As a manager and an educator, the best practices for me in human resources or personnel management take into account the individual humanity of employees. In higher education, if we are not treating our staff as human beings, who need time off and professional development and respect and self-care among many other things to be productive, than we are not considering the purpose of the organization we work for. I believe higher education’s purpose is to increase the possibility for self-actualization in all those associated with the institution, including staff members. On the other hand, we do need to use all of our resources efficiently and effectively, including our staff. One way I think we can reach this balance is by understanding the strengths and talents of individual employees. If, as managers, we know who will best complete a particular task or project because of an individual’s strength in that area, the task or project will be more effectively and efficiently completed.
For instance, in the Career Services department, there are several people who are amazing at innovating new ideas and programs, looking at the big picture, and examining the strategies we currently use to reach and impact students. These people tend to be lacking at figuring out logistics or scheduling or detail oriented work, but there are other staff members who are excellent at that kind of work. Therefore, it is important to recognize differences between staff members as a manager and to consider those differences in delegating projects, even if this delegation doesn’t align exactly with position descriptions. Sometimes position descriptions can get in the way of an efficient department. In a department that believes in dividing the work along the strict lines of position descriptions, someone can easily say, “That’s not my job.” However, if position descriptions are used to hire people, yet are flexible once staff comes on board, than everyone is responsible for serving students and management can delegate according to strengths and efficiency.
Maintaining efficiency also includes providing employees space and time to recharge and renew. Overworked employees are not going to be as innovative or productive or happy as employees who feel that their time is respected. There seems to be a culture in some student affairs departments of working 10 to 12 hour days, 6 days a week, with time for catching up on email between midnight and 2 am. Maybe some people thrive with this kind of schedule. They love their work, and they are energized through working that much. I would guess that the majority of people are not energized by that kind of schedule. I find it incredibly important to model healthy work habits for the student staff I supervise, who see me work hard. They also understand when I leave at 3 pm to go to gym that I find my health and wellness to be an important value in addition to working hard. When I manage other professionals, I hope that I am able to instill a departmental culture that truly values employee wellness, physical, emotional, social, and spiritual. I just believe that healthy people work better.
The challenges in human resources always seem to rotate back toward funding. Here is Employee A doing the work of 3 people. But we don’t have the funding to relieve her. In these situations, my instinct is to cut back on Employee A’s workload. Cut back the programming. Find more efficient ways of reaching students. Use technology to relieve her responsibilities. Yet implementing these changes takes time and work. So, when there is a department in transition, employees need to know that relief is on the way, or they will look for other places to go. The lost productivity from training and then losing trained staff members because the work climate was unsupportive is immense.
I have very little doubt when it comes to human resources best practices and challenges. However, I am continually in wonder at all that my colleagues in Career Services and in my various internships accomplish in their day-to-day, often doing amazing things with very little. But people need to be able to take care of themselves, and I hope to be a manager that inspires them to do so.