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Staff Awards: Is It Better To Give Than To Receive?

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    “I cried like a baby!”

    Not everyone has the reaction Rhonda Weidener in Military Science had when she received a Tradition of Excellence Award this year. Still, by all accounts, nominating, evaluating, and receiving staff awards are worthwhile and rewarding experiences. Spotlight recently asked a number of employees who have played a part in the awards process to share their thoughts.

A Staff-Centered Process

    Elaine Kudella of the Investment Office recalls the earliest days of the Tradition of Excellence program. She was a member of the committee that developed and distributed the very first awards. “It was exciting and a lot of work,” she noted, “but rewarding. One of the staff members on the committee came up with the name, and we worked with a company to design the box and medallion.”

    Staff drove the process from the start, Elaine said, “We developed a series of emails to promote the program and to keep nominators informed during the process. If someone presented a nomination, we wanted to be sure they would be acknowledged.”

    When the first nominations rolled in, Elaine remembers that she was particularly grateful for one committee member. “We had the good fortune to have Debra Nyby [in International Affairs] on the committee,” she said. “She drafted up guidelines so that we would be consistent in looking at all the nominations. I think that helped us tremendously to be fair and look at them in the same way.”

    “Of course, I’m biased since I was one of the first members of the TEAs staff committee, but I believe the committee works quite well.” Debra told us (via email from Jakarta, Indonesia). “It ensures that when nominations are being reviewed they have a campus-wide perspective and context. The committee is truly representative of our community at large.”

    Debra isn’t a committee member anymore, but she took a lot away from the experience, “I always knew that the profile of Lehigh staff members is a dedication to excellence, but to have the honor of reading about people who went the extra mile for no other reason than to make Lehigh a better place was absolutely the best part of being a member.”

It Makes You Want to Give Back Even More

    Rhonda Weidener loves her job. As liaison between the 14 ROTC programs at local colleges and universities, she especially enjoys working with students. “I love Lehigh, I’ve been here almost 14 years. I love coming here. This is my happy place.”

    This year, Rhonda received a Tradition of Excellence Award in recognition of her work. She displays it proudly in her office, “It says it’s for outstanding customer service and program coordination,” she noted, “not only for my work internally, but for working professionally with the 13 other colleges in the Valley.” She recalls with a laugh that her supervisor, Lieutenant Colonel Erik Walker, used slightly more colorful language to explain why she received the award when he presented it to her.

    Reflecting on what it means to receive an award from your colleagues, Rhonda said, “You don’t think you deserve things, but then you get this.” She was especially impressed that Colonel Walker arranged for her co-workers, and friends from other offices in the Dean of Students to be on hand for the presentation of the award. “Even [Associate Vice President for Human Resources] Jackie Matthews was there when I got my award.”

“For busy people like Jackie to come here and see me get an award, it meant a lot to me.” Rhonda said, “It made me feel like I had value and worth. It makes you want to give back even more. I tell my kids you get back what you give.”

Seeing It From Both Sides

    As someone who has both nominated others and received a TEA himself, Tim Wilkinson in Residence Life, Student Affairs has a hard time deciding which he prefers. “It feels amazing to win one, but it also feels amazing to know that one of the nominations you submitted was accepted,” he said.

    Tim says that while many staff members are doing innovative work in their respective fields, a lot of the rest of campus is unaware. “Putting the awards in Spotlight and sharing them at staff meetings is a way to let others know about the exciting work going on here.”

    As a semester draws to a close, staff members who are working closely with students in particular can sometimes be running on fumes. “You’re in the middle of the year and you’re tired and feeling low,” Tim says, “I’ve seen cases where these awards made the difference in someone’s semester.” He continued, “I don’t know if people realize how impactful that is. More supervisors and colleagues should nominate their staff.”

It’s Built Into Our Culture

    Tom Dubreuil, in Student Life, DOS, agrees with Tim that more supervisors and others should nominate staff. He thinks it’s especially important with early career professionals. “I have a lot of younger, new professionals, who don’t always feel that they are seen by the ‘higher ups’ – they get recognized on a bigger scale,” he said, “The breakfast is a nice thing, too.”

    At this point, Tom says, employee recognition and rewards have become a part of the culture in the Dean of Students office. “We’ve beat it into everyone’s head, this is a good thing to do. We usually present the awards at Dean of Students staff meetings, and then we make them wear the medals all day,” Tom said, “It’s motivating for others as well.”

     Employees appreciate, but don’t expect, such recognition. Of his staff, Tom says, “Most times our folks – this is their job and they’re doing what they are supposed to do. They are caught off guard because they aren’t doing it for the awards.”

    Whether on the giving or the receiving end, staff awards can play a positive role in encouraging and rewarding high performance. Elaine Kudella summed it up best, “It’s like, who doesn’t like to be told they’re doing a good job? So to be part of that, to let people know that they are appreciated, it’s a good feeling.” 

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