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Asking for Flexibility at Work Is Not a Request for Less Work

Creating a new post-pandemic academic work/family culture.

October 12, 2020
 
 

The divide between work time and family time has vanished for both faculty and staff.

We work from home. Our kids learn from home. Work and family activities that could once be separated in time and place have now been integrated.

What every academic parent needs now is flexibility. We need the flexibility to get our work done in the hours when we are not managing our children's education, emotional and physical needs.

What academics -- faculty and staff -- who are parents are not asking for is for less work.

What we want, and what we need, is the ability to do that work whenever we can.

Some of us may need to keep our mornings clear and concentrate our work in the afternoon or evenings. Others of us may need to shift projects to weekends.

This means that we will sometimes not be able to participate in Zoom meetings - either ad hoc or regularly scheduled. Not being able to attend a meeting is not an indication of our commitment to the work. Instead, it is a reflection of the reality of parenting under COVID-19.

Right now, my sense is that employment flexibility for those of us who work in higher ed is variable and mostly negotiated on a case-by-case basis. Staff are instructed to work with their managers to come up with work arrangements during COVID. The ability of faculty to navigate family responsibilities is highly dependent on where they are on the tenure track.

Too many faculty and staff find themselves in the impossible position of having to be in two places at once while doing two or more (work/family) things simultaneously.

Leaders of colleges and universities have an opportunity to publicly, loudly and repeatedly make the point that flexible work arrangements do not mean less work. Everyone from presidents, provosts, deans, directors and VPs on down has the chance (and responsibility) to articulate that flexible work arrangements are normal, expected and viewed positively.

Nobody who works in higher ed should have to apologize for missing a meeting because they had to care for, teach or otherwise attend to their kids' needs. The burden of explaining parenting challenges while working under COVID should not fall on staff and faculty. Instead, it should be assumed that everyone is doing the best they can in a difficult situation.

No longer can employee autonomy and control of one's time be the exclusive privilege of only tenure-track professors. Everyone who works in higher ed should have the independence and flexibility they need to meet all their work and family responsibilities.

Once the pandemic recedes, those leading academic institutions should do everything they can to ensure that the gains made in flexibility and autonomy for all faculty and staff do not erode.

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