Find Events Find People Find Jobs Find Sites Find Help Index


June 11, 2001

Focus groups point out Emory's bright spots

By Eric Rangus


The word is out: Emory is an excellent place to work.

That’s 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 polled—73 percent—rated their level of job satisfaction as “good” or “very good.” An even higher percentage—82 percent—rated 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. 21–23. 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 Emory’s generous and easy-to-access benefits and a climate that embraces diversity among the Univers-ity’s strengths.

“The results are very positive, and it’s exciting to get some real information from our customers to help us to prioritize what we need to work on,” said Theresa Mee, Emory’s director of compensation. She served as HR’s 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 15–20 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 University’s atmosphere was “conducive to productivity.” Dozens of other comments echoed those sentiments of Emory being a satisfying and stimulating place to work.

But that didn’t 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 others—many 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. “That’s 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 for improvement?

“What we’re 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.

Back to Emory Report June 11, 2001