4 Key HR Trends in Higher Education

HR Trends in Higher Education

Managing the complexities in the world of work can be challenging, especially in higher education where significant changes are happening in the workforce. Higher education HR teams are at the forefront of being strategic partners and drivers in higher education. As HR leaders, we are at a crucial moment to think about the opportunities that shape the employee-employer relationship.

Many of us in HR roles in higher education understand that change can take considerable time, but now is a unique moment to think and act on the changing workforce dynamics in our institutions. Here are four essential HR trends in higher education that HR teams should know to improve the employee experience.

Four HR trends in higher education

1. Increased flexibility 

I vividly remember how many institutions prior to the pandemic were highly skeptical of remote work, even though many already had collaborative tech tools in place. Then, suddenly with the pandemic, we witnessed how higher education institutions had to rethink how education and work could be done. We also saw how faculty and staff had to quickly shift how they addressed student needs. 

Now that many faculty and staff have experienced remote work, other higher education professionals are seeking flexible work arrangements. This is another reason why HR must stay current with technology and policies that can help support remote, hybrid, and other types of work arrangements in the post-pandemic era. Continuous research shows us that increased work flexibility allows for a better work-life balance, which ultimately saves institutions money while still allowing them to deliver positive student outcomes. We have an opportunity to evaluate various work models where HR and leadership can work together to implement roles that have a combination of student-facing and virtual approaches. 

2. Future of work committees 

Some institutions have already begun to strategize ways to accommodate workers’ desires for increased flexibility. Boston University and Iowa State University, for example, have established committees for the future of work. Whether higher education employees are hybrid or in-person, meaningful check-ins to evaluate burnout, mental health or additional support must be part of every employee’s journey. It is also important to note that many higher education staff and administrators do not have many options when it comes to hybrid or remote work since their work arrangements must align with their job functions. This presents an opportunity to think about the support we are providing these employees and how we are making them feel connected and engaged to their campuses and their workplaces.

3. Balancing employee and student expectations 

One of the most critical challenges that already existed prior to the pandemic in the world of HR in higher education was balancing employee and student expectations. Throughout my years of working in higher education, the mindset of “student first” was consistent in almost all HR processes and messaging. This persistent messaging, without an understanding of the employee connection, can lead to a deep disconnect among employees and to high levels of disengagement from the campus community and the workplace. Like any type of workplace, all higher education employees (staff, faculty, administration, student employees, etc.), must understand how they tie into the larger overall strategy and mission of an organization. As HR leaders, we must create an environment that supports creativity and risk-taking, encourages employees to take on new challenges, experiment with new ideas and develop innovative solutions. HR leadership plays a critical role in advocating for university employees’ well-being. After all, this is what drives belonging in the workplace

4. Fostering trust through feedback 

Great Place to Work’s 30 years of research has shown that the definition of a great workplace is one where the employees trust the people they work for, have pride in what they do, and enjoy the people they work with. However, when it comes to listening to feedback, colleges and universities lag behind other industries despite the fact that on average, higher education institutions solicit survey feedback often. Inconsistencies can exist due to survey inaction and failing to use survey feedback to drive transformative changes. Employees need to understand how the feedback collected is also going to be used to inform decision-making, and a way of fostering this understanding is through regular check-ins and focus groups. Meeting individual needs and being responsive to workforce changes, such as providing open and transparent communication for staff, faculty, and your frontline-facing campus employees will continue to be critical for workplaces in higher education. Learn how to use employee engagement surveys to drive change here

HR administrators play a critical role

It’s critical to understand the HR trends in higher education impacting your current workforce. It can make a big difference in how your employees show up in their workspaces. Changing workforce dynamics in higher education also require that HR departments adapt to strategies and practices that attract, retain, and support diverse and flexible work arrangements. There must be a focus on promoting inclusive and equitable practices that foster collaboration and innovation among different employee types. As the world of work in higher education continues to change, HR leaders must evolve and have targeted improvements to help the workforce throughout their journey, which ultimately drives better outcomes for students. Finding innovative strategies that work for each institution and their faculty, staff, administration, and student employees is essential before higher education institutions lose out on a talented and skilled workforce. 

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