The recent pandemic has made a significant impact on the way people think about their jobs. It has brought about changes to people’s work styles, preferences and priorities. Those working as managers and recruiters in the Higher Education (HE) sector would probably agree that recruiting and retaining talented employees has become more and more challenging in recent years.
You may have heard the expression ‘The Great Resignation’ before. It describes a trend of people choosing to resign from their jobs as a result of the pandemic. According to the CIPD, ‘Creating quality work with lots of flexibility will help employers attract, and crucially retain employees.’ In the following article, I have highlighted some guidance on how HE managers and recruiters can provide flexibility and support to employees, and embrace the great resignation.
The 2022 Work Trend Index surveyed 31,000 individuals in 31 countries. Their findings confirm that employees are prioritising their jobs differently. Based on their research, more than 50% of employees give more priority to their physical and emotional well-being after the pandemic. Additionally, 47% of staff members consider family and personal life more important than work. Across a wide range of UK industries, an increasing number of people are considering leaving their jobs. In such turbulent times, HE employers need to develop strategies to recruit highly skilled candidates and retain their best performers. If universities fail to provide flexible arrangements, it could limit their access to the right talent pool. Many HE organisations need to reconsider how they respond to the preferences and priorities of job applicants.
Flexible working means a number of different approaches:
Part-time hours, compressed hours (full-time hours worked over less than 5 days), job sharing, flexible hours (different start and finish times), hybrid arrangements (home and office based), fully remote working, etc.
It is essential that managers take into consideration the preferences of their employees. However, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Flexible arrangements need to align with the employee’s circumstances and personal commitments (e.g. child and elderly care). Regular one-to-one meetings and performance reviews can give an excellent opportunity to discuss how staff members find their working arrangements and the way these could be better suited to the individual. Switching to flexible working arrangements should be carefully planned in order to ensure that employees can carry out their work to a high standard. A recently published report by the Department of Education highlights:
‘Senior leaders/line managers can be important role models in creating a work culture that accepts and supports flexible working practices. Therefore, training for line managers may be important in the success of implementing flexible working practices…’
HE leaders and managers should be provided training to help them manage virtually and successfully implement flexible working arrangements. HE managers may also provide flexibility on a less formal basis. If an employee is able to work more productively at home and encounter fewer distractions, they could occasionally work from home on an ad-hoc basis. These could be called ‘admin days’ or ‘project days’.
According to a recent article on flexible working, a large number of HE organisations have a policy in place to guide flexible working arrangements. However, there seems to be different levels of access to flexibility among academic and professional staff. It is essential that managers consider the individual’s context, performance, and their responsibilities prior to making flexible arrangements.
#Supportive work environment:
HE staff members would strongly benefit from receiving a wider range of support as highlighted by Education Support. Based on their recent research study, the work-life balance of HE employees remains poor. Their research indicates that 61% of the participants would not approach their manager for support. Respondents expressed concerns about being stigmatised if asking for well-being help. If individuals are provided with the opportunity to work flexibly, managers need to ensure that people’s workload does not increase further (as this can lead to burnout).
The above study shows that HE employees’ mental well-being is considerably lower than population norms. Six respondents in ten indicated that they regularly work more than 40 hours a week and 21% of participants work more than 50 hours a week. Universities should provide more flexibility in terms of employee support. Departmental leaders and managers need to be able to prioritise staff wellbeing, signpost individuals to support services, and deliver regular one-to-one meetings with staff to maintain positive working relationships.
#Making a genuine difference:
You would probably agree that most people strive to make a positive difference to others. Finding meaning and purpose in our work is important, and we tend to struggle when we do not find the reasoning behind completing a task. Frederick Herzberg, a well-known theorist on the topic of motivation, argued that individuals are motivated by intrinsic needs such as achievement, responsibility and meaningfulness of the work.
It is essential that the job we do aligns with our strengths and skills. We need to feel that we have made some accomplishments on a daily basis and that our work matters. Providing employees with learning and development opportunities is important as these could enable them to make a more positive difference and develop their professional skills.
Catch has worked as a senior manager at a well-known university based in London. She has delivered the same role for over 5 years and started to feel less enthusiastic about her tasks at times. Cath had an annual appraisal meeting coming up, and decided to share her feelings with her Head of Department. She wanted to take on more responsibilities, manage global projects, and become involved in developing partnerships with external businesses. She wanted to use more of her professional skills. Cath’s line manager was most supportive of her aspirations and started involving her in new projects. A few months later, she successfully applied for a new leadership position within the same university and transitioned into a position managing international partnerships. Although Cath has a heavy load in her new role, she is able to use more of her strengths and make a genuinely positive difference to others every day. She is delighted with her promotion.
When people work flexibly in a supportive environment and they find their job meaningful, they are more likely to stay with their employer. It is vital that universities re-evaluate their strategies in terms of recruiting and retaining talented employees.
Further career change articles:
- How to Write a Perfect Resignation Letter
- Taking a Career Break
- Is it too late for a career change?
- Considering a Career Change? Your 5 Step Plan for Success