voices of the Staff Town Hall, attended by about 80 staff participants and 30 staff volunteers. Voices of the Staff is U-M’s employee-engagement program that allows staff volunteers to offer input, develop resources and special events, and meet with university leaders.

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The town hall takes place every few years and serves as a forum for staff to discuss issues, concerns and ideas around topics derived from a survey sent to about 20,000 campus staff members to determine the issues that most interest them.

Survey respondents who indicated an interest in the town hall were then invited to attend. Their input will be shared with the university’s executive officers, and will help determine the topics that VOICES teams will concentrate on in the coming years.

“We are the infrastructure of the University of Michigan,” Laurita Thomas, associate vice president for human resources, said of the university’s staff. “Our faculty, our alumni, our students could not be as effective and world-class and world-known without the support that we provide.”

Staff members gathered in teams to discuss and summarize suggestions related to one of 12 topic areas during Thursday’s Voices of the Staff Town Hall. (Photo by Scott C. Soderberg, Michigan Photography)

At Thursday’s town hall, staff divided into 12 groups to talk about:

• Campus climate and safety.

• Career development.

• Employee recognition and rewards.

• Financial health and planning for retirement.

• Flexible work environment.

• Technology.

• Managing change.

• Transportation options and parking.

• Health and well-being.

• Effective workplace interactions.

• Diversity, equity and inclusion.

• Coaching, mentoring and continuous learning.

Each group then crafted a short “elevator pitch” summarizing its main points, and selected a spokesperson to present the group’s thoughts and recommendations to Schlissel in front of the crowd. The teams:

• Emphasized the importance of inclusive communication and exemplifying forgiveness, compassion and gratitude in creating a positive work climate.

• Discussed the need for a systemic commitment to employee growth by providing time for career exploration and access to tools and opportunities.

• Advocated for a central infrastructure for coaching, mentoring and continuous learning.

• Supported making diversity, equity and inclusion education accessible and mandatory for employees, and establishing open reporting of key DEI metrics.

• Proposed creating a central self-help hub for technology resources that could potentially exist on Wolverine Access, and installing dedicated “technology therapists” in departments.

• Recommended a change-management hub that would provide a toolkit for employees to manage small changes, and internal consultants for managing large organizational changes.

• Supported a rewards-and-recognition office that would have its own strategic plan and budget, and would serve as a resource for coaching and consulting on developing rewards programs throughout the university.

Rico Paras, a physical therapist at Michigan Medicine’s Burlington Specialty Clinic, summarizes for President Mark Schlissel the discussion of a group that focused on diversity, equity and inclusion. (Photo by Scott C. Soderberg, Michigan Photography)

After the pitches, Schlissel said all the topics are important issues and that he was particularly appreciative that the staff offered potential solutions.

“I think a common theme to a lot of this stuff really is our DEI work, and I think of DEI in a very expansive way,” Schlissel said. “A lot of these workplace issues are issues of inclusion and issues of mutual respect up and down the hierarchy of this huge, very decentralized and hierarchal, sometimes, place.”

Schlissel told the attendees that staff members “make Blue go.”

“This institution would not function,” he said. “It would have no memory because everyone else comes and go and you guys are the memory of the institution. We wouldn’t be able to serve our mission of teaching and research and patient care without the dedicated effort of you and tens of thousands of colleagues. You’re the face of the institution as much as I am. People see me in a picture but they see you in person on a regular basis.”

Thursday’s event marked Martina Jerant’s first VOICES town hall. She participated in the coaching and learning group and recently completed her first year working at the university. She said attending the town hall was a great avenue to learn about more opportunities available to employees.

“My main takeaway is that there is an infrastructure to get people together, be heard and a platform to move it up the ranks,” said Jerant, administrative coordinator at the Center for RNA Biomedicine and a research associate in the Walter Lab.