June 11, 2001
Focus groups point out Emory's bright spots
By Eric Rangus firstname.lastname@example.org
The word is out: Emory is an excellent place to work.
Thats the consensus drawn from a series of focus groups sponsored
by Human Resources and led by an outside consultant earlier this year.
Statistics show that Emory employees are quite happy. A large majority
of those polled73 percentrated their level of job satisfaction
as good or very good. An even higher percentage82
percentrated their overall satisfaction with Emory as an employer
as good or very good.
Remaining responsive to the diverse Emory community is an ongoing
challenge, said Alice Miller, vice president of Human Resources.
Emory is committed to being an employer of choice. Things may not
be perfect, but if we focus our efforts in a positive way, everyone benefits.
The series of five, two-hour focus groups took place Feb. 2123.
A total of 84 staff members of varied experience drawn from a random sample
of 700 employees across the University volunteered to participate. Senior
executives and faculty members were not considered.
Among the positives, employees listed Emorys generous and easy-to-access
benefits and a climate that embraces diversity among the Univers-itys
The results are very positive, and its exciting to get some
real information from our customers to help us to prioritize what we need
to work on, said Theresa Mee, Emorys director of compensation.
She served as HRs liaison with researcher Alan Kirk, director of
the department of social work at Southeastern Louisiana University, who
facilitated the study and compiled the results.
The setup of the focus groups was simple. The five sessions consisted
of about 1520 employees each. Participants filled out a brief questionnaires
gauging their satisfaction with their jobs and Emory as an employer, and
from there the discussion ensued and attendees could speak freely.
Topics included overall work environment, human relations, teamwork,
interpersonal conflict management, and leadership and supervision. A portion
also dealt with Human Resour-ces specifically, touching on subjects such
as training and professional development, retirement planning, employee
recognition, and communication.
According to Mee, one of the main reasons Emory sought an outside source
to run the focus groups was not only for an objective viewpoint but to
allow employees to speak freely. While copious notes were taken at each
session, all employee comments were anonymous.
One person called Emory a great place with a caring
environment. Another said the Universitys atmosphere was conducive
to productivity. Dozens of other comments echoed those sentiments
of Emory being a satisfying and stimulating place to work.
But that didnt mean employees lacked ideas to improve their workplaces.
Focus group participants expressed concern with a perceived difficulty
in career advancement, suggesting that managers should hire from within
departments rather than filling positions from outside. Respondents also
said the quality of supervision and leadership, as well as interpersonal
skills and teamwork within departments, widely varies.
Many departments were viewed positively, but some employees mentioned
problems in othersmany stemming from what they said was a lack of
management training or poor people skills on the part of the supervisor.
I think communication and training were underlying themes,
Mee said. Thats true in many organizations.
Comments from the sessions have triggered quite a bit of brainstorming
in HR. For instance, how to gather even more comments and suggestions
What were trying to do now is broaden our methods of getting
feedback from employees, Mee said. Future focus groups are being
discussed, along with a popup feedback window on the HR website.
HR also plans to address other issues brought up during the focus groups,
including a review of service awards, improved response time for HR queries,
and a focus on increasing management interaction with frontline staff.