How Presidents Can Create a Thriving Workplace Culture in Higher Ed Institutions:

Changing Higher Ed Podcast 186 with Host Dr. Drumm McNaughton and Guest Dr. Carrie Lovelace Petr

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Changing Higher Ed Podcast - How University Presidents can Create a Thriving Workplace Culture in Higher Ed Institutions with Host Dr. Drumm McNaughton and Guest Carrie Lovelace Petr
Changing Higher Ed Podcast | Drumm McNaughton | The Change Leader

19 December · Episode 186

How Presidents Can Create a Thriving Workplace Culture in Higher Ed Institutions

43 Min · By Dr. Drumm McNaughton

A thriving workplace culture that sets work-life boundaries strengthens shared governance, retains employees, and role models the practice for students as they move into their careers.

Creating a thriving workplace culture in higher education institutions is a multifaceted endeavor that hinges on leadership, boundary-setting, and an acute awareness of the changing dynamics of work-life balance. It’s easy to fall into the trap of constant connectivity, especially in the high-pressure environment of higher education. But for both leaders and employees, setting healthy boundaries around work and personal life is crucial for maintaining well-being, creating a thriving workplace culture, and strengthening shared governance.

In this episode of Changing Higher Ed, Dr. Drumm McNaughton engages in a thoughtful discussion with Carrie Lovelace Petr. They discuss the approaches university presidents can take to cultivate a culture that equally emphasizes productivity and employee well-being. The dialogue focuses on how these leaders can exemplify healthy boundaries to retain employees while modeling boundaries for students, equipping them with the skills needed to achieve a balanced work-life as they step into their professional careers.


Understanding Workplace Culture in Higher Education

Effective Leadership Fosters Work-Life Balance

Effective leadership is not just about guiding; it’s about fostering an environment that retains employees, where employees can flourish. Leaders in academia carry the responsibility to create a culture conducive to the growth and well-being of the people they lead (staff and faculty).

The worst feeling a leader can have is to turn around and see no one’s there.

The Charm of Academic Culture

People are often drawn to work in academic settings due to the unique culture that emphasizes learning, student interaction, and intellectual stimulation. All too often, they discover that the environment can easily become a nonstop stream of emails and meeting student needs.  


The Double-Edged Sword of Accessibility and Availability

The ‘Always On’ Culture

The expansion of workplace boundaries to ‘everywhere’ due to technological advancements means faculty and staff can find themselves working incessantly, blurring the lines between personal and professional life.

Setting and Communicating Boundaries

It’s crucial for leaders to set and communicate clear boundaries regarding work hours and expectations. This helps prevent the habitualization of after-hours communication and protects employees from burnout. A study from the University of California, Berkeley, reinforces the importance of setting boundaries for preventing workplace stress and burnout​​.

Pressure from Peers and Superiors

The expectation to be constantly available often stems from perceived demands from peers or superiors. Leaders have the power to reset these expectations effectively.


Building a Sustainable Workplace Culture

The Role of Leaders

Leaders must be deliberate in shaping a workplace culture that balances accessibility with the need for personal time. This involves understanding and clearly articulating the unique demands and expectations of different roles and adjusting expectations accordingly. There may be some roles that are expected to be “always on” however, that expectation comes with appropriate compensation. 

Presidents and leaders need to make it clear to faculty and staff that they are “safe” in setting boundaries around their response time for students, parents, and the leadership team.

Institutional and Employee Well-being

Ensuring that employees do not work beyond reasonable hours and are able to take vacations without undue stress (the “vacation tax”) is vital for their well-being and, by extension, the institution’s health.


Modeling Healthy Behavior for Students, Faculty, and Staff

Senior leaders and executives need to model the behavior they expect from their teams. This includes respecting personal time and rewarding those who manage their work-life balance effectively.

Succession Planning

When presidents create a robust succession plan for themselves, it enables them to take their own time off, modeling the behavior from the top down. Creating a succession plan for others in leadership ensures that no single individual becomes indispensable. Succession planning ensures there is someone to take on the responsibilities of the President or executive team member, providing the freedom to take time off (100% off) and preventing burnout.

Educating Students on Professional Boundaries

It’s important to educate students on reasonable response times and professional boundaries, helping them set realistic expectations, learn that healthy professionals have healthy lives, the importance of work-life balance, and what that looks like as they join the workforce.


Strengthening Shared Governance

A thriving workplace culture and healthy work-life boundaries can significantly strengthen shared governance in higher education institutions in several ways. The most notable being increased trust and collaboration.

When employees feel valued, respected, and engaged within the institution, they’re more likely to trust leadership and be willing to collaborate on decision-making processes. Open communication and shared experiences foster genuine partnership between administration and faculty and staff.

Setting clear boundaries allows employees to disconnect and recharge, leading to higher energy and focus when they’re engaged in governance activities. They’re more likely to bring fresh perspectives and contribute meaningfully when well-rested and not overburdened.


Three Tips for Setting Boundaries and Expectations

  1. Add response times and availability to email signatures.

  2. Faculty can incorporate availability and response times into their syllabus.

  3. Utilize delayed send for emails. It’s often easier to respond to emails after hours, but doing so sets the expectation. Create settings that will only send emails during the set work schedule.

Three Key Takeaways for University Presidents

  1. Lead by Example: Institutions where leadership actively promotes and models healthy work-life integration reap significant benefits. When employees feel supported in setting boundaries and taking time off, they’re more engaged, satisfied, and loyal to the institution. This commitment to employee well-being is an invaluable investment, especially during challenging times in higher education.

  2. Shift the Focus: Remember that students’ constant communication isn’t a reflection on them, but rather a response to the accessibility fostered by technology. Our role as educators is to guide them in using these tools effectively, not simply feeding into their immediate demands. By setting clear expectations and modeling healthy communication practices, we can empower students to develop responsible technology use without blaming or shaming them.

  3. Mind the Vacation Tax: Pay close attention to whether employees feel comfortable taking vacations without facing excessive workload upon their return. The “vacation tax” concept is a powerful way to gauge the true effectiveness of vacation policies. If employees hesitate to take time off due to fear of repercussions, it’s a sign that adjustments to workload or staffing might be needed.


Final Thoughts

Creating a healthy workplace culture isn’t just about following the latest trends – it’s about fundamentally understanding the needs of your faculty and staff. It’s fostering an environment where they feel valued, supported, and empowered to thrive. By prioritizing well-being, setting clear expectations, and leading by example, university presidents can build a workplace that attracts and retains top talent, ultimately contributing to stronger shared governance and the success of the entire institution.


About Our Guest

Carrie Lovelace Petr, Ph.D., PCC, BCC, is a seasoned executive administrator and holds a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She trained as a certified professional and executive coach at the ICF-accredited College of Executive Coaching and is recognized as both an Associate Certified Coach by the International Coaching Federation and a Board-Certified Coach by the Center for Credentialing Education.

Carrie has lived her professional career in service to higher education staff, students, and faculty. Prior to founding her full-time coaching practice, Carrie served as senior student affairs officer at two institutions; throughout her career in higher education, she has supervised all traditional areas in the field of student affairs. Outside of the student affairs arena, Carrie has enjoyed work as a faculty member, academic adviser, and academic administrator. Of note for clients interested in their own professional growth, Carrie was the founding director of the Zenon CR Hansen Minor in Leadership Studies at Doane University and has practiced leadership development and higher education administration for more than 25 years. Partnering with long-time professionals and aspiring leaders to help them thrive and nurture their talents is her passion. Beyond her professional life, Carrie is an avid reader and enjoys biking, craft cocktails, and storytelling. She and her husband of 25 years share a college-age daughter and Felix, the most adorable King Charles Cavalier Spaniel in the universe.

Carrie Lovelace Petr on LinkedIn → 

About the Host

Dr. Drumm McNaughton, host of Changing Higher Ed® podcast, is a consultant to higher education institutions in board governance, shared governance, accreditation, strategy, change, and mergers.



Transcript: Changing Higher Ed Podcast 186 with Host Dr. Drumm McNaughton and Guest Carrie Lovelace Petr


Drumm: Carrie, Welcome to the show.

Carrie: Thank you. I’m so excited to be here.

[00:00:04] Drumm: I’m looking forward to our conversation. It’s not every day. I get to have somebody on the show who is an expert in workplace culture.

[00:00:13] Carrie: Well, I appreciate that. It is an area of real passion for me. So I am just excited to hear that your listeners are interested to talk about it. Everybody wants to work in a great workplace.

[00:00:23] Drumm: Absolutely, I’m at the point now where if I have a bad workplace culture, it’s my own fault because I work in my own home office.

[00:00:31] Carrie: True. It also means, though, that you can turn any toxicity around pretty quickly after you have a one-on-one with yourself.

[00:00:37] Drumm: Very true. People ask me, what’s the worst thing about your commute? I said, well, I might trip over the dog. so tell us a little bit: how did you get your background in healthy workplace cultures?

[00:00:56] Carrie: So, I spent about 25 years working on college campuses in higher education, both in student affairs and in academic, student services. I finished my career on campus working as a vice president for student affairs. And then I opened a business working as an executive coach for folks in higher education. I specialize in this area. And so, I talk with clients a lot about all areas and aspects of their work performance and their folks, but I would say that this idea of workplace culture is something that comes up on a frequent and regular basis. So I’ve learned how to talk with people about how to improve both their own workplace culture and how to make sure that they are creating a culture for their employees, where their employees can be successful and be retained.

[00:01:41] Drumm: Gee, that sounds a lot like leadership.

[00:01:44] Carrie: It actually, I think, is one of the most important elements of leadership. There is this idea all of us who’ve ever done leadership work have heard this that, you can’t be a leader all by yourself, that a leader is someone who has followers, and when you have followers, you have a responsibility to create a culture in which they can thrive in which they can be healthy and successful.

And so I know that it is something that’s critically important to people, but there are times that it can really befuddle. our leaders.

[00:02:08] Drumm: What a concept having leaders, having people that follow them.

[00:02:12] Carrie: Right. It’s a whole deal. What is that, what is that old adage that a leader without followers is just a person walking around?

[00:02:19] Drumm: Yes, exactly. The worst feeling a leader can have is he turns around and sees no one’s there. I’m sorry, he or she sees no one that’s there.

[00:02:28] Carrie: Right. Absolutely.

[00:02:29] Drumm: We have seen a lot of changes since COVID, even going through COVID where folks were working remotely, et cetera, it wasn’t, getting someone indoctrinated has probably not the word inculcated is probably a little bit better word to use, into the culture of the institution in a remote setting is very difficult, but we started coming to having expectations around people’s availability, being 24 /7, things like that.

What happened? How did we get there?

[00:03:07] Carrie: That’s actually a huge piece of workplace culture. There was a time, I think, in higher education, well, actually, let’s take one step back. One of the reasons that people really like to work on college campuses is because of the culture. They generally report that they really like the feeling of being around academia. They like being in a learning and iterative environment, and they love being around students. People say that all the time. The trick here is that as accessibility for all of our professionals, staff, faculty, administrators, has grown to the degree that your workplace is everywhere, what it means is that people are always on, they’re always working, whether they are on campus or interacting with their key constituency or not.

And without some boundaries and some limits, what happens is that folks can discover that they are working 24/ 7. Our students are always around. Like, even when campuses are closed, there’s always something to do. There’s always a student who needs something, which means there’s always a faculty member who needs some support or a staff member who needs some support. So it is easy to stay on all the time. And that creates a different kind of workplace culture than what people enjoyed even as few as 20 years ago.

[00:04:17] Drumm: You know, that’s interesting, people feeling like they have to be on. I know when I look at my own self and I have my own business, I check emails, I check text messages, I get notifications, and I’m pretty good at setting boundaries as far as I need to deal with this or not, but more times than not, I’ll get something comes in and I’ll be in the evening, my wife and I sitting down watching a television show or something like that, and I’ll say, sweetie, I’m sorry, I need to deal with this right now. And you know, I walk, Oh gosh, it’s such a long way. It’s probably 15 steps into my office. Yeah.

[00:04:54] Carrie: Well, and as we just learned, you have to be careful not to trip over the dog on the way. So, I mean, there are all sorts of potential barriers.

[00:05:01] Drumm: Well, usually by that time, it’s a grand dog. it’s not our dog. And so usually by then, our son comes and gets the dog and we have time to ourselves, but not always, but yeah, no tripping over the dog and dealing with the email and then right back and good, bad, indifferent, indifferent.

I think it sets expectations, doesn’t

[00:05:26] Carrie: It does. So it usually goes like this. Somebody is taking care of things in the evening and they write to a colleague or perhaps a student writes to a staff person at six or seven o’clock at night. And they are really just getting things off their list. All of us have done this. We’re going through the list. We’re working a little late. And then what happens is that if you receive that email and you respond, you have essentially you’ve motivated people then to continue to communicate with you after hours. And then now you’ve set yourself up in a position where this is what you do.

You habitualize that behavior, you train and teach other people that they can expect those things, and then it is difficult to back out of that.

[00:06:03] Drumm: Mm hmm. And creating that, quote, air of urgency.

[00:06:08] Carrie: Right.

[00:06:09] Drumm: You know, is there really that need? There’s a, there, sometimes there is a true need.

[00:06:14] Carrie: Absolutely.

[00:06:15] Drumm: When I was flying airplanes, you know, we’d have watch, we’d get a drill from the National Command Authority or whatever, and, you know, you’d have to respond within five minutes.

I mean, that was a real need. But then you’ve got perceived needs.

[00:06:30] Carrie: Sure. So if you imagine on a college campus, so there are students who really do have a need, there is a time sensitive need for a question that they have. Let’s say there’s a student who is, it’s exam week, and they have a take home exam with a 24 hour turnaround, so once you begin your exam, it’s due in 24 hours, and they’re partway through the exam, and they have a question, and they really, they need to know the answer to the question. They need some clarification. They really do have what I would say we could perceive within the context of the industry as an urgent need for a response. They do. Could the student have gotten that information another way? Absolutely. But in that moment, they do, they have a need.

If you have students that are dealing with issues around their bill, for example, or around their ability to register for a course that is required for graduation, or of course, absolutely, when you have students who are in mental health crisis, or who are in distress, those are urgent needs, and they are time sensitive.

The other piece is that we have folks who want things taken care of. They perceive that these needs are immediate and they want a response immediately. If they receive it, then what they discover is that they can expect those things quickly. And not every office behaves that way, but enough of them do, and that’s really from the user side. The other side actually comes from where the pressures may be coming from your peers or even from the people who are your leaders. And the leadership are the folks who can actually reset those expectations in a way that’s more effective. Because if you perceive that your boss expects for you to get in touch with students or families or colleagues within some immediacy, you’ll do it. But if you know that your boss does not expect that and will support you if you don’t work at 11 o’clock at night, then you are more likely to feel like you can set boundaries that are more reasonable and safe.

[00:08:18] Drumm: Well, when we talk about boundaries, it’s a psychological term. We understand that, but isn’t culture dependent on psychology for a lot of it, a healthy workplace?

[00:08:29] Carrie: And those kinds of things really, they get created over time. So, let me offer

[00:08:32] Drumm: Oh, really? It’s not overnight.

[00:08:34] Carrie: and you don’t just get to decide. You don’t just get to post it on the wall. And now that’s our culture. so I’ll offer, I know, I’m just really true. That’s the whole post it industry could be, could be built around the idea that I just write it

[00:08:46] Drumm: 3M could make a lot more money if we could do this.

[00:08:49] Carrie: Really, okay, well, can, we will get a cut of that though, that’s important.

[00:08:52] Drumm: Oh, we should. Yes,

[00:08:53] Carrie: Right, right. So I think, what I’ll offer to you is this. This is a very much a personal story. So once upon a time when I was just a young pup in the industry, I worked in an office where crux of our job was to see students on a walk in basis, no appointment. And our office was almost like a carnival. We had students all the time. It was that kind of space. My boss at the time felt extraordinarily strongly that everyone in the office needed to take lunch. Most bosses do, right? You want your folks to eat, but he didn’t just want us to take lunch. He thought it was important that the office close for lunch. So it wasn’t that he said to us as employees, you take lunch when you can, what he said, what he posted, how he acted, the culture in which appointments were handled through the course of the day he would note when it was that we would stop taking appointments in the 11 o’clock hour, so that by about noon, everybody would be done for about an hour, and we would close the door and put a sign on the door so that everybody had about an hour, both to eat lunch and to take care of any, errands around campus that people needed to do or to catch up on any email mailing, whatever, but that was a regular commitment, and he’s the one who made sure that it happened. He worked with our receptionist so that she knew where to cut off students as they were walking in. He would come out himself and make a decision if anything was in question, particularly in crunch times. And when we were in heavy crunch time where we were going to see even greater traffic, he would hire temporary people to come in and take the overload of the additional students so that the expectation was not that we would just work through lunch during those difficult times.

That’s how you create a culture that there’s an expectation that people can be seen. Absolutely. But that we as employees knew we could rely that we were going to have a break at this particular time, and he was going to take care of it. And we didn’t have to say to a student, I’m sorry, I can’t talk to you right now because I need to eat. That had already been said for us by the structure of the office. Make sense?

[00:10:55] Drumm: It does make sense. so let’s just back up a little bit. We’re talking about workplace culture, the need for leadership, the need for setting boundaries to make sure you’re taking care of your employees, because the expectations have become, you’re on call 24/ 7.

So with that, there’s also generational expectations. I mean, you’ll see folks, we’ve got a son who’s overseas teaching English. And he’s in a, you know, in a culture where it’s all cell phone centric. And they’ll be walking down the street, their head will be down, they’ll be texting, both thumbs will be flying at the speed of light. And If somebody stops, they’ll run into them and say, “Oh, we’re sorry.”, it’s like 24 /7 culture. It never stops.

[00:11:48] Carrie: Right. So one of the things that our technology has done is it has made accessibility and immediate accessibility available to us. And then what it’s done is normalize. That’s happened across all industries. So that we are seeing it in higher education is not unique. What is unique is that on many campuses, our traditional aged population are digital natives. So they are used to the idea that time and accessibility are fluid. They’re available at whatever time at night or whatever time early in the morning. And so when they receive some response back, that isn’t necessarily as much of a shock as it might’ve been at a time when we did not have the technology to support that kind of accessibility.

So I guess what I’m offering is that, while today’s traditional age student may have some of that expectation, that’s born from technology. Students 50 years ago may have absolutely wanted for their faculty members to respond to them immediately. The technology just didn’t allow it.

[00:12:49] Drumm: Yeah. No, I can remember in the middle of exam, you know, putting a hand up cause I face to face, I didn’t do online, but I remember with teaching, getting emails from students the middle of the night, you know, it’s like, I have a question on this assignment. It’s like, great. Glad you do. I’ll deal with it in the morning.

[00:13:09] Carrie: Right, and I think this is an important point to make. So, there are jobs and there are times where accessibility at this kind of high level are not only expected but necessary. And I think when we think a little bit about healthy culture, it needs to be, adjusted based on where an individual is in the hierarchy, what the job responsibilities are, and to some degree what the institutional, compensatory value is.

So someone who is making lots and lots of money to be available 24 hours a day or 20 hours a day. Okay. But somebody who is not, somebody whose responsibilities are more limited, but they are still needing to work late into the night in order to keep up with their workload, as a leader, that’s the kind of thing that’s, that is important to keep your finger on and make sure isn’t happening.

[00:14:01] Drumm: So your senior leadership, your presidents, your cabinet level folks, even down to AVPs and you know, that thing. Yeah. They probably should be available more outside of normal working hours.

[00:14:16] Carrie: I think what I would offer to your listeners is that what’s important to our top level executives is for them to be clear about what they think reasonable expectations are for themselves, and then to be able to clarify what the differences are in those expectations for folks down the hierarchy.

So, every campus is going to be a little bit different. What we know is that presidents and particularly some of the more publicly known members of the cabinet are often going to be available at all sorts of hours of the day, into the evening at appearances and events, on the weekends, and they will be available for emergencies in a different way.

We know that’s part of the job. They know that’s part of the job. The compensation structure expects that, the wraparound support for those folks with their team expects that. I am not at all suggesting that those folks necessarily are doing something that they shouldn’t be, though they may need to look into their culture as a team. What I think I notice in working with clients in higher education who were in that executive and junior executive level is that people that I would say are in the mid management, they are also adopting some of those same behaviors. And as CEOs and upper executives, that kind of culture is not one that is necessarily, high morale, that is going to encourage people to retain, and that encourages the same kind of spirit of delighted commitment that we’ve found in academia over time, because it just, it isn’t congruent with what folks feel like they signed on for.

[00:15:48] Drumm: Yeah. and the fallout is, you know, when you start building a culture that is 24 /7 for everybody, is, you’re going to have low morale, you’re going to have retention issues, and you know, it’s going to also affect family too. You put the kids to bed, you go back to work for another two

[00:16:09] Carrie: Yeah, I actually know several people who experience that on a regular basis. Even folks who don’t necessarily have dependents. So, their ability to stay engaged and involved in their community, as single folks or folks without kids, when they know that they have to work late in order to complete the tasks that need to be done. That can impact their commitment to the institution, but also then the institution’s ability to have a great ambassador out in the community.

[00:16:35] Drumm: Well, the other thing too is for single people who may not have a life outside of work, this is a way of filling in the gaps and that’s not necessarily healthy

[00:16:45] Carrie: It’s not healthy. and it’s something that can, that really contributes to some loneliness. And additionally, it’s not healthy for the life of the institution either. We want for our folks to love their job and to love the community. So many campuses are integrated within a community, and part of the part of the benefit of that is that our employees are active in the community. They’re out and among, and they’re really, they are being ambassadors for the institution.

[00:17:10] Drumm: So what do we do, Carrie? This, we’ve got two different sides to this equation. We’ve got students and we’ve got employees. So let’s start with students. What do we do?

[00:17:24] Carrie: So I think the first thing to notice Is

[00:17:26] Drumm: Well, before, I’m sorry, before we go there. We’ve talked about the problems. Is it a bad thing to have this kind of culture?

[00:17:38] Carrie: So, that’s a great question. Is it a bad thing? I think that it, that there’s probably a continuum of good and bad. So there are some enormous benefits to an institution, to students, to colleagues, for folks to have this kind of availability. It means that we complete our work in a different kind of way. It means that we’re able to respond quickly. It means that when we have things like, global pandemics or even snow days, that we are not brought screeching to a halt. It also means that when we need to take a break, the culture of our offices does not necessarily support that. Because we can work all the time, if folks perceive that it is expected that they will, then they do. And that, for most of our CEOs, it’s not what they want their entire team to be doing. That’s, I think, one thing I would communicate really clearly. I don’t know very many presidents or top executives in the cabinet who would say that they want their people to be working 24 /7, that they want their folks to go home and feel like they have to get online and continue to do desk work.

It’s just not the way that we like to treat people or that we want people to think about their job.

[00:18:53] Drumm: So we need to set those expectations. I’ve got a colleague of mine who works with a very prestigious law firm, and, said, you know, I’ll just call her Mary for anonymous sake, Mary, I thought you were on vacation this week. Oh, I am, but I’m trying to get some things done.

And it’s like, Okay, I know you’re like the number two person at this law firm in your particular area, but I sent her an email three weeks later, didn’t hear back for a week, and it’s like. Ah, that’s right. She said she was going on vacation. And she said, this time I really mean it

[00:19:37] Carrie: Good for Mary.

[00:19:38] Drumm: Good for Mary. Absolutely.

So what do we do? You know, we’ve talked about there’s pros, there’s cons for having this kind of culture, but it’s not sustainable. It really isn’t. And so what do we do? Look at it from a student perspective. what do we do with students?

[00:20:01] Carrie: So I think the first thing to start with is to know that we won’t change students desire for folks to respond to them immediately.

[00:20:10] Drumm: Really? Nope.

[00:20:12] Carrie: Not going to do it. We’re actually not going to change any of our desire. So it’s not only just students, it’s people. We’ve all been conditioned around this idea that if something can come to us immediately, we like it.

We like that we can have things delivered to our door overnight. That’s great. We like that we can sit on the sofa and click through channels really quickly. We like

[00:20:33] Drumm: that pizza that we get delivered that’s half warm.

[00:20:36] Carrie: yes. Well, we like that it comes to us in our jammies. So we like those things. So the idea that we’re going to change students desire for that is likely an unreasonable one.

So what we want to do instead is to acknowledge that it exists and help our students learn how to set healthy expectations within a professional setting. So thinking about the ways in which you message to students what they should expect and what is reasonable response time. There are a number of ways to do that.

One of the simplest and easiest is for folks to put something in their email signature line with regard to their availability and their response rate. And I have seen people do that. What they’ll do is say it is always my expectation to respond to your email within 48 hours. You know, if this is time sensitive, please feel free to call whomever. But what that does is says 48 hours, I’m getting two days, I’m getting two days from this. So, so, so be aware. Faculty members who put that into their syllabus, this is what a reasonable expectation is. This is how early in advance, you would, you would need to write to me to expect to hear back.

Those are things that we can do. Some of the subtle things we can do, however, are that when we notice that there are offices that are moving outside of those boundaries, that are responding more quickly for whatever reason, that are inconsistent with what the campus culture around that’s going to be, is that we subtly and supportively help those folks to reinforce the boundaries we’re trying to accomplish.

So if you have folks who are working late at night and responding to people in the middle of the night about things that aren’t necessarily emergencies, that what you’re doing is teaching students that they should expect something from across the campus that isn’t necessarily fair. And that’s some feedback to give to staff members

[00:22:26] Drumm: I, I remember that old saying, poor planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.

[00:22:35] Carrie: Correct, and helping folks, when we’re working with students, everything that we do is a learning opportunity. and so sometimes I have, staff who will talk to me about their experiences, and feeling like when they get everything done, it feels fantastic. What’s happening is I just want to get through my email list and it feels so great to go to bed like that.

Yes, absolutely. But what you’ve done is taught a whole bunch of people that you will respond at 10:30 at night. I have a client who experimented with the idea of delayed send for all of her emails and discovered that it was a boon. That what happened is that she would write emails and then she would delay their send so that they went during work hours, and she saw a significant difference in the way, particularly that students responded that then she wasn’t getting in a back and forth with a student in the evening time because they didn’t get the email until the next morning.

[00:23:23] Drumm: Wow. I love that. I think you could even put that you can program that into Outlook is

[00:23:31] Carrie: you can.

[00:23:31] Drumm: that’s amazing. I mean, I’m looking at my own to do list and it’s probably got 30-40 things on it.

[00:23:40] Carrie: Oh, that’s ambitious drum. Oh,

[00:23:42] Drumm: Well, yeah,I, listeners know I suffer from that disease called CRS. Can’t remember squat. So I write it all down to make sure I don’t forget it.

But each time I do something, I, you know, I check it off and I never get to the end of it, so I don’t have to worry about that gratification of, oh, I’ve got all my things done.

[00:24:04] Carrie: Zero inbox is very intoxicating.

[00:24:07] Drumm: Oh, isn’t it? Isn’t it? So, so looking at it, there’s nothing we’re going to do students other than train them what’s an emergency? What isn’t? Yeah.

[00:24:17] Carrie: More so than training them, teaching them. It provides them reasonable expectations in their workplace. It also helps them to see the role modeling that healthy professionals have healthy lives. And so when they go out into their world of work, they have some examples of people who have set up healthy boundaries around their work and their free time, much like this boss of mine that I had, which now feels like a million years ago. But when I think back to what did it feel like to work at an office where my boss protected my personal time, it felt fantastic.

[00:24:52] Drumm: Oh, I can well imagine. And as you were telling me that story, I was thinking, yeah, great boss, but not particularly customer centric. Why didn’t you stagger hours so that be able to do that? But you know, that’s all you know, we can go into that can of worms on another podcast.

[00:25:11] Carrie: actually offer that a piece of the answer was that had we staggered, then the whole team never would have been free at the same time.

[00:25:18] Drumm: Oh, so you were looking at it as a culture building or a team building exercise as

[00:25:24] Carrie: Correct. Yep. It was the only time that I knew. So if he ever wanted to pull us together as a group, that was the time to do it because that was the time the office was going to be closed.

[00:25:32] Drumm: Sure. So Let’s swap to the employees. Presidents need to understand what’s going on from a culture perspective. I mean, we’ve got a client that I’m just wrapping up with on doing shared governance and new president came in, she was completely unaware of the culture of the place. And she walked in, she’s going to survive, she’s going to do well, but it was an authoritarian top down culture. that basically wrecked the shared governance. And so this awareness by presidents of what’s going on and the culture of the institution is critical.

[00:26:16] Carrie: Well, and where this is concerned, actually, awareness is critical because they set the tone. So, right. And because this topic of making sure that the expectations of the institution match whatever it is that the job description and that the employee is prepared to meet. That is something that presidents care about deeply. Presidents really care about their people. They know that the heart and soul of a university environment is its employees, its faculty, its staff, and the experiences that students have with those people. And so nurturing those folks so that their morale is high and so that they believe and know that the institution cares about them as employees, just as much as we care about students as our current students and future alumni.

Like, presidents live and breathe this. And this particular topic, this idea around availability and particularly availability outside of the sort of common office hours. Drumm, it’s invisible. It’s absolutely invisible labor. And it’s the sort of thing that when a president finds out just to what degree someone’s job and their work hours and expectations have gotten off, off the rails, they often will feel frustrated that no one knew, or that somebody wasn’t taking care of this. And that comes out in all sorts of different ways. It can come out while the employee is still at the institution, and that person, really is frustrated or disappointed. That also will happen if that person should need to leave. Maybe they get another job or they move away. And then the institution discovers they have to hire two people to get all of that work done. And that is incredibly frustrating, when you’re thinking in terms of workforce development. So, I mean, it’s not just about feelings and wanting to take care of your people. It’s also about making things manageable and reasonable.

So, as a president and as an executive, both, you want to be aware of this.

[00:28:11] Drumm: Yeah. Well, it’s, it seems to me that, well, my conversations, most presidents aren’t aware of these type of things, and that tells me that HR really is not tracking how much people are actually working.

[00:28:27] Carrie: Well, and they may not be, necessarily. And keep in mind, we work in an environment where, when we, reward people extol their virtues, we often say things like Drumm is a model employee. He goes above and beyond. He is always there for the student. Doesn’t that sound awesome?

[00:28:46] Drumm: Except that there is that little bit like, Hey, you can get ahold of him midnight and he’ll respond.

[00:28:54] Carrie: Works all the time. He works all the time. So presidents really can’t necessarily, this isn’t going to be something that’s right in front of them. but I have crisp dollar bills in my wallet right now that I would lay down, to every president who is listening to your podcast, has a department on campus where this is an issue, but they wouldn’t necessarily know because the likelihood is that department is really,doing some great outcomes. Like their deliverables are high because people are working a lot.

[00:29:21] Drumm: Well, there was a question that you mentioned to me is how to figure this out. That key determining question. Can people take a vacation when they need to?

[00:29:32] Carrie: How high is the vacation tax is actually a way to think about this.

[00:29:36] Drumm: Ooh, I like that.

[00:29:37] Carrie: Yeah, so the vacation tax is something that most of us pay when we go on vacation, when even you and me, people who work for ourselves. So, what that means is that when you come back from vacation, that there will be things that only you can do that have piled up in your stead. That’s the tax that you pay. Some of us pay the vacation tax in advance when we get a bunch of stuff done early. Most of us pay it on the back side. In a department, if you discover a department where it would be nearly impossible for a particular position to be gone for an amount of time, let’s say a week. If that department would come screeching to a halt without that person in place, we have a workload problem.

If that person is afraid to take vacation because they know that when they come back the vacation tax is going to be so high that they want to avoid it, we have a problem. If what happens is that, that we don’t have folks who can swing in and help one another in emergencies, which you’ll know based on vacation or outage tax, you have a problem.

That’s a good way to really get your finger on that. How frequently do people need to work beyond reasonable expectations of work hours in order to complete the fundamental tasks of their job? And if they take a week off, how much stuff is either not going to get done, or how many extra hours will that person need to work?

[00:30:52] Drumm: And I’m going to preempt some of the listeners here because folks are, you know, in our current culture that we have, the typical comment is higher ed doesn’t work hard enough.

[00:31:06] Carrie: Oh.

[00:31:08] Drumm: and I will

[00:31:10] Carrie: Oh,

[00:31:10] Drumm: be happy to debate that with anybody who would like to, because higher ed does work hard. You hear a lot of really negative stories about, well, faculty only have to teach one class or whatever. Uh, they’ve got an awful lot of other things they’re doing. I had one guest on the show, we talked about faculty burnout. And the challenge with that is not only are they teaching their classes, but they end up becoming informal mental health counselors, because when a student comes into a faculty member’s office and the typical You know, how, how are things going?

The students nowadays unload on them, not, in a negative way, but they tell them about all their problems. And the faculty member just sits there and says, what am I supposed to do with this?

[00:32:02] Carrie: And that actually, those kinds of things can drift into the same issue. So what you’re talking about, what we have is our traditional age population of students has a higher comfort level with sharing the things that are going on with them that are barriers to their success. And once they have identified their one person or two people on campus that they really connect with, when that person says, how are you doing? How can I help? Which we totally mean when we ask. The student will tell us. And the above and beyond on that is, in some cases, greater than it was 15 years ago. It’s just an evolution in our student population.

[00:32:38] Drumm: Oh, it is. I term at the Facebook culture is we post about anything and we’ll talk about anything And as you said earlier, you’re not going to change the students.

[00:32:50] Carrie: Well, you’re not going to change this particular element of students. Students will grow and they will iterate pretty significantly, but we won’t change people’s expectation of immediacy. That’s here to stay.

[00:33:01] Drumm: Right. So we’re getting close to the end. I knew this was going to happen because this is a fascinating topic. If you start doing these type of things, setting these boundaries. You’ve got a lot of experience. What have you seen as positives for doing these kinds of things?

[00:33:22] Carrie: So when I observe, with clients who are making deliberate efforts around shifting expectations of accessibility and availability among their entire team or among themselves, there are a number of things that they see. The first is that they tend to find that their employees are happier and healthier, which means a better student experience all together. So when they don’t feel quite so pressed, when they do have some separation between work and home, and when they know that their home life and their home health is important to their boss or to their boss’s boss, then they are more likely to feel like they really matter to an institution, more likely to be retained. And the overall experience for that employee and anyone with whom they work is typically better. So that just brings up their morale is the long way of saying their morale is higher.

[00:34:10] Drumm: Morale, retention, when morale’s better, retention goes up. And if you’ve only got a limited amount of time to do things, you have to rethink how you actually accomplish

[00:34:22] Carrie: Well, how you accomplish work and how important the work is. So one of the things that we haven’t touched on is that when you, when you perceive that you have all this time, then you are less likely to be a little bit more judicious about whether or not we’re really going to do this particular practice.

So when we think about time as a finite resource, so work time as a finite resource, then we are more careful about whether or not we are really getting the return on investment for some of these activities or committees or projects that we’re working on. Is that where we want to invest our time? But when folks will work all around the clock to get something done, we don’t have that kind of discernment process.

So I think it actually tightens up our practice as well. It sets us up in a natural ongoing assessment of our work and of the efficiency and the effectiveness of our work as well.

[00:35:12] Drumm: Institutional effectiveness, very

[00:35:14] Carrie: Yeah. It’s, it does that naturally because, because there are limits. And what limits do is that it causes us to think twice and that’s healthy. Limits are healthy.

[00:35:24] Drumm: Oh, it is. And in many respects, you’re setting boundaries, teaches students, it’s okay to set boundaries as

[00:35:32] Carrie: It does. I think one of the things, that I’d offer is that the higher up the hierarchy you are, the more important it is that you spend some time thinking about what kind of workload and work hour expectation you believe to be fair for you and what you believe to be fair for those people who are in your hierarchy.

And it should be different. And then how do you model that in a way that supports those folks making decisions that are different than yours? How are you rewarding that? So if you’re a president or you’re a vice president, member of a cabinet who’s listening to this and who thinks, wow, I would really like to apply some of these things. I would encourage you that the first thing to think about is what you believe about your own hours. And then what messages are you sending to the people who work for you about what you believe they should do with their hours? Because they will naturally model on you. You are their role model in lots of ways. They are going to key onto what they observe you doing. If you want them to do something different, you’ll want to talk about it with them and talk about your expectations and reward folks who make decisions that meet your expectations around taking care of themselves differently.

[00:36:47] Drumm: Which brings us to our three takeaways for university presidents. I would say that is a pretty good one to start with.

[00:36:54] Carrie: Yeah. What I’ll say to you is this, institutions where the leadership talks about and actually models and rewards healthy work life integration really, really see benefits in their employees. They really do. Their employees feel better about the work that they’re doing and they are more likely to believe that the institution cares about them. And in the transitions that higher education is going through, that is one of those kinds of reward structures with an employee that you just, you cannot put a price tag on.

[00:37:26] Drumm: Oh, absolutely. So that’s one. Second one.

[00:37:30] Carrie: I would say the second is to remember that this is not something that students do because they are needy or they’re irritating or they’re doing something wrong. They’re actually responding to the way that the technology has made things available to them, which means it’s our job as the educators to help them learn how to use the technology as tools and not to respond to the technology bycontinuing to feed those immediate needs. So not blame the students, I think is the shortest way to say that.

[00:38:00] Drumm: I think that’s good and we don’t blame the parents either for them allowing it.

[00:38:05] Carrie: No, well, we don’t blame, we don’t even blame the parents for expecting it. Like, people, clients expecting a response, that makes complete sense. But when we set different expectations, and then we fulfill the expectations that we’ve set. I

[00:38:16] Drumm: Very good. Number three.

[00:38:18] Carrie: would say that the third one is this idea around, I watched even your face light up when we were talking about it, the concept of a vacation tax, paying really good attention to whether or not people believe that they can take a vacation, and whether or not if they do that, they will pay a penalty for that in terms of time. So do they really get a vacation? I would say too, I guess I would challenge any leader who’s listening to this, that’s a pretty good question to ask everybody at your next performance review.

To what degree people feel like they can take a vacation and not come back flooded with work. And if you hear that they are, then they are signaling to you that they need a little bit of help from you, but that’s a good question to ask that it doesn’t feel as much like, a question about performance. It really feels a little better question about workload. Vacation tax is also just a fun way to talk about it.

[00:39:06] Drumm: It is. I like that. And I’m going to push that out and say, presidents, you need to be thinking about this for yourself. When somebody comes into a position like this, I say, Who is your second in command? Who is succession planning, et cetera. Get them trained to where you can take some time off as well, because you cannot stay 24 /7 for three or four years at a time. It just doesn’t work.

[00:39:33] Carrie: Well, you can’t. And when we set up a situation where one person is necessary for a job, then that job itself, we have not created a succession planning model that’s healthy for the institution. So what is the expression? Everyone is replaceable. That isn’t because people are replaceable. It is because the institution’s bigger than any one person.

[00:39:52] Drumm: Absolutely. What’s next for you, Carrie?

[00:39:55] Carrie: Well, I really appreciate the opportunity to talk about this. Workplace culture is something that I talk about with my folks on a regular basis. And while they don’t realize it, it actually is a huge piece of talent development. So, thinking a little bit about creating a healthy workplace culture is, it’s a fancy way to think a little bit about making it a great place, making where you lead a great place to work.

So I appreciate the opportunity to talk about this. Thank you so much.

[00:40:21] Drumm: Oh, it’s my pleasure. Thanks for being on this show. I’ve had a great conversation. I look forward to doing it another time.

[00:40:27] Carrie: Thank you.


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