I have worked with higher education clients for more than a decade. Although there are many things that have changed on campuses in the past decade (the technology boom and changes to the economy, to name two), there are a few constants. These include the need for the people who work on campus to be highly productive and innovative while attending to family care needs.
University life requires individuals to teach classes, conduct research, mentor students, or support those that do. Often, these same people have young children or perhaps an elderly loved one who needs care and attention. Both of these areas of life — profession and family — are critical to overall well-being and success, yet they often conflict with each other. Although present for decades, the conflicts — and more important, their impacts — are rising to the surface and as a result universities are paying more attention to helping faculty and staff address them.
What does this mean for higher-ed employers?
Dependent Care Needs Assessments completed for higher education by Horizons Workforce Consulting show some disturbing statistics. Due to dependent care conflicts:
• 45% of faculty report being unable to progress through the tenure process or strive for the next rank as quickly as their abilities would indicate
• Faculty also report that they have not been able to apply for grant or externally funded project or have had to suspend research (34% and 32%, respectively).
• 20% of faculty and 24% of staff respondents have seriously considered leaving their university
Smart colleges and universities are responding
Many higher-ed employers are providing emergency back-up care and/or on campus child care centers. What we’ve seen is that having a high-quality resource available to support family care responsibilities frees faculty and staff to focus on their work. Horizons Workforce Consulting found data supporting this when we recently asked users of either the Back-Up Care Advantage Program or near-site and on-site child care centers managed by Bright Horizons about the impact of those services on their lives. Below is just a sampling of the findings:
• 92% of higher-education respondents say college- or university-sponsored dependent care enables them to concentrate on the job
• 87% say it enables them to meet their job performance expectations
• 87% of respondents say access to dependent care enhances their productivity
• 73% say it enables them to volunteer for things not formally required of their job
Supported employees do more than what’s expected
I am particularly intrigued by the respondents who reported that they are able to volunteer for the things not formally required of them. It is this discretionary effort that can make the difference between a highly productive and creative researcher vs. someone who does the minimum required to reach tenure or to simply maintain employment. Faculty and staff with increased focus and a desire to give the university more time, energy, and creativity contribute to a good university becoming a great institution of higher learning.
It is important to have data to confirm that the actions taken by universities are having the desired impact. More important, however, is the positive impact reported by those working on college campuses across the country. When the university supports their success both at work and outside of work, it’s good news for everyone.