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Dean’s blog: Making a Difference through Meaningful Appreciation

Dean Fernando Miralles-Wilhelm

About a year ago, we asked faculty to participate in the COACHE Faculty Satisfaction Survey. This national, research-based initiative from the Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education at the Harvard Graduate School in Education was also completed at Mason before the pandemic in 2019 and provides a roadmap of workplace issues and opportunities as measured by the change between the survey’s results.

A number of priorities emerged which have become our focus, including salary and compensation; Renewal, Promotion, and Tenure (RPT); mentoring and mentoring support; and appreciation and recognition. 

Work groups across the college and throughout Mason have engaged to make progress across the first three priorities. Today, in celebration of the upcoming National Employee Appreciation Day on Friday, March 3, I am excited to encourage efforts to enhance appreciation and recognition within our Mason Science community to enrich our culture of appreciation and recognition; and at its core is a sea star philosophy.

Do you know of the ‘Star Thrower’ or ‘Starfish story?’

Taken from the 16-page essay of the same name published in 1969 by Loren Eiseley, it’s a tale of two people walking along a beach littered with starfish along the shore. The first person picks up the starfish one at a time and throws it back in the water to save it. The other person says, “There’s no way you’ll be able to collect all of the starfish and put them back in the water. So why even try?” And the first person responds, “Well, at least I’ve made a difference for that one.”

The moral of the story: Everyone can make a difference — even if that difference affects one personThis is an excellent analogy for what meaningful recognition can do for someone within and for those all across our community.

According to the website, Dr. Bob Nelson first introduced the concept of Employee Recognition Day in the United States in 1995 to build a culture of recognition across the globe. Observed in several countries worldwide, it highlights the importance of meaningfully appreciating employees, and the impact recognition has on an organization.  

Our university sponsors many programs and offers a myriad of tools and supports to meaningfully recognize our coworkers. For example, the Pats for Patriots program can provide a free and easy yet significant way to send kudos to people in your workplace experience at Mason. Just taking a few minutes to share why someone matters or how they make a difference, can be so important. We are all working so hard and sometimes people may wonder, ‘Does anyone even notice?’ The Pats for Patriots program lets them know, ‘yes, you’ve made a difference for me and others and I do see you.’

In fact, there are actually days created which remind folks to say or do something nice to others. Take World Gratitude Day or the upcoming National Employee Appreciation Day where we share appreciation on a broad scale.

When considering the Mason Science employee experience, how do we each land on the rewards and recognition continuum? Do you provide real time feedback that encompasses both what goes well and what went wrong to yourself, your coworkers, and those you may supervise or supervise you? Or do you primarily focus on the latter? 

As we strive to improve the culture of our college community, we are using Employee Appreciation Day as a point in time to thoroughly consider how as supervisors or coworkers, we purposefully recognize the people who work with us. Especially those who go above and beyond, not only in their work but also in the way they communicate, collaborate, and exemplify values such as honesty, integrity, inclusivity, teamwork, and respect. 

Research has demonstrated that when employees feel engaged, valued, and appreciated, they perform better, stay at their jobs longer and have increased loyalty to their employers. For example, in addition to offering employee tuition reimbursement, Mason also offers incentives to our team members who complete their degrees in good standing while maintaining strong work performance.

I encourage us to start by taking time on National Employee Appreciation Day this Friday to consider our personal recognition style and ways to connect with our coworkers, offer authentic praise, and listen to their experiences.

After all, recognition is most effective when it takes place on a regular basis in a variety of manners, face to face or within the group. In writing or verbally. 

It’s a powerful way to make a difference in another’s workplace experience.


Visit the dean's blog for more insights from Dean Fernando Miralles-Wilhelm.