The Higher Ed Workplace Blog

Mental Health Month Focus: Flexibility

May is Mental Health Month, and we’re homing in on three facets of higher education that impact mental health: campus culture, resources and workplace flexibility. This blog post is Part III of the three-part series. Here, we’ll discuss how institutions can lean into flexible work arrangements and how flexible work can support more diverse, equitable and inclusive hiring. 

Flexibility in the workplace is one of the best ways an organization can demonstrate a genuine commitment to the well-being of their employees. Preventing burnout, improving employee engagement and creating greater opportunities for diversity are only a few of the myriad benefits brought about by embracing workplace flexibility.

While many employers feared that flexibility in the workplace could come only at the price of significant decreases in productivity, the pandemic has shown us that this need not be the case. In fact, since the rapid shift to remote work more than a year ago, managers are reporting increases in productivity despite fluctuations in working hours and environment. Now that institutions are beginning to put their return-to-work plans into action, it’s worth examining where there might be room for hard-won and highly valued flexible practices to continue.

Corporate Examples

The corporate world began experimenting with flexibility long before COVID-19. As a result, many have found that remote work is only one of the many options employers can embrace to create greater flexibility in the workplace.

For Microsoft Japan and Buffer, flexibility comes in the form of a 4-day workweek where more emphasis is placed on outcomes and results rather than a set amount of overall time. After switching over to this model, Microsoft Japan noted a 40 percent increase in productivity and over 93 percent of Buffer employees said they felt as productive or more productive when compared to the 5-day week.

Other companies support employee health and well-being through providing dedicated time off for mental health, preventative care and family care. Still others, like Indeed, have even introduced unlimited PTO programs, which they say have improved productivity, morale and retention. Key to all of these programs, however, is full, enthusiastic and visible employer support for taking any available time when it’s needed.

What Can Higher Ed HR Do?

While each institution’s capacity and strategies for offering workplace flexibility will vary, proactively examining where your institution can continue to offer “grace and space” can add undeniable value for your employees. Here are a few questions to consider:

  • Who needs to be in the office/on campus? How often and why?
  • Is the PTO/leave policy outdated, or is there room for post-pandemic adjustments?
  • What flexible practices have we introduced since the start of the pandemic?
  • What has worked well for us over the last year?
  • What forms of flexibility do our employees need?
  • Where can flexible work support other goals and initiatives, such as DEI initiatives?

Be sure to check out the new Mental Health Framework Tool and read Part I (Mental Health Month Focus: Campus Culture) and Part II (Mental Health Month Focus: Resources) of the three-part series.

Related resources: 

CUPA-HR’s Mental Health Toolkit (a members-only resource) highlights key resources and example policies and programs specific to higher education.

Flexible Work Is the Future of Work — Seizing the “New Normal” for Increased Engagement and Productivity