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Dome - An engaging initiative

September 2010

An engaging initiative

Date: September 3, 2010

Marketing and Communications staff members learn about their craft and each other.

Aaron Watkins, Janet Anderson and Dalal Haldeman (l to r) help provide Marketing and Communication staff with opportunities to explore cultural differences.
Aaron Watkins, Janet Anderson and Dalal Haldeman (l to r) help provide Marketing and Communication staff with opportunities to explore cultural differences.

In a cavernous room, small groups of visitors scanned newspaper headlines that screamed out events in our country’s history, such as the assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. or the attack on Pearl Harbor that launched America’s involvement in World War II.

At first glance, it might seem a stretch to equate this setting at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., with employee engagement and diversity. But when the Marketing and Communications employee engagement and diversity committee set out to maximize participation in these initiatives, an excursion to the national news museum became a top priority.

As an alternative to the department’s regular monthly meeting, Dalal Haldeman, the department’s vice president, anticipated that a visit to the Newseum would deepen the staff’s understanding of the media’s powerful impact on society, from the coverage of epic events to the digital revolution.

“This was a way to educate everybody and heighten their own awareness of the vital role played by communication and their contributions to the profession,” Haldeman says. It also was a way to expose the team to the diversity in the world through the various topics covered by news organizations.

At the same time, exhibits chronicling monumental chapters in the nation’s history, such as the Civil Rights Movement and the 9/11 attacks, spoke to staff members’ own experience and inspired personal reflections and commentary. In responding to the Newseum’s thought-provoking surroundings, the group had many chances to relate to and learn from one another.

An enriching and collaborative workplace

For one of the daytrip’s key coordinators, that was precisely the point. Work day to work day, there is little time to socialize across office pods and divisions, says Janet Anderson, internal communications specialist in Editorial Services. “Usually everyone is so intent on their jobs. This was a way to bring everyone together to learn outside the office,” she says, “which fosters a more enriching and collaborative work environment.”

As a co-chair of the Employee Diversity and Engagement committee for Marketing and Communications, Anderson and the committee members have planned a variety of activities, including team-building exercises and lectures about cultural awareness in the workplace. All are designed to promote the committee’s goals for fostering a collegial, diverse work environment while fulfilling the mission of Johns Hopkins Medicine. “I wanted participants to have fun and to look for opportunities to teach one another about their work and experiences unique to their own cultures and backgrounds,” says Haldeman, who convened the committee in January.

Working with committee members, Anderson and co-chair Aaron Watkins, the department’s director of Internet Strategy and Web Services, looked to benchmark efforts against what other departments, such as Radiology and IT, had done. With this information, the committee came up with guidelines to follow as they went forward. Haldeman praised the committee for its initiative in running with ideas.

Low-key approach

After deciding that the best way to spark enthusiasm was to make events voluntary and easily accessible, the committee takes a deliberately low-key approach to its mission of celebrating the department’s diverse workforce. Educational and social events such as the annual potluck lunch that celebrate cultural differences can go a long way toward mutual understanding, Anderson says. “They’re conversation starters that break down perceptions and make people more open to education and training regarding diversity,” she says. In addition, the number of diverse staff members in the department has increased over the past two years.

The committee’s work is part of a winning formula for nurturing an engaged and high-achieving staff, Haldeman says. Employee engagement scores rose this year from an average of 3.95 to a high of 4.20.

The survey item that measures whether a supervisor or someone at work cares about an employee is an important indicator of employee engagement for the department, which saw its average score for that question rise from 4.15 to 4.5. Staff members also responded favorably to the question of whether they knew what is expected of them, another important element of employee engagement.

—Stephanie Shapiro