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Employee Morale

On March 24, 2010, the day after President Obama signed sweeping health care reform legislation into law, Robert T. Kakuk's phone didn't stop ringing.

Employees were eager to add their adult children under the age of 26 back on to their health insurance policy, one provision of the Affordable Care Act, explains Kakuk, director of total compensation and human resources information systems at Western Michigan University, which supports approximately 2,800 benefits-eligible employees.

Universities are often in a unique position when it comes to managing their pharmacy benefits. Those associated with medical schools, hospital, and clinics often have affiliated pharmacies and access to staff with clinical pharmacy expertise. If an institution can fully leverage these in-house capabilities, it can have a dramatic effect on its overall pharmacy benefit budget. How to best leverage these capabilities should be considered when HR administrators selects a pharmacy benefit management (PBM) partner.

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.

With furloughs, layoffs, and slashed budgets becoming a "business as usual" occurrence in higher education, professional development is taking a hard blow. In some cases, it has been dramatically cut or eliminated for the foreseeable future. Yet, even in these trying times, a few proactive leaders have found new tools and creative tactics to keep people learning and growing. They are energizing their teams and raising morale with minimal expense.

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.

Last month's End Note featured a president who lived among students for an overnight. Here is the perspective of another president who has lived as a student for a day?and who allows a student to sit at his desk for that day.

We thought at first it was the bounce book authors get when the timing is right for their titles, in our case, Turnaround: Leading Stressed Colleges and Universities to Excellence, (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009).

Yet, we sensed a micro-trend among small, religious institutions looking for everlasting spiritual redemption and long-term economic viability. Indeed, well beyond viability, this new breed of contemporary Christian colleges have intentionally developed new revenue streams—providing financial replenishment for faith-based, liberal arts residential campuses.

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?

The financial pressures on institutions and the scrutiny on spending continue. But campus administrative offices also continue to find new ways to change their practices for the better.

As the stories of our Summer 2010 Models of Efficiency honorees demonstrate, there are a multitude of good ideas being implemented that streamline processes without reducing the quality of service that campus constituents deserve, and in many cases expect.

As a reader of this magazine, you were probably not surprised--much less chagrined--by the 2009 publication of a three-volume set of books entitled, The Business of Higher Education (Praeger Publishers, 2009). Nor, I would wager, do you find University Business an unusual magazine title. As the CEO of a college, neither do I.

But we need to recognize that, for many constituencies of the academy not among University Business readers, the phrase "university business" may sound odd, if not oxymoronic. And that is true for at least two reasons.