Dr. Peter Hirst, Associate Dean, Executive Education, MIT Sloan School of Management explains why HR is the driving force behind modern working practices in MIT and beyond
A few years ago, to address the inconvenience of moving to a smaller space, the Office of Executive Education at the MIT Sloan School of Management began testing a fundamentally new approach to how, where and when our people work—by developing a set of team-based flexible work guidelines that engage the entire team instead of making individual accommodations.
The pilot proved highly successful and later served as a model for a number of pilot programs on flexible arrangements, now managed through MIT Human Resources, across MIT. We are very pleased with this accomplishment, and with the support and enthusiasm of our colleagues in the Human Resources departments at MIT Sloan and MIT.
Competition for Talent
Some academic institutions may be hotbeds of innovation, yet when it comes to developing and adopting workplace policies to accommodate today’s workers, higher education has been lagging behind other industries, according to the widely publicized Gallup report “State of the American Workplace, 2017.”
This is a serious concern for us at MIT, as we compete with industry for the best talent, especially in Kendall Square, the biotech capital of the world. The report emphasizes that American workers value life-work balance above pay and job security. That is not to say that people want to work less—what they want is more control over how, where, and when they work. In other words, work flexibility.
Apply, Evaluate, Iterate
Overt flex work policies are a fairly recent development. Being MIT, we are not likely to jump on the latest trend just because something is in vogue in Silicon Valley. Instead, we test different models, analyze the data, and iterate our approaches based on the findings.
We are delighted to say that our own small department’s ongoing experiment with flexible work policies has helped move forward a major update of MIT’s Job Flexibility policy in 2016 and paved the way to a larger, Institute-wide series of pilot programs.
As our team was dealing with office re-location, the HR department at Sloan was evaluating its flex work polices.
“We needed our policies to address remote work directly,”
says Marianna Pierce, Policy and Compliance Specialist at MIT Human Resources.
Bill Garrett,Executive Director Human Resources at Sloan, elaborates:
“How could we move beyond just doing flexible work schedules as an accommodation to individual requests by employees, which was the primary way it was being used at the time, to thinking more strategically about flexible work?”
His department engaged a work-life consulting firm tofacilitate a series of working sessions for managers at MIT Sloan, which we found highly valuable.
To be sure, for flexible work to work, it is essential that a group’s manager is onboard; but a manager cannot force people to work in a different way, not effectively, anyway. Effective flex work is a team effort. Everyone needs to feel confident that the new policies reflect their interests and serve the group’s business goals. As our pilot was ending, the results surpassed even our expectations when 90 percent of the team said that their family and personal life improved. We were also pleasantly surprised when 93 percent of our team reported that collaboration—a serious concern at the outset of the pilot—was better than before.
Now, three different groups at MIT are running flexible work pilots of their own, and plans for more are underway. MIT employs approximately 12,110 people, including faculty, across our various—and highly diverse—departments, labs and centers. Creating flexible work guidelines to address and effectively accommodate such varied teams was no small task for these groups and HR. “What we needed to do was build internal capacity here in the MIT HR Department to guide and support our departments, labs and centers, and facilitate these pilots moving forward,” says Ronnie Mae Weiss, Senior Work-Life Manager at MIT’s Work-Life Center.
What’s Next for the Future Workforce and for Us
In 2015, Millennials have surpassed Gen-Xers as the largest generation in the U.S. labor force, and responding to their needs and expectations should be top of mind for any forward-thinking organization.
“Millennials are the future of our workforce and the future leaders of our Institute,” says Weiss. “And they are asking for flexibility and more work-life balance.”
Our new Flexible Work policy is not set in stone. Rather, it’s a collection of “living documents.” To make this work, each team needs to come up with its own interpretation of guiding principles.
Who knows, we at Executive Education might be updating our guidelines soon based on the experience of other groups and their pilots. The three other pilots are running now and we will have more data to share later this year.
For a more detailed analysis, see the original full article as it appeared on the MIT Sloan Executive Education blog.
Dr. Peter Hirst leads the team of professionals who partner with clients and faculty at the MIT Sloan School of Management to develop, design, and deliver innovative executive education programs for individuals and companies.