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Support staff details pros, cons of MIT

A recent survey of support staff at MIT reveals that most of those interviewed believe that MIT is a good place to work, although there are a number of ways in which they feel the work environment could be improved.

In general, support staff value their colleagues at MIT, the benefits they receive, and their access to educational, cultural and technical resources. On the other hand, there was less satisfaction with the quality and timeliness of internal communications and the perceived lack of career advancement opportunities.

The survey was initiated by Joan Rice, vice president for human resources, who had been told by several support staff members that they felt their perspective was not being taken into account during the reengineering process.

"The members of the support staff really are the glue that holds the Institute together. It would have been a mistake for the Institute to have completed the change process without the input of members of the support staff. I appreciate the input of all of the participants," she said.

Consequently, Stephanie Neal-Johnson, assistant to Ms. Rice and one of President Charles M. Vest's appointed resource persons to the Working Group on Support Staff Issues, last summer interviewed members of the support staff and analyzed the results. There had not been a survey to "get the pulse" of support staff since a 1974 report commissioned by the Personnel Office, and that project focused more narrowly on the School of Engineering and performance evaluations, Ms. Neal-Johnson noted.


Ms. Neal-Johnson will present the survey's results at the next regular meeting of the Working Group on Wednesday, Feb. 12 from noon-1:30pm in the Bush Room (10-105). The meeting is open to all members of the MIT community. The Working Group was established in 1975 to discuss issues affecting support staff and their work environment. Subgroups study these concerns and make recommendations to Ms. Rice.

"This survey highlights a number of important issues that we must address as we continue to change on so many fronts," said President Vest. "It is inevitable that we experience some stress as our environment changes; still, we must not lose sight of the fact that it is the human and professional qualities of all of our colleagues that make MIT a great place to work. MIT is its people, and our support staff are dedicated members of our community who are integral to our success. We must all make the extra effort to maintain a strong sense of collegiality as we move toward the future."


About half of the 106 survey respondents said reengineering has had no direct impact on them, although some said reengineering had disrupted services--such as office supplies purchasing, printing, mailing and cleaning--on which they rely to do their jobs.

Though many commented on the difficulties of adjusting to reengineering and other changes, they agreed on the importance of streamlining and improving coordination of services on campus. As changes are made, however, they urged that support staff be included in the process, and that supervisors be more patient as systems and services shift and workloads increase during the transition period.

Asked what was most satisfying to them about working at MIT, 81 percent said it was the people with whom they work--supervisors, colleagues, faculty and students. Another 63 percent cited the Tuition Assistance Plan. "For many, it has meant the completion of a degree that they may not have been able to afford," Ms. Neal-Johnson said in a report summary.

Benefits in general, particularly the services of the MIT Medical Department, were named as a "satisfier" by slightly more than half the survey participants. Many pointed to the quality of care provided and the convenience of the Department's location, which minimizes lost work time. Overall, a majority said they find the MIT environment to be positive and comfortable. Predictability, flexible hours, informal atmosphere and supportive people were the most frequently cited reasons.

When asked to name dissatisfying aspects of working at MIT, a large majority--94 percent of respondents--cited the absence of a career path and guidelines for career advancement, as well as an insufficient correlation between training/education and advancement.

Communication problems, especially regarding the timing of official Institute notifications, were mentioned by 81 percent. "Many believe that by the time Institute communications arrive, people already know about changes," Ms. Neal-Johnson reported. Timing sometimes leads to distrust and makes staffers "believe that one part of the Institute does not know what the other part is doing." However, most respondents commented that the survey itself was an indication that MIT is trying to keep the lines of communication open.

Participants were split as to how well equipped they believed themselves to be technically. Just under one-third of respondents said they had adequate resources and support, while another 25 percent said they would like to have "better software and access to hardware."


Professor James D. Bruce, vice president for information systems, said that Information Systems, working in conjunction with departments, laboratories and centers, is assessing the Institute's desktop hardware and software needs. The initial focus of this audit, he said, is on assuring that the equipment needed for MIT's new financial system is in place. All machines will be connected to the campus computer network, and the cost will be shared between the departments, laboratories and centers, and Institute central resources. A similar audit will be done for Student Services.

"I am really heartened by the results of the survey. It confirms my basic belief that MIT is an excellent place to work at all levels," said Dean of Science Robert Birgeneau. "Clearly, however, we need to improve our processes for career mobility and advancement and we must strive to make communications as open and as frank as possible."

The average age of the survey participants was 42, with eight years of MIT employment. Thirty-two percent have bachelors' degrees and another 23 percent have advanced degrees. Fifty-nine percent work in one of the Schools and 41 percent are from central administration.

Comments on the report or support staff issues in general may be sent via e-mail to Ms. Neal-Johnson at <>. For more information, see the Web site at <>.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on February 5, 1997.

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