We’re not just colleagues. We treat each other like family.” This is how Dr. Jean Saludadez, UP Open University (UPOU) Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration, describes how UPOU employees relate to each other.
The community of roughly 200, based in the UPOU Los Baños headquarters and scattered across several learning centers in the Philippines, makes time to cultivate interpersonal relationships, which the UPOU administration actively supports.
“Our leadership has always had the heart for all who work here, whether faculty or staff, permanent or contractual,” says Human Resources Development Office chief Michael Lagaya, who has been with UPOU since 1998.
It’s not uncommon for institutions to commemorate foundation day anniversaries. Celebrating growth and progress, they’re milestones for many organizations.
In UPOU, Foundation Day has two components—the formal anniversary program with “outsiders,” and the informal gathering of “insiders.” Institutional milestones are celebrated in the former, while the people behind the institution take center stage in the latter. It’s in that informal setting, an exclusive “for UPOU people” event, where its best workers are recognized.
The UPOU Service Awards, which began in 2000, recognize length of service in multiples of five years. UPOU was five years old at that time. Over the years, the Service Awards program has included honoring employees for other achievements.
The Gawad Chancellor rewards exemplary service by faculty, administrative staff, and research, extension, and professional staff (REPS). Research grants, professorial chairs, and other incentives are given those who have published scholarly works.
These are of course not unique to UPOU. What makes them different, especially in the area of scholarship, is that administrative staff members are included.
“We give both the academic and non-academic sectors the opportunity to undertake research. We don’t believe that scholarship can only come from faculty or research staff,” says Saludadez. In fact, some administrative staff members have traveled abroad to present their papers in conferences.
By 2015, when UPOU marked its second decade of existence, the Service Awards had evolved into “Family Day.” Lagaya and Saludadez recall that the idea came up in one of their meetings for the celebration.
“It’s not just a label or a title. It’s the result of our reflection on UPOU’s 20 years. Our anniversary really is a celebration of our UPOU family—our teamwork, the work challenges we overcome together, the personal struggles we help each other through,” says Saludadez.
Just like family gatherings, the UPOU Family Day celebrates the accomplishments of its family members such as receiving awards, winning competitions, and earning degrees. This year, the event had a surprise award called “UPOU Face of the Year.” It was given to employees who best promoted institutional visibility and showcased UPOU’s “face” to the world, through social media and other online platforms, and even through UPOU souvenir items.
Family Day is like a well-attended reunion, says Saludadez.
“Our staff members from the learning centers all over the country fly out to attend Family Day. It’s that important to them.”
How important is Family Day to the administration?
“It’s a must. Even if we are swamped with organizing other anniversary activities like conferences, exhibits, and competitions, we don’t skip Family Day,” Lagaya says.
Beyond the anniversary
In UPOU, the employees aren’t just family members for a day. Because of the size of its workforce, each is aware and often involved in another’s work. Like any family, there are shared responsibilities in which all are equally recognized for doing their part. Saludadez puts it this way: “If you’re part of the work, you’re part of the reward.”
Cooperation is encouraged in UPOU because it cultivates understanding of, and appreciation for, each other’s work.
“This is our way of making each and everyone realize that we all contribute to the University, that our work interconnects and unites us. When you strengthen connections that are work-related, personal relationships are enhanced as well,” she adds.
Lagaya relates that these bonds are manifest in the leisure activities their colleagues participate in, from shared interests like dancing and singing to hobbies like bicycling and sports.
“Especially during times of personal difficulty, you realize how much UPOU employees care about each other. They will help without being asked. They will organize activities that will benefit their co-workers who are in need.”
The UPOU headquarters is also being developed as a home away from home for its employees. Everyone is looking forward to the completion of the Academic Residences, where there are spaces for both the long-term use and short visits by faculty, staff, and students from across the country and abroad.
“Even those in our headquarters are allotted rooms where they can rest because of overtime work when we have big events like conferences and the graduation,” Saludadez says.
UPOU actively takes care of its own, supplementing monetary benefits with psychic income. It does what it can with the resources available to harness the capabilities of its employees and provide them with opportunities for growth.
“Whatever form of support the University can give, we give to UPOU employees. As long as we can, we help. We try our best to make our people happy,” Saludadez concludes.