UCSF Aims to Become Workplace of Choice

Martin Mueller and Peter Soba take a break from the lab and enjoy the warm weath

Martin Mueller, a postdoc in the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, and Peter Soba, a postdoc in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, take a break from the lab and enjoy the warm weather in the shade of one of two 70-ton steel slabs created by sculptor Richard Serra at UCSF Mission Bay. 

Since reviewing the results of the recent employee engagement survey, UCSF has been working to ensure everyone knows exactly what is expected of them and to foster an environment where everyone can thrive.

UCSF is working on multiple fronts to create a supportive work environment by providing programs and services that help members of the University community stay healthy and fit and adopt healthy lifestyle behaviors, like eating organic foods and taking brisk walks at lunchtime. Recently, UCSF hosted its fifth Mission Bay block party, which drew more than 2,000 people for a social event that featured the Farmer's Market, a chalk drawing contest and other fun activities. 

For these ongoing efforts, the American Heart Association recognized UCSF with a 2011 gold-level award for being a fit-friendly employer. This nod of approval is largely due to “Living Well at UCSF,” an initiative that is dedicated to offering comprehensive wellness programs and resources designed to promote mental, physical, social and cultural balance. Supported by the Chancellor’s office, the Living Well web portal highlights many of these activities, like free chair massages and yoga classes, as well as tips on nutrition, exercise, smoking cessation and more. The latest offering by the Living Well initiative is an online course that aims to reduce stress by cultivating positive emotions, an evidence-based approach that applies findings from research conducted at UCSF and elsewhere.

To encourage career growth and development, UCSF recently announced that it is offering its Leadership Development Program for the fourth consecutive year. The program supports emerging and current leaders through enhancing their skills in collaboration, building high-performing teams and developing strategic relationships across the University. Since the program began in fall 2008, 226 emerging, middle and senior managers have graduated from the program. Nearly 30 percent of participants from the first two years of the program were subsequently promoted into positions of greater responsibility and/or authority. The deadline for nominations for the next round of leadership training has been extended to Wednesday, Nov. 9.

Engaging UCSF Employees

While many of these programs have been offered for years, UCSF is putting renewed energy toward increasing awareness of these efforts after a recent staff survey administered by Gallup found room for improvement for engaging staff. The staff survey results, which were reported by Gallup in June, continue to be shared across the University.

UCSF has conducted staff surveys before (2008, 2006, 2003 and 2001) to acquire critical feedback on how the University is viewed and to identify ways it can help individuals and the institution reach their potential. But the 2011 survey by Gallup specifically measured the extent to which employees are engaged in their work. Engaged employees are defined as being “involved in, committed to and enthusiastic about his or her work.”

With an overall response rate of 71 percent, UCSF’s Gallup survey results show that 27 percent are engaged, 53 percent are not engaged and 20 percent are actively disengaged, meaning that they may be counterproductive at work. Although UCSF’s results are on par with national workforce averages, they are below those of similar health care institutions.

A gardener works to maintain the grounds at UCSF Mission Bay.

Edward Walls, a gardener, works to maintain the grounds at UCSF Mission Bay. Photo by Elena Zhukova.

UCSF Chancellor Susan Desmond-Hellmann, MD, MPH, who was asked about the survey results during her State of the University Address on Oct. 4, said UCSF has more work to do to engage employees. Watch video.

“The takeaway for me is what I’ve been saying for a long time, that we have to have great management,” she said. “It’s not just nice to have; it’s essential to have because great-minded people with passion and talent who want to be committed to the institution need to know what exactly the institution needs from them, and to have a really clear set of things they can act on every day when they come to work, and know what they’re signed up for.”

One of the most important actions that Desmond-Hellmann took since reviewing the survey results is sharing UCSF’s vision and goals as part of a three-year action plan that she developed with her leadership team, the Chancellor’s Executive Cabinet. The five goals for UCSF, which correlate with the chancellor’s top five priorities — patient care, research, education, people and business — have a clear set of strategies. One of the goals is for UCSF to become a workplace of choice for diverse, top-tier talent. 

As these strategies are further defined, distributed and discussed in department and team meetings across the University, employees at all levels should have a better understanding of the direction in which the University is headed and how they can help execute the vision and three-year plan.

In addition, UCSF is advancing its “Great Manager” initiative, which will provide managers with the necessary tools and resources for advancing their people management skills and engaging their staff. In support of this effort, UCSF is offering manager training sessions across the University to assist managers in using their Gallup engagement survey results as a platform for identifying what their teams need to be successful and engaged. Resources are available online on the Great Manager link on the UCSF Human Resources website.

UCSF's Five Goals

  • Goal: Provide unparalleled care to our patients.
  • Goal: Improve health through innovative science. 
  • Goal: Attract and support the most talented and diverse trainees in the health sciences.
  • Goal: Be the workplace of choice for diverse, top-tier talent.
  • Goal: Create a financially sustainable enterprise-wide business model. 

Making UCSF a Workplace of Choice

Promoting a supportive work environment has been a work in progress at UCSF even before the 2007 Strategic Plan identified it as a priority. UCSF's new three-year plan now takes it to the next level with the goal of having UCSF become a workplace of choice. The strategies under this goal include some of the areas identified for improvement in the 2011 staff engagement survey. The strategies to help UCSF be the workplace of choice include:

  • Establish and communicate clear goals and direction – at all levels
  • Enhance development opportunities for faculty and staff
  • Ensure diversity, equity and inclusion in UCSF’s recruitment and retention practices
  • Compensate faculty and staff based on performance and at market levels.
The Mission Bay Block Party featured a chalk drawing contest.

UCSF Chancellor Susan Desmond-Hellmann was drawn by graduate student Todd Rabkin Golden in the chalk art contest at the fifth annual Mission Bay Block Party.

These strategies are in line with the wish list of survey respondents. Asked in the 2011 staff survey what UCSF could do to make this an even better place to work, the top five answers from respondents were: address pay/salary issues (23 percent); improve management (15 percent); focus on improving morale and work environment (14 percent) and treat employees fairly (11 percent).

Ten percent of respondents also identified the following needs: offer more education/training and learning opportunities, provide more opportunities for advancement, improve communication/clarity/transparency and offer better rewards/recognition.

Among other highlights of the 2011 staff engagement survey:

  • UCSF received an overall engagement score of 3.60 based on a scale of one to five, which is lower than Gallup health care clients;
  • UCSF’s areas of strengths are providing needed materials and equipment;
  • While engagement levels among employees vary, UCSF does have a group of highly engaged staff who may be able to shed light on best practices in this area;
  • Comparatively, researchers, nurses and teachers are the most engaged employees; and
  • Managers are more engaged in their work than non-managers.

Based on these staff survey results, managers will be drafting action plans and working with team members to come up with an area of focus for increasing staff engagement. These plans will help focus each manager, staff member, team and department on improving performance and proactively shape their work environment going forward.

In the months ahead, UCSF will focus on areas of success and will profile some of the top-performing managers who have created a work environment that best supports their staff. According to Gallup, it’s critical to model effective management at the top. At UCSF, this is indeed the case. Among those ranking the highest in leading engaged workgroups is Chancellor Desmond-Hellmann, according to the Gallup survey results.

Photos by Susan Merrell