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Great Resignation

Colleges & Universities: Retain Faculty & Staff Through Better Benefits

by Caroline Boyland July 15, 2022

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If you work in higher education, we hardly need to tell you that the past few years haven’t been easy. The pandemic impacted just about every industry, but in the education world specifically, faculty and staff have faced a myriad of newly arisen challenges. Professors have had to adapt to remote working, and the ever frequent flip-flop of returning to in-person teaching and then back to remote with each new virus strain. On campus employees like administrators, maintenance, dining hall staff, and others, have faced challenges surrounding the inability to work remotely due to the nature of many of their roles. On top of pandemic-related challenges, budget cuts are consistently plaguing the education industry, which has resulted in salary decreases and a loss of other perks across the board.

All of this has resulted in widespread burnout amongst faculty and staff in the education space. Let’s dive into the state of higher ed today, and how HR teams can better retain faculty and staff going into this school year.

The State of Higher Ed Today

The higher education space has not escaped the Great Resignation, which has swept across just about every industry this year. Many faculty and staff members are leaving their roles, either in search of new opportunities in the higher ed space, early retirement, or new roles in different industries altogether.

In fact, a recent survey conducted by Fidelity Investments on 1,100 faculty members revealed that over half of them, 55%, have seriously considered changing careers or retiring early. This included 35% of tenured employees, which just goes to show that even those who have job security are feeling the strain.

The question remains, why do even those who have tenure want to leave academia?

The answer, in part, has to do with the fact that education is changing. A report by Transamerica found that the shift from in-person to online education in the past years has resulted in an increase in employee turnover, and that 35% of higher education institutions reported seeing higher movement within their employee base.

The general assumption is that with the rise of online learning, universities have placed faculty under increased pressure to change the way that they teach. The shift to digital, with the challenges it brings and the blurred lines between work and home, have made it increasingly difficult for staff to find work+life balance.

An inability to find a balance between work and personal life is a clear recipe for career dissatisfaction, especially in a profession that already feels largely underpaid and undervalued.

Incentivizing Faculty & Staff

In the current economic climate - one in which inflation is rampant and the cost of living is skyrocketing - it seems unlikely that higher ed institutions will be in a position to offer salary increases across the board. So, if you are hoping to better retain top talent at your college or university, it’s time to think about other incentives you can offer. One way to do this? Offering better benefits and a better benefits experience.

There are certain benefits that, in today’s day and age, are absolute non-negotiables when it comes to staff retention efforts. These include (but aren’t limited to):

Healthcare: An essential benefit. In the United States, health insurance is notoriously expensive, and it's not getting any cheaper. With the economic challenges we face in today's inflationary environment, many employees are starting to worry that they won't be able to cover any unexpected health bills. To attract and retain top talent, offering health insurance with the right coverage level for each employee is a must.

Retirement savings plans: Just about every industry has employees that are nearing retirement age—but retirement savings plans are essential for employees of every age, not just those approaching their mid to late 60s. Retirement plans give employees peace of mind in knowing that they’re saving for their future without actively having to worry about it.

Paid time off: It’s time to scrap the notion that educators have an easy job just because they can take the summers off. The reality is, for the majority of the year, educators face the same challenges as any other working professional. And just like every other industry, they need time to recharge their batteries, take care of personal matters, or need time off for their health. Offering PTO days is vital in the higher ed space, now more than ever as burnout has been sweeping the industry.

Wellness programs: If the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that taking care of our mental and physical health is more important now, than ever. While some universities are starting to offer wellness programs, there’s still a long way to go. Focusing on wellness and preventative health shows employees that you care about their well-being and want to help them live happier lives.

Childcare benefits: As with any other industry, many staff members in the higher education space are parents. Finding affordable childcare options can be a challenge—especially when these parents were able to save on these costs while working remote, and now must pay inflated prices in order to go back to work. Offering benefits like on-campus childcare or subsidies for childcare expenses can go a long way in promoting a strong work-life balance and giving employees who are parents the same opportunities as non-parents.

Professional development opportunities: In today's rapidly changing world, employees must constantly update their skills and knowledge. And for higher education employees, this is doubly true. Faculty and staff need to be able to keep up with the latest changes in their field and learn new technologies so that they can continue teaching effectively. By providing professional development opportunities, both in academic and in soft skills, you can show your employees that you're invested in their success and future.

These are just a few of the benefits relevant to higher education employees. And while it might not seem like much, offering these benefits can make a big difference in making employees feel that your college or university is a place where they are looked after physically, mentally, and financially, and in the long term can bolster your retention efforts.

However, offering all the best benefits in the world won’t help your efforts if employees are not aware of them, which is where communication comes in.

Benefits Education and Communication

Like we said, offering amazing, comprehensive benefits is key, but you’ll also need to support your employees and give them the ability to make educated benefits decisions. Effective communication is the first step to helping employees make the right benefits decisions for themselves and their families. This means ensuring that employees are aware of the available benefits and providing them with the tools and information they need to make informed choices.

Benefits education is especially critical when introducing new benefits, making changes to existing programs, or at times of high employee turnover, like we're seeing now. High turnover rates result in a sort of “evergreen” hiring culture. With new faculty and staff members joining what feels like weekly. With new employees always coming aboard, it can be difficult to provide the comprehensive education each unique employee needs when it’s time for them to enroll in their benefits.

Not all colleges and universities have someone on-call to answer benefits questions 24/7, and even if you do have a dedicated benefits administrator, they can quickly become inundated with hundreds of questions from confused employees. This is where you can start to think about bringing in technology.

A benefits decision support tool can personalize and optimize benefits enrollment, providing unique benefits education to each employee based on their physical, mental, and financial needs. From there, a decision support tool can offer personalized recommendations to each employee about the plans to choose that best meet the needs of themselves and their families. This offloads some of the education and one-to-one questions from HR teams, giving them the time back to focus on other outcomes or more complex queries.

A college or university is only as strong as its faculty and staff—these are the people providing the education and creating the college experience for each student. That’s why finding new ways to better retain employees is critical in higher education. Offering comprehensive benefits, and a decision support tool to help them best understand and choose their benefits can help maximize the value of those plans and increase employee satisfaction.

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