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Building connections with UCOP employee events

One of the best parts about working at UCOP is our friendly, collegial workplace community. Key to nurturing this supportive environment are the numerous social events our colleagues plan throughout the year. Employee events help us get to know one another and build a strong culture of collaboration, while also promoting UC’s principles of community.

You don’t need to be a people manager or have a big budget in order to create meaningful experiences. Link talked to employees who are known for planning great events to learn what inspires them and how they’re making UC a great place to work for themselves and their colleagues.

Socializing for the social good: annual bake sale

Hosted the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, UC employees have organized an annual bake sale for over 30 years. Robert Harvey, legal operations at UCOP and treasurer for the bake sale, says that although it can sometimes be stressful coordinating the event so close to the holidays, it is a great way to give back to the local community.

“The bake sale and silent auction is an event that allows for people who typically do not have the opportunity to work together to spend time interacting in more of a social atmosphere,” Harvey says.

Money raised through the bake sale, including the white elephant sale and silent auction that accompany it, benefit Oakland-centric charities.

“We form a committee that (among other tasks) solicits from all Office of the General Counsel (OGC) staff nominations for charities with the idea of learning about new, local charities,” Harvey says.

Last year’s proceeds — more than $2,300 — supported the Oakland Elizabeth House, a residential transitional program for women and children who have experienced homelessness, violence, addiction or poverty.

Big community: Tiny Hats for Tiny Babies

The OGC Knitting and Crocheting Group started as a small gathering among Sandi Hollenbaugh, legal support specialist for OGC, Julie Miller, business analyst for IT Client Services, and Christina Shallow, financial services analyst for OGC. They made headlines on Link for the 950 hats they knitted and crocheted for the 2018 Tiny Hats for Tiny Babies Project.

Shallow explains that the group’s success was a community effort of staff who brought “great organizational skills, creativity and generosity.”

“Having participation from so many departments and campuses toward a common purpose was so exciting, energizing and quite frankly motivating. It inspired us to push our goal higher than we thought possible,” she says.

She believes that it’s valuable for professional communities like UC to nourish a welcoming and supportive environment.

Miller agrees. “UC is fertile ground for a project like this,” she says. “With one of UC’s principal tenets being service, this was a natural fit. Giving back to the community is just who we are; what we do.”

The value in these types of team-building activities, Hollenbaugh adds, stems from the powerful bonds that they create. Tiny Hats for Tiny Babies created a strong community that has expanded participants’ networks.

“The Tiny Hat Project created a common thread among the group that carried through to our working relationships. It built connections that helped break down silos,” Hollenbaugh explains. “Now when we need to talk to someone in Accounting or the Business Resource Center, they are no longer a stranger or just a voice over the phone.”

Three cheers for UC: Social Chorus

External Relations and Communications (ERC) spans almost three floors at UCOP. Though coordinating such an expansive department can be difficult, Social Chorus works to make the division feel closely knit. Throughout the year, a committee consisting of Yem Ling Fong, director of business operations, Kristine Luken, executive assistant to the senior vice president, Heather Kopeck, director of development policy and advancement relations, and Pauline Metzgar, acting director of constituent engagement, work to provide a variety of social activities for the division’s employees.

“I think it’s been working fabulously!” Fong says.

Social Chorus has arranged board game gatherings, monthly book exchanges, a Halloween movie-watching event and Friday afternoon snack breaks — such as tea or cheese and crackers — among other activities. Though these events primarily serve ERC staff, Kopeck is quick to point out that they welcome employees from other divisions. Creating this communal feeling makes the UCOP work environment more friendly and welcoming.

“I’ve been working here for almost seven years,” Metzgar says, “and it wasn’t until we started Social Chorus that I felt like I was a part of something bigger.”

How to get started

Beginning in May 2017, new funding policies set restrictions on how UCOP funds could be used to support “employee morale-building events.” But possibilities for fun events that strengthen relationships still abound. 

In fact, for individuals, departments or divisions who are interested in launching a social or charitable program, Kopeck’s advice is to start small. She explains that when Social Chorus first started, organizers tried to arrange a tailgate at an Oakland Athletics game. It was a lot of work, and not nearly as successful as their easier-to-plan local events.

“Gather some friends and brainstorm. Start simple,” she says. “We just want to create a fun space. I hate forced fun.”

The value in creating opportunities for building community, Luken says, is that it’s a great way to build relationships with coworkers.

Kopeck echoes that sentiment: “Learning about people’s outside lives is so much more interesting than only understanding what they do at work. The people who work here at UC are really interesting people!”

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