Whether it’s caring for a child or an ailing parent, participating in community activities, or pursuing a hobby, faculty members have and deserve lives beyond work. Formal policies, which vary across disciplines, are important, and academic leaders should actively promote such policies and programs because they can significantly affect faculty morale and retention. In addition, academic leaders at all levels can implement measures at the local level to promote work-life satisfaction and effectiveness.
In an interview with Academic Leader, Laura Koppes Bryan and Cheryl A. Wilson, authors of Shaping Work-Life Culture in Higher Education: A Guide for Academic Leaders (Routledge, 2014), offered recommendations on how to promote work-life satisfaction for everyone’s benefit.
The work-life movement began as women entered the faculty ranks and had child care responsibilities. The definition of “life” has expanded over time, and Bryan and Wilson advocate a broad interpretation to include things such as elder care, professional development, career assistance for a spouse or partner, self-care, retirement planning, religious and social activities, and hobbies.
Bryan, who is dean of the Yale Gordon College of Arts and Science and professor of work and organizational psychology at the University of Baltimore, sees her role as advocating for institutional policies and programs that support work-life satisfaction as well as doing what she can to support individuals within her college.
As a first step, Wilson recommends becoming familiar with the policies and programs that the institution has in place to support-work life satisfaction. “Be informed so you know whom to ask about those options. There’s so much available, but there is a lot of misinformation flying around, and oftentimes faculty don’t know about it. I think being able to point them in the right direction or get them connected with people in human resources or academic affairs is really important at the local level,” says Wilson, associate professor and chair of the Klein Family School of Communications Design at the University of Baltimore.
Bryan and Wilson offer the following ways to support work-life balance:
Another way to demonstrate your commitment to work-life issues is to form a work-life committee. This also can help you understand the faculty’s work-life needs to enable you to develop policies and programs to address them, Bryan says.
For example, one way to support faculty members who need to drop off and/or pick up their children at day care or school is to avoid scheduling meetings in the early morning or late afternoon.
When faculty members have life-changing events, Bryan strives to create some flexibility in their schedules. “We’ll actually modify their duties. They’re still on contract and working full time, but we will modify what they do as a way to have more flexibility in how they spend their time at the university,” Bryan says.
For Bryan, the main motivation for implementing policies and programs to support work-life satisfaction is to help faculty and staff succeed. But there are other benefits as well.
“Ultimately, it’s about recruiting and retaining the best faculty and staff. If you really care about individuals succeeding, then you have to recognize that there is life outside work. What can we do as an institution and leaders to help them succeed?” Bryan says.
In addition to being good for the individual faculty members, being supportive of faculty with work-life issues can save money and minimize legal risk. An American Council on Education study (www.acenet.edu/news-room/Pages/Making-the-Business-Case-for-Workplace-Flexibility.aspx) demonstrated that it’s less expensive to offer some work-life policies than it is to replace a faculty member.