Run­ning staff in­duc­tions well can help de­part­ments hold on to new re­cruits

Be­ing strate­gic and com­mu­nica­tive can help uni­ver­si­ties keep new staff, says Vir­ginia King

THE (Times Higher Education) - - CONTENTS - Vir­ginia King is a se­nior re­search as­so­ciate at Coven­try Univer­sity’s Cen­tre for Global Learn­ing: Ed­u­ca­tion and At­tain­ment. Her re­search on staff in­duc­tions with Jan­nie Roed and Louise Wil­son was re­cently pub­lished in the Jour­nal of Higher Ed­u­ca­tion Polic

As we start a new aca­demic year, our thoughts turn to newly ar­rived stu­dents on cam­pus. But what about new aca­demic staff? Many col­leagues be­gin a new con­tract at this time. I did back in 1989. And the mem­o­ries of my first day still linger: de­serted cor­ri­dors, locked doors, a desk hur­riedly found for me in a shared but empty of­fice. I saw this lack of wel­come as a chal­lenge, and quickly found my feet.

Much has changed in higher ed­u­ca­tion in the past 30 years, but aca­demic staff in­duc­tion can still be prob­lem­atic. A cou­ple of years ago, I un­der­took a sur­vey of the lit­er­a­ture that re­vealed sim­i­lar in­duc­tion prob­lems in other coun­tries. I dis­cussed this with col­leagues, in­clud­ing Jan­nie Roed from the Univer­sity of West Lon­don, and we found a mu­tual in­ter­est in in­duc­tion. Our work as man­agers of aca­demic col­leagues sug­gested that in­duc­tion prob­lems were com­mon in UK uni­ver­si­ties, too. We also felt that there was a con­nec­tion be­tween poor in­duc­tion ex­pe­ri­ences and poor staff re­ten­tion. This led us to an­a­lyse the 2015 in­duc­tion ex­pe­ri­ences of 30 staff who had moved from other pro­fes­sions into aca­demic roles in five UK uni­ver­si­ties.

Each in­di­vid­ual had a dif­fer­ent story. Even within the same univer­sity, in­duc­tion ex­pe­ri­ences dif­fered. Some had very for­mal in­duc­tions, with their whole first week given over to training, which they found rather over­whelm­ing. Oth­ers had noth­ing at all. Like me, they ar­rived, were found some­where to sit, and were left to sort them­selves out. Com­ing as they did from other pro­fes­sions, they found this in­cred­i­ble.

In­di­vid­u­als re­sponded to their in­duc­tion ex­pe­ri­ences in dif­fer­ent ways. Some re­signed be­fore we fin­ished our study. Oth­ers bounced back. They loved their work as aca­demics, the per­ceived au­ton­omy and the in­ter­ac­tion with stu­dents, and this made up for any short­com­ings. It seemed that, for some, a lin­ger­ing re­sent­ment could be dis­cerned.

So how can we get staff in­duc­tions right? It ap­pears that many uni­ver­si­ties have re­placed old in­for­mal in­duc­tion ap­proaches with pre­scribed sys­tems for staff re­cruits. Nonethe­less, de­part­men­tal and man­age­rial pri­or­i­ties mean that im­ple­men­ta­tion of these in­duc­tion pro­cesses can be hit or miss. How else could new starters in the same in­sti­tu­tion end up with vastly dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ences? Our par­tic­i­pants vol­un­teered many sug­ges­tions for im­prove­ment of in­duc­tion, some of which repli­cated the pro­cesses that were of­fi­cially in place but didn’t seem to be work­ing in prac­tice. So I have four rec­om­men­da­tions.

Tackle in­duc­tion strate­gi­cally

Mon­i­tor the costs of failed in­duc­tion in terms of staff turnover. Share best prac­tice across the univer­sity. Train man­agers and sup­port staff to spot po­ten­tial leavers early, and re­ward de­part­ments that meet or ex­ceed staff re­ten­tion tar­gets.

Do as you would be done by

In­volve new staff be­fore they be­gin their em­ploy­ment. Use so­cial me­dia and tech­nol­ogy to cre­ate a vir­tual cam­pus where re­cruits can fa­mil­iarise them­selves with their new en­vi­ron­ment. Con­tact the re­cruit a day or two be­fore their start date to wel­come them and to re­solve any out­stand­ing is­sues. Have their workspace ready, en­sure they are in­tro­duced to co-work­ers, and pro­vide an on­line “quick start” guide to lo­cal work­ing life.

Re­mem­ber that ev­ery­one is dif­fer­ent

Re­cruits will vary in their training and sup­port needs. Not ev­ery­one needs a men­tor or to un­der­take ba­sic training cour­ses, but some do. An in­duc­tion pro­gramme should also ben­e­fit both the re­cruit and the univer­sity, so it should be a two-way process that helps the in­ductee find and fill their niche.

Keep in touch

As well as con­tact­ing a new staff mem­ber be­fore they ar­rive and on their first day, a man­ager should main­tain open com­mu­ni­ca­tion with them over the sub­se­quent weeks. Work pri­or­i­ties should be clear and goals should be achiev­able, agreed and mon­i­tored. If, af­ter all this, a re­cruit de­cides to leave, al­low them to feed back any is­sues anony­mously via a third party.

If you feel that I’m sug­gest­ing the ob­vi­ous, have a word with a few re­cent re­cruits in your in­sti­tu­tion. Things may have changed or it may be that, as in those five uni­ver­si­ties we looked at, things aren’t go­ing as smoothly and con­sis­tently as they should be. Sup­port­ive and mu­tu­ally ben­e­fi­cial in­duc­tion won’t pre­vent ev­ery new staff mem­ber from leav­ing, but it could make all the dif­fer­ence to the next per­son you em­ploy.

Mov­ing for­ward many uni­ver­si­ties have re­placed old in­for­mal staff in­duc­tion pro­cesses with pre­scribed sys­tems

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