Special Edition - Work Flexibility for P&A Employees

July 30, 2021

Being sent home to work remotely full-time at the start of the pandemic was challenging for every one of us, and yet most employees were working under the same mandate and timeline. While returning to campus and envisioning what that would look like may seem difficult, it also provides an opportunity for the University to fulfill its mission in a more innovative and intentional way. There is no easy path forward. Thus, it is crucial to have open and ongoing conversations between supervisors/leaders and their employees about how best to balance the needs of the unit and the faculty, staff and students it serves, while also providing employees with flexibility as responsibilities allow it. 

Over the course of the last few months, the University has developed guidance around flexible work options that might be available for employees whose work is not dependent on being present on campus full-time. The Office of Human Resources (OHR) released its guidance on June 9. Since that time, units have been determining what works best for them and starting conversations with their employees. Recently, the P&A Senate has become aware of concerns regarding the implementation of the guidance and has worked with Ken Horstman, Vice President of Human Resources, to provide some examples of how Work. With Flexibility might apply to P&A employees. It is our hope that this information will assist leaders, supervisors, and employees in navigating these plans and guiding conversations and decisions.

The P&A employee group is defined as an exempt employee group under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Exempt work generally considers a salary based on the type and level of work involved (responsibilities) for a position, rather than on an hourly wage and overtime for additional hours. The nature of exempt work often can provide flexibility in when work is performed and where it is done, if the expectations for the position are met. There are fewer requirements to document the schedule of an exempt employee as this need should be addressed through a performance management process.

We are hearing that some P&A employees whose work can be completed successfully either remotely or in a hybrid format are being asked by their supervisors or leaders to return to campus in person full-time, or a particular number of days per week. Admittedly, it may seem easier at first to utilize a one-size fits all approach to employees by requiring all of them to return to campus full-time, but we see significant rewards to units that offer employee flexibility when the work allows it in the form of employee engagement, productivity, satisfaction and retention. It is acceptable to have varying degrees of flexibility for different employee groups based on their position responsibilities.

When assessing flexible options for P&A employees, we ask unit leadership and supervisors to consider, “What responsibilities do your employees have that can only be completed on campus?” From there, follow up questions can be asked such as: “When is the most effective time to complete those responsibilities?” Here are some examples of what the scope could look like:
  • If a student advisor is meeting with students in person as part of their responsibilities, it makes sense that they would be required to be on campus for those meetings. These in-person meetings might not fit into a rigid schedule that is the same week to week, but still need to meet the needs of the students. The advisor might be better served by allowing them to adjust their schedules to meet the needs of the students they are meeting with, as opposed to the limitations a rigid schedule would permit. It could also be a possibility that a portion of this work is offered via Zoom which could offer more flexible times for students who have full daily schedules, such as evenings or weekend.
  • A person in a digital technology role might not have any responsibilities that would require them to be on campus, however the employee might desire to. Flexibility for this staff member could be provided, allowing them to be present on campus when it would work best for them with no given expectation or schedule.
  • Physical responsibilities, like those in facilities related positions, require a presence on campus regularly. These positions likely do not solely have physical responsibilities. The responsibilities outside of those that require a physical presence can be afforded the flexibility of where and when they are completed. 
Flexibility can, and should, look differently depending on the responsibilities of the position. It is acceptable for conversations to be centered around service needs and supervision of employees. Stating a P&A employee has to be present during expected service hours or supervision hours is rigid, and we ask leadership and supervisors to consider reframing to say, “Part of your responsibility is to ensure that service is available during these times” or “You are responsible for ensuring adequate onsite supervision for your on-site staff.” This provides the employee flexibility to manage those responsibilities and ensures an appropriate service level expectation is met. Remember, ongoing assessment and conversation about any flexible work arrangement will be critical to ensure success not only for the unit, but for the employee as well.

If you are a P&A employee who feels that you are not being provided flexibility appropriately, please feel free to reach out to your campus or unit HR team, or OHR Employee Relations. You can always reach out to the P&A Senate as well, through the links provided below. This is new territory for the University, and the understanding of flexibility may change as we navigate through the fall semester. It might require some patience on the part of employees as the units learn to adapt to the new workplace and culture.

If you are a unit leader, or are responsible for the flexible working plans of your department or unit, and you have questions about the clarity provided, please reach out to the Office of Human Resources for assistance.