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Human Resources

Remember the first day you came to work? For some people, first days are overwhelming—with new rules, processes, and software programs to learn, new coworkers to meet, and myriad choices to make, from which health plan to choose to the amount of taxes you want deducted.

When listening to employees talk about their jobs, school officials may hear questions, concerns, and even fears about health care insurance. How much more will I have to contribute this year for premiums? Can I afford it? Will my coverage shrink? While the spotlight is on health care, not much is being said about trends regarding employee voluntary benefits, such as vision, supplemental life insurance, and long-term disability.

Steep budget cuts. Skyrocketing health care costs. Layoffs. Furlough programs. As if that wasn't enough to deal with, colleges and universities around the country are facing a new challenge: how to reduce the frustration, dissatisfaction, or even anger felt by employees who haven't received a pay raise in several years.

So many choices, so many decisions. Campus HR professionals face decisions about how to enhance their technology systems to streamline business processes. Purchase new software or tweak existing HR modules? Help vendors build a compatible interface for a program or design it in-house?

As a successful wood-cut artist, Sheila Pitt taught at the University of Arizona for roughly 20 years when tragedy struck. In February of 2008, the experienced horsewoman became a quadriplegic after breaking her neck in a riding accident.

But her physical condition didn't stop her from doing what she loved best: teaching and creating art. The university provided her with two assistants - one to help her demonstrate art techniques in the classroom and another to work in her home studio so she could continue researching art techniques, producing art, and exhibiting her work.

Several years ago, there were two secretaries at Jacksonville State University (Ala.) who worked in different departments. Neither got along with their boss. Their supervisors wanted to fire them but couldn't—as nothing was wrong with their job performance. The problem was simple: They just didn't like each other.

Most higher ed institutions offer a wide variety of employee programs and benefits: health fairs, faculty and staff recognitions, tuition waivers, and more.

But are the programs at your institution reflective of current employee needs? And how can human resources professionals maximize the impact of these programs? Are there routine diagnostics to perform? Or does HR simply make a tweak here, a twist there, keeping the program objectives intact?

FOR MORE THAN A DECADE, Beryl Satter, a history professor at Rutgers University, Newark, has been organizing gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender faculty and staff so students would have an advocate group when needed. They had no one on campus to turn to when homophobic incidents occurred.

WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME your human resources department explored new technology or brainstormed creative ways to maximize existing software? Many months ago? Last year? Maybe longer?

IT’S NOT UNUSUAL FOR HUMAN resource departments in higher ed to hire consultants instead of full-time employees to design a program, solve a problem, or reach a specific goal. Consultants typically are cheaper in the long run, possess unique skills, and can introduce HR to creative business strategies used by other educational institutions across the country.

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