Fifteen years ago it started with an idea of creating a feedback loop. A simple idea but an important one - President Mary Sue Coleman wanted to hear from the people who keep the university running, to understand their experiences. The concept of voices of the staff took this idea a step further by creating deep meaningful engagement. And through this experience, Voices of the Staff has helped more than 1,500 staff experience the scope and the impact that our university has for our community and for the world.

Making connections. It’s what Voices of the Staff has done for more than 15 years.

Connecting staff with opportunities. Connecting theories to practice. Connecting leaders and our frontline staff. All to create a dialog, engage our people, and discover solutions for the challenges of the future of work.

In 2020, our focus on connection was essential to maintain staff engagement. We shifted from actively seeking solutions to supporting our current teams in dealing with an unprecedented onslaught of challenges. Political unrest. A global pandemic. Demands for equity and social injustice. A contentious election. With all of the turmoil in our world, Voices of the Staff pivoted to be a virtual support group. Refocusing our monthly meetings to offer support and guidance for mental and emotional health. And regrouping for an early fall launch at our Annual Meeting that hosted 180 people, all coming together to plan the future of work at U-M.

At the 2020 Voices Annual Meeting, new members were welcomed, those completing their service were thanked, and a brand new team was born - The Voices Alumni Network Team. This new team is tasked with enhancing engagement and leveraging the possibilities of more than 1,000 Voices Alumni Members. Additionally, the established Voices Network Teams reported on their continued progress on a range of projects. Hear from team members, in their own words, about their efforts.

Many leaders joined the Voices Annual Meeting to share gratitude and express their support, and the critical nature of engaging staff for creating a strong university.

"It's really one of the most important organizations across the campus." - President Schlissel

Voices connects our campuses in a way that no other program does. It brings together staff from every area of the university and Michigan Medicine to create a reflection of our organization - a microcosm of the university.

The inclusive makeup of the Voices members makes for a more effective network of teams, ready to rise to our workplace challenges. It gives team members a more diverse view of what it means to work at the university and support its missions. And it provides Executive Officers with a responsive and inclusive sounding board for staff feedback.

Click to view key demographic comparisons.

In 2019 and 2020, Voices continued its history of supporting the missions of the university. In addition to its strong connection to the Center for Positive Organizations (including partnerships with faculty members Jane Dutton and Jeff DeGraff, plus serving as a research partner for alumnus Adam Grant), Voices participated in the Michigan Medicine Best Change Survey. This innovative diabetes prevention study sought input from a diverse cross-section of U-M employees. Voices was tailor-made to help!

“The feedback on our study messaging from Voices of the Staff has been absolutely critical in ensuring that our study messages are both understandable and engaging for U-M staff and faculty.” - Dr. Jeff Kullgren

One major challenge to the future of work is defining “where” we work. In fact, developing a diversified workplace location strategy is a key finding of the Workplace Innovation and the Staff Experience (WISE) Committee. The committee was charged by CFO Kevin Hegarty to identify what supports for staff members in sustaining their work as the campus emerges from the pandemic and beyond; remotely, in-person or a combination of the two.

More than half of the 20-member WISE committee are Voices of the Staff members. The implementation of the recommendations, the ongoing effort of applying these ideas into our workplace, will be led in large by Voices teams.

We will match the themes from WISE recommendations to the teams of Voices in order to clarify and codify issues around intermediate actions. And further charge the teams to take on the tasks needed to strategically develop a long-term plan that is effective and embraced by our staff.

When people are engaged they give more of themselves. They are more present, more motivated, and simply more satisfied. Each year, Voices helps to create deep engagement for a small number of people. But now, with the opportunity of a diversified, virtually connected workplace, it’s time to do more.

It’s time to transition, to grow. It’s time to invest in our people and shift from a program that serves 120 each year to an office with a suite of programs designed for deep meaningful experiences for all staff. It’s time to jump into building community through technology, and ensure that our staff feel connected. Because this investment will enable the university to pivot to a workplace that takes up less floor space. A day-to-day workplace that is sustainable and helps keep the university on a strong financial footing for decades. All while motivating staff to deliver excellence in support of our missions. So we all feel connected.