Samantha Barker, ISCRR Director
“Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”
― Mark Twain
The notion that satisfaction can come from doing a job you love has been known for generations. And it’s good for business. Happy staff can help any organisation flourish. The growth of high-quality evidence in this area in recent years has helped to give staff satisfaction a stronger focus, across all levels of an organisation.
In the world of research, it can be a challenge to achieve. It’s filled with extremely talented people in a competitive environment. Workloads are high, and given many pursue this field to follow their passion, they are regularly willing to go the extra mile. This high-pressure environment often flows on to the critical support teams who manage projects, drive effective translation and impact, and keep the system running. Turnover can be an issue if staff don’t feel their needs are being met, or they’re seeking better job security through longer contracts elsewhere.
Despite such external challenges, the overall culture of a workplace can be carefully cultivated through empathetic leadership. Since taking over as ISCRR’s Director in late 2018, one of my goals was to make ISCRR a great place to work. To be accountable this became one of the Institute’s official annual goals of which each and every team member can contribute, and has continued to this day.
We have been assessing staff satisfaction across our team, which has varied in capacity from 12-20 staff, since 2018 via an anonymous survey. We have also have recently set KPIs to drive this focus which we have more than met. Based on the recent results of our annual staff satisfaction survey, we know our staff are very happy at work, enjoy what they do, and feel supported.
After trialling various approaches over the years and seeing the evidence emerge across a variety of disciplines including social and health sciences, management and humanities, making this goal a reality has come down to four key areas:
The success of any organisation comes down to the team of people brought on board to deliver its mission. The word ‘team’ is important here. You can have a group of talented individuals who can deliver when working independently, but a successful culture comes from a team that supports and uplifts each other.
This comes down to thinking a bit differently about the types of skills and experience needed to have a team that flourishes – one that will bring the best out of each individual. Technical skills and expertise are important. But just as equal are those soft skills that often can’t be taught, and close alignment with the values of the organisation.
At ISCRR we need a unique blend of expertise and experience that goes beyond the experiences of traditional academic researchers, project managers and communications experts. Our staff need the ability to work across multiple settings and contexts, to adapt and be comfortable with change (often at the last minute!), have strong technical skills alongside exceptional communication and interpersonal skills. The combination of these can be hard to find, but individuals with these skills also enable group cohesion and a real value-add to the organisation in achieving its mission.
Hire great people and empower them with meaningful roles and responsibilities, and they will deliver. This empowerment helps to keep their role interesting and challenging, and ultimately more enjoyable. As a leader I don’t count the clock. I choose to measure the success of my team on their conduct and outcomes, not the number of hours worked (whilst of course ensuring workload doesn’t get out of hand).
This approach has allowed ISCRR to offer truly flexible working arrangements. We are lucky to have a diverse team of people with varying personal and family circumstances. Providing flexibility so they can work at times that suit them as well as the business means they are more satisfied; our relationships within the team and our stakeholders are stronger; and ultimately our outcomes and impact are at their best ever.
A person-centred work culture fosters continual learning and new opportunities for staff to grow and flex their skills. ISCRR does this informally, though staff mentoring by management and senior leaders, and formally though the encouragement of individualised professional development identified in each staff member’s Professional Development Plans – a process driven and supported by Monash University. Each individual staff member at ISCRR has their bio proudly showcased on our website and each year in our Annual Report as recognition that each individual is important to the success of the entire Institute.
We give regular opportunities to recognise team effort in our monthly staff meetings where each staff member is able to give a ‘shout-out’ to one or more of their colleagues when they have gone above and beyond. We also make a big effort to recognise and celebrate personal highlights such as staff birthdays and life milestones. Whilst the pandemic has limited this at times, the team have thought outside the box to host some great virtual get-togethers, including a recent virtual baby shower!
I try hard to be my true authentic self with the team. They will know if I’m having a not-so-great day. I also make a concerted effort to get to know my staff sincerely on a personal level. Not just because they are all wonderfully interesting people in their own right, but it helps break down hierarchy and sustains a culture of open communication at all levels.
Satisfaction comes from knowing that your job is making a difference somehow. How individuals see this often depends upon the framing they use to describe their work. If your framing is too narrow, e.g. ‘I write reports for a living’, you can lose sight of the broader goal of your work. This leads to less work satisfaction. The majority of our current work is helping our partner, WorkSafe Victoria, keep the community safe at work, and to improve recovery outcomes for those who have experienced workplace injury or illness. We take that role pretty seriously and strive to provide the best quality evidence, delivered in a tailored way, so it can be used to inform key decision making.
At ISCRR we believe in creating knowledge and influencing thinking so that people can lead healthier lives. Everything we do, big or small, is contributing to this ambition. We make sure each staff member at ISCRR knows they are part of a team that is proudly contributing towards this all-important goal.
“Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.”
― Helen Keller
These are some strategies that work for increasing staff satisfaction for our small team in a research environment. Will they work in larger organisations? Will they work in other fields? What strategies do you use in your workplace to help staff to feel more satisfied at work?
This article was written by Samantha Barker, ISCRR Director