Ask the Expert text

Keeping A Good Employee

An illustration of Lisa Keegan
Illustration: Joel Kimmel
" "The Great Resignation is here. Workers are retiring, leaving to pursue other opportunities or just quitting at levels not seen in decades. In the already high-turnover field of college admissions, Bucknell bucked this trend, holding on to all 15 of its front-line admissions counselors since the pandemic began. And it’s done so while also debuting innovative initiatives to enhance student recruitment and breaking records for applications and enrollment. Lisa Keegan, vice president for enrollment management, shares her tips for keeping talent in a competitive market.
Give your people purpose
When the pandemic hit, we worked to make Bucknell more accessible to potential students. By spring 2021, we started shipping Oculus headsets to admitted students so that they could visit campus through our newly developed virtual reality experience. As we made progress and worked through pandemic challenges, I acknowledged those efforts with tangible morale-boosters. Making connections and emphasizing that our work matters was key.
Be flexible
As in-person tours resumed, staff members came to me with an idea: Because some counselors preferred to start late, was there a way to do campus tours late in the afternoon? Though our office had traditionally closed at 5 p.m., we began offering guided evening tours. These 5 o’clock slots filled quickly, and struck the balance between the team’s preferences and the desires of prospective students and their families.
Show empathy and be vulnerable
Bucknell announced my appointment in 2020 the same week students and faculty were told they would finish the spring semester remotely. I thought very carefully about how to connect with my new team, recognizing the unbelievable uncertainty they were facing. It was critical to let them know, “I am in this with you. I am feeling the levels of stress and anxiety that you are.”
Play the long game
I asked counselors to think about how new approaches and programs could be fun, useful and relevant for five or 10 years. That approach helped people realize that they weren’t just responding to a crisis — they had the opportunity to move the needle.
Roll with the punches
During this time, good leaders are still bound to lose good people. We have to think about the recruitment and retention of our teams in new ways. Higher education is not typically known for being particularly nimble. Now, we have to be.