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Case Study: “It Really is the Best Place to Work”

12/05/13

Campus Information Technology Services (CITS) employees are hailing their department as the best there is at The UWI St. Augustine and while many of us may be loath to agree, they offer a pretty good argument, beginning with their high results in the Employee Engagement Survey. As a matter of fact, CITS came out on top as the department with the highest level of employee satisfaction on Campus. What’s their strategy? A simple one, as it turns out, featuring as key words – respect, empowerment and communication. Combined, these tenets create a work environment that staff describe as “friendly”, “fun” and “family oriented” and, one staff member states boldly – “it really is the best place to work!”

CITS Head, Mr. Nazir Aladdin, asserts that the department has accomplished this, firstly, through the way that its employees interact. All members of the CITS team treat one another with the same respect they’d like afforded to themselves, regardless of any disparity in rank in The University’s hierarchy, he says, for they recognise that each person’s role is equally valuable to the office and, by extension, The UWI.

In order to break the barriers held in place by the hierarchy, Nazir implemented “a project-based type of work (structure)” where the leader of a project could be any CITS employee. An Administrative and Technical Services (ATS) staff member could just as easily take the lead on a project as could an Academic staff member, or even the Department Head, who would then “sit on projects as a regular member”.

In doing so, Nazir has shown staff that though he may be the one in charge, “The University hired all of you. You are all professionals and, therefore, together, we all have to work, so don’t expect me to do all the thinking. You all are free to think … to bring your ideas, share it and let’s discuss it in an open environment and let’s decide if it’s a way forward for the Campus and The University.”

This has given staff a feeling of empowerment and they, in turn, are better able to work independently and make their own decisions on pressing matters without having to wait for his input. “A lot of times I think what happens,” he explains, “is (that) people believe that everything has to come up to the Head who becomes an unnecessary bottleneck  to things. That, I don’t subscribe to.”  CITS, he says is built on empowerment and the staff are pleased that they have the freedom “to experiment and be creative and innovative in doing their stuff”.

The result is a team of skilled people who work together efficiently, and are happy to do so, to achieve a collective goal. Miss Geeta Kissoon, User Support Technician and ICT Trainer with the Microsoft IT Academy at CITS, says that staff members enjoy working at CITS because, among other things, the department operates under a “different communication style” where managers give junior staff the space to get their work done and, when there are tasks to be doled out, those chosen to fill roles are asked rather than told. She adds that of particular merit is the fact that everybody can put forward their ideas and they are not only listened to, but their ideas are taken into consideration.

“The best thing is that we work well together,” adds Mrs. Natasha Ramkhalawan, Clerical Assistant at CITS. Although they do experience the inevitable bad days every so often, as things go in any work place, she says that the team has “learned to work under pressure” and that they do it so well that they now feed off of their challenges.

The practices of respect, empowerment and communication have lent to a “friendly” atmosphere in the department – a friendliness that one would be hard pressed to find elsewhere Geeta declares. “This is a fun department … we are like family,” and like a family, they ensure to carve out some recreational time to spend together.

Nazir stresses that seeing to the Campus’ IT needs, which includes ensuring that systems like Banner and People Soft are up and running 24/7, is “not an eight to four job,” and because many of these are “backroom” jobs, those who fill the roles may not feel appreciated for their efforts. So, the department makes sure to hold their own staff appreciation events, all at no cost to The University – as they all chip-in for drinks, food, gifts and anything else they may need. In addition to hosting their annual end-of-year celebration, they hold get-togethers to “recognise the staff for their accomplishments during the year, and it’s not only academic so we may have people who got their Bachelor’s, their Master’s … we go as far as recognising if you had a new grand(child) or new child because that’s a big achievement,” Nazir says. Not only does the CITS team share a love of fun, they have collective creative and competitive streaks which also serve as inspiration for some of their recreational events. Just last year, CITS staff members held their own mini-sports day, a kite flying competition and an egg drop competition – complete with medals and prizes for the winners, so people have “bragging rights for the year,” Geeta says. And when they just want to ‘lime’, without all the hard work, they have been known to take in a movie together at the IMAX.

“I think it’s good to have a family oriented way of doing things,” Geeta says. “It makes you want to come to work. If you don’t come to work, you miss it.”

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