Voices of the Staff opened its 10th year Thursday with a town hall meeting that drew President Mark Schlissel and 100 staff volunteers interested in building on VOICES changes that benefit staff.

Schlissel also is a faculty member, and before town hall attendees he recalled the time in his career when he came to fully understand and appreciate the contributions of staff.

more information

“It really hit home for me when I was learning what it takes to organize and run and lead a complicated place like a department,” he said. “Without you, our mission would not be carried forward.”

The president was on hand to support the VOICES mission and participate in an “elevator speech” exercise. Volunteer groups devoted to 12 separate topic areas conferred, then nominated a spokesperson. Each one stood before the president to deliver a brief summary of their suggested changes.

Members of 12 topic-area teams took turns presenting their ideas to President Mark Schlissel at the VOICES town hall meeting Thursday. (Photo by Daryl Marshke, Michigan Photography)

Representing the technology group, one employee encouraged the president to establish a more visible online suggestion box, adding “I can help you with that.” A parking and transportation group spokesperson suggested more parking spots and better shuttle transportation.

“If we were working at Wayne State we could have second and third degrees,” said VOICES alumna and current volunteer Peggy White, a research area specialist intermediate, as Schlissel took comments following the elevator pitches. White said Wayne State and other universities provide free class credits, but U-M does not.

Launched in 2005 under the supervision of Laurita Thomas, associate vice president for human resources, VOICES is a volunteer effort comprising employees from all campuses and the U-M Health System. It offers an opportunity to share ideas and define existing campus community issues. Staff join the VOICES team for two years. They take part in meetings where improvements are identified. The best are passed on to executive officers for review.

A recent VOICES accomplishment came from the Parking & Transportation team, which realized a goal of creating a satellite parking office in University Hospital South.

Other key accomplishments include:

• Completing a career development passport in which more than 500 staff members participated.

• Two StaffWorks best practices and technology conferences, with a third scheduled for 2016.

• Social media guidelines, which have been requested for use by universities across the country.

• The Med Express bus route for the health system.

The purpose of the town hall was to get feedback, ideas and hear about opportunities and issues on the top 12 topics generated by a staffwide survey last fall, said Diane Vasquez, director of Human Resource Operations and founding member of the VOICES Program Management Team.

“In the fall survey, we asked people if they were interested in attending a future town hall meeting. Once people confirmed that interest, I created a microcosm of the university staff community and invited them to register for the event. We chose 100 people,” Vasquez said.

Attendees were asked to register via clicker their level of interest for each of the 12 topics. They said they were extremely impacted by benefits, health and wellness issues, parking and transportation, work-life balance, and work stress and change issues, among others.

“The next thing that’s going to happen is the program managers team is going to take the information and take time digesting all the creative ideas that were shared today,” said Dan Rife, an energy management engineer for LSA and VOICES program manager.

Program managers will create an ordered list of topics to be shared with executive officers. They will approve six areas of focus to work on. Teams of approximately 20 staff members each are selected to address each area.

That approval happens in February. In March, Voices of the Staff begins the application process. Hundreds of staff members apply at voices.umich.edu for roughly 60 spots that are a two-year commitment. Participants are chosen to create a microcosm of the staff population across all campuses.

In June, VOICES officially turns 10 with an annual meeting. This meeting marks a transition point where participants who have served for two years transition to alumni status (alumni are often asked to help with special projects) and to welcome new members.