August has come and gone with an incredible amount of hard work from my staff for which I am extremely grateful. This has inspired me to think of some of the lessons that I have learned (the hard way!) over the past 20+ years of being a part of and managing the move-in process for new and returning students. While this isn’t an exhaustive list, I feel the following are eight of the most important Mistakes to Avoid During the Housing & Residence Life Move-In Process:
- DON’T FEED YOUR STAFF – Move-in is a very busy and stressful time. Unfortunately, we can forget about doing the simple things we need to do like eating (remember Maslow?) If you are going to require your staff to be there all day for move-in, you need to feed them. Or at the very least give them ample time to go and take care of themselves. Rotate shifts with your staff if need be. Keep in mind that orientation-type meals may have long lines and may not be the best option for staff who need to be in and out quickly. For move-in days here in which I need my entire staff working, I will either have food delivered or shop for groceries (i.e., sandwich fixings, fried chicken, salad ingredients, etc.) so that they can make they own plate and spend some time relaxing with one another. Remember to consider those with food allergies and / or other nutritional considerations (i.e., vegetarian, religious, diet / wellness, etc.) because pizza, wings, burgers, and hot dogs are easy and convenient, but not always universally appreciated.
- ARGUING WITH PARENTS – While you may be right with your argument and holding your ground, this is one fight that you are not going to win in the end. Parents are very quick to email and / or call the VP and / or the president of the institution, and students are eager to complain on social media. In many cases, some people just cannot be appeased so you’re better off having handled a situation in a respectful and “win-win” manner rather than adding fuel to the fire. I also recommend reading Eight Strategies for Communicating with Challenging Parents I wrote for The Student Affairs Collective.
- HAVING STUDENT STAFF MANAGE IRATE PARENTS – Handling irate parents is never fun nor is it something we look forward to. However, doing so should always be managed by a full-time professional staffer and not a student resident assistant. That’s why we’re paid professionals. Professional staffers also have more leeway when it comes to making decisions and coming up which options (or holding the line) that student staffers cannot. Furthermore, this can be an emotionally traumatic experience for a student employee, which will inevitably set a negative tone with them for the rest of the year.
- NOT PREPARING FOR CONTINGENCIES – Not to sound like a post-apocalyptic “prepper,” but problems will happen so you need to prepare for the worst. Know your placements, know your vacancies, and know how to make switches if needed. Not only can unexpected maintenance issues arise, but simple occupancy mistakes can also necessitate moving students (i.e., mixing genders in a single gender room / floor by accident). Do you have cleaning staff on site? What do you do if a key does not work? Is there a plan if the fire alarm goes off? Granted, you can’t think of every little scenario that could happen, but remember problems that have occurred in the past, and create a plan to handles those types of situations. Your staff will also appreciate this rather than having to scramble to find answers.
- NOT DRESSING COMFORTABLY – August is always hot no matter where you are in the country. A dress code is important, but you need to consider what is appropriate during a warm move-in. We are usually equipped with a new department t-shirt or polo, which is usually comfortable enough. But if these aren’t provided, consider relaxing the dress code to accommodate your staffers who will inevitably be moving carts, running errands, and walking the floors to meet and greet parents and students.
- MAKING PROMISES YOU CANNOT KEEP – We all want to be helpful and provide a memorable move-in experience for our students and their families. However, as I always tell my staff, if you don’t know something, ask! Don’t make it up just to get rid of someone or make yourself look like a hero! Never promise something that you cannot deliver on. Not only does this make the team look bad, but also the institution as a whole. Plus it can start a rocky relationship from day one, which will inevitably resurface again and again throughout the year. As an example, if there is a cleaning complaint and you say someone will be there within the hour to touch it up, someone BETTER be there within the hour. Likewise, if you state that a new mattress can be supplied within the week, you BETTER have a new mattress there within seven days. Not only does this apply to facilities issues, but even relationship building and student development practices (e.g., “I can help you find clubs to get involved with!”; “Come to dinner with us tonight…I’ll be by at 5pm to get you!”)
- LOSING YOUR COOL – August can be the most stressful time of the year for most of us. Case in point, when August 1st rolls around I always tell my wife, “I’ll see you in September!” (Residence Life spouses are saints by the way!) Managing training, resources, facilities, and the anticipation of increasing nasty parental involvement and student complaints is enough to create more than a few sleepless nights for Residence Life professionals. However, you need to be able to successfully manage that stress and not lose your cool during the move-in process. As the leader, you must be the role model as the cool and collected professional in charge. Granted, this is not easy; I myself have become angry in years past and wish I could have a few “re-do’s” with a few situations. But as a result I have become more self-aware after having more practice under stressful circumstances. Losing your cool in front of fellow colleagues, staff, students, and / or parents is certainly embarrassing, and can even cost you your job. Sometimes you simply need a few minutes to yourself to breathe and clear your head. It’s alright to ask for help and delegate authority to another colleague so you can take a break for a few moments. I often hear Student Affairs professionals talk about self-care, but rarely practice it. ResLifers particularly wear a “badge of courage” when it comes to managing work and trading war stories. Unfortunately, this doesn’t bode well for business as we can constantly be on edge and are more prone to lose our cool.
- NOT THANKING YOUR STAFF – I have heard various managers use the phrase, “Hard work in itself should be thanks enough!” which I think is simply arrogant. People appreciate being acknowledged for working hard. I strongly believe that I am nothing without the dedication and support of my employees. As a servant leader, I do my best to thank my staff not only at the end of the move-in process, but every morning and throughout the day as well. I try to see various “above-and-beyond” moments that staffers provide and point them out to them expressing my gratitude. And to be honest, making them feel good also makes me feel good! That’s something we all can benefit from holistically.
What are some other mistakes to avoid during the move-in process? Please share below in the comment section or tweet me at @studentlifeguru.