We recognize that faculty, staff and students manage multiple obligations at work and at home, and the university fosters a culture in which individuals can achieve life satisfaction and optimal performance. Your success is our priority.
Here's why work-life works for UB:
An interview with Dean Laura Bryan, author of Shaping Work-Life Culture
by Betsy Boyd, lecturer, Klein Family School of Communications Design
Laura Bryan, dean of the Yale Gordon College of Arts and Sciences (YGCAS), recently published Shaping Work-Life Culture in Higher Education, a user-friendly book that offers relevant background information and straightforward advice for university leaders about how to foster a stronger work-life culture. Klein Family School of Communications Design chair and associate professor Cheryl Wilson served as contributor. As the chair of Dean Bryan’s work-life committee within YGCAS, and in honor of October’s National Work and Family Month, I spoke to the dean about this increasingly relevant field of study.
October is National Work and Family Month. What is the significance for you personally?
Designating October as National Work and Family month means that the President and Congress acknowledge that all workers have work-family responsibilities. That level of acknowledgement and recognition heightens awareness and encourages employers to provide work environments where people can excel. The President’s commitment encourages all organizations to foster a work-family supportive culture. In addition, it is essential for top leadership to support and understand work-family initiatives, which is why it’s so exciting to see this level of engagement from the President.
President Obama’s statement on work-family month: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2010/10/25/statement-president-national-work-and-family-month
What is the biggest myth/misconception surrounding work-life?
There are many myths or misconceptions about work-life, but I would say that the most prevalent is the belief that policies and procedures to support employees to manage work and life are very expensive. Yes, there are costs associated with some of these programs and benefits, but there are other ways to foster a work-life friendly environment and demonstrate your understanding of individuals’ needs.
Another misconception is that most people believe work-life has to do with childcare and mothers. While that may have been true when mothers originally returned to work and many households changed from single-career to dual-career, we now know that it is equally important for both men and women to have access to work-family supports. For instance, there is a lot of recent research about fathers; they are interested in being with their children and feeling satisfied at work. There are also a lot of concerns beyond childcare, including eldercare and other life responsibilities, so raising awareness about the diversity of work-life needs and promoting the idea that everyone can benefit from such policies is definitely a challenge.
In 2013, the American Council on Education (ACE) issued a challenge to college presidents to promote career flexibility. Why has it taken academia so long to embrace and invest in work-life concerns?
By its very nature, academia can be slow to change—our policies and processes are different from those in other kinds of organizations. Nonetheless, a number of elite universities began to establish work-life policies in the 1990s, and such models have become much more common. Another hypothesis is that the majority of the professoriate has long been, and continues to be, predominantly male, so work-life needs may not have surfaced in academia as quickly as they did in organizations with a greater diversity of workers. University environments are also more flexible than corporate environments; thus, the need for work-life was not as apparent. In many organizations, work-life is about day-to-day flexibility and the recognition that performance is about more than face time. Faculty, however, are more interested in career flexibility and long-term satisfaction.
In your book, I learned that a work-life dialogue emerged only in the 1980s. When did you first become passionate about work-life as an area of study? What moves you most about the field?
My field of study, industrial-organizational psychology, is about improving the effectiveness of organizations and individual employees. As a researcher and practitioner, I’ve always been concerned about how individuals can be their best and realize their potential and how organizations can support them—this question is central to my own personal interests and values. One particularly notable experience was when I lived in the Czech Republic as a Fulbright Scholar and noticed how the Czechs were very clear about their boundaries when they were at work and when they went home. They also have extensive and generous policies for parental leave because they believe that somebody needs to be home when the child is young. I asked about childcare centers, which were not part of their culture. It was interesting to see how they managed and had clear parameters.
Your book aims to empower academic leaders -- in addition to reading this text, what is an early practical step administrators and chairs might take toward making positive work-life change?
Make sure you know your faculty and staff and understand them as individuals and whole human beings; then, you can work with them to see how you can support their needs and help them to find more satisfaction between work and life.
To provide a practical example for the layperson of a work-life issue: One high-profile study found that 37 percent of adult caregivers also have children under the age of 18 living with them (cited in your book). Multi-generational caregivers are growing in number, and they face specific challenges. How would a chair best begin to provide targeted support to such faculty members?
We can’t solve the problems in the personal and family lives of our faculty and staff, but we can have conversations to identify ways to help them thrive and be productive: inform, direct them to services, and provide support. If your university doesn’t have work-life supports, then it’s your responsibility as a leader to advocate for work-life initiatives.
What is the most significant work-life challenge UB faces?
Both our faculty and students would benefit significantly from on-campus childcare facilities. We have a lot of students who are also parents and primary caregivers. Eldercare is also an emerging issue. We are fortunate to have a president who is supportive of work-life initiatives and has signed on to the ACE Challenge.
How do we avoid the guilt of trying to balance work-life when for many of us, there is already an assumption that work IS life? (This question comes from another UB faculty member.)
I don’t like to use the word “balance” because it implies equality, which we never have. Instead, the key to success is being satisfied and energized for both work and family. Our lives are constantly in flux as pressures wax and wane, so it’s important to have strategies that can help us work through those times.