People First

by julia.hanigsberg | April 1st, 2013

Over the last few weeks, I had the honour of delivering remarks at the annual conferences of two large and dynamic Ryerson staff groups: OPSEU Local 596 and the MAC group. In both cases, I talked about the core elements, accomplishments and future plans for our university’s People First Initiative.

In this blog post, I want to share some of what I said.

Valued, Respected, Enabled

Here’s my vision for a People First Ryerson:

A community in which every single person – students, faculty and staff – feels valued and respected, and in which there are no barriers whatsoever to accessing the university’s wide array of resources and opportunities.

People First entails developing systems, programs and an overall culture that leads to high levels of engagement and job satisfaction. Basically, working hard to ensure Ryerson is where talented, motivated people want to spend their entire careers, as staff or faculty. Here are some examples:


  • Since it was unveiled in early 2012, one in every five Ryerson employees has accessed the confidential Employee Assistance Plan.
  • Everyone at Ryerson works hard, and the new vacation reduction strategy is aimed at helping employees plan to take breaks that allow them to refresh, relax and re-invigorate.
  • Coming soon, look for launch Human Resources’ Integrated Wellbeing and Accommodation Services unit.
  • We are reinventing the food we serve at Ryerson thinking about diverse and more locally sourced and sustainably produced options. Stay tuned for changes by this fall.

Equitable, Diverse, Inclusive, Accessible

  • In September 2012, Denise O’Neil Green joined Ryerson as our first Assistant Vice-President/Vice Provost, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. Denise has started monthly Soup and Substance moderated panel discussions that have been standing room only events.
  • Ryerson is committed to providing an accessible learning and working environment. Heather Willis is Ryerson’s Accessibility Coordinator and along with Melanie Panitch, professor in the School of Disability Studies she co-chairs our Accessibility Advisory Committee. Like all universities in the province, Ryerson must comply with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. But it’s critical that we go beyond mere compliance with legislation to foster a truly inclusive community. This vision is shared by the growing number of people who are are rolling up their sleeves and participating in Ryerson’s various accessibility initiatives through membership on committees, working groups and other bodies.

Recognized & Valued

A recent study by the American Psychological Association found that employees who feel valued are more likely to report better physical and mental health, as well as higher levels of engagement, satisfaction, and motivation, compared to those who do not feel valued by their employers. Recognition is crucial to building morale and encouraging outstanding work. Such recognition takes different forms:

  • Great opportunity to formally recognize all of our award winners: our second-annual Ryerson Awards Night
    • Human Resources’ Total Compensation team is working on a recognition toolkit for managers. It will be introduced by the end of 2013 (until then, HR is available as a resource to call on to explore options).
    • Day-to-day interactions with colleagues. At a retreat I held with my team last year, we talked about how to make People First part of every day. One of the observations that day was that a handwritten note or a personal email that said thanks was more meaningful than almost any other form of recognition.

Listened To

  • In 2012, we conducted the first university-wide People First Survey to collect info that would help improve the Ryerson work environment. The results reveal a lot to be proud of – in particular, 80% of respondents said they “agree” or “strongly agree” that they are satisfied with their jobs and would recommend Ryerson as a good place to work.
  • There are also, though, a number of issues that need further effort. Staff were clear, for instance, about the desire for better change-management practices; improved communications around change and, in general, what’s going on at the university; more opportunities for career development; and additional support for working more effectively. Right now teams are working on these priorities that the Ryerson community identified as important.

We are taking these concerns to heart as we further refine and develop the People First Initiatives. That’s because Ryerson is nothing without – and everything with – the great people who work, teach, research and learn here.

Comments are closed.