A Rutgers employee helps a student.
Employee well-being, recruitment and retention are key to a year-long pilot program, one of several new work initiatives designed to improve experiences for students and patients, support sustainability and foster an inclusive, respectful work environment.

Recruitment, retention, employee well-being key to pilot program, new work initiatives

Rutgers will implement flexible work arrangements for employees as part of a new extensive program that draws from lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure the university remains competitive in a changing work culture while better serving students, patients and the community.

The Rutgers Future of Work initiative, announced today by President Jonathan Holloway, builds on the flexibility and innovation that kept the university successfully operating throughout the pandemic.

“Managing the university throughout the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us to be more flexible, resourceful and resilient while staying focused on what matters most to our students, faculty, staff and the communities we serve,” Holloway said. “As we launch the Future of Work initiative at Rutgers, we will make certain that our students are well-served – that they have reliable and consistent access to people and resources they need, both in person and online; that they can benefit from the best practices of technology-enhanced teaching and learning; and that we meet their physical and mental health needs as we also support the well-being of our employees.”

The president approved all 25 of the university Future of Work Task Force’s short- and long-term recommendations, which were crafted with input from the university community through employee and student surveys and listening sessions. Holloway appointed the task force a year ago to explore insights gained during a pandemic that significantly changed how work gets done at nearly every workplace – including Rutgers, which pivoted quickly in March 2020 to remote instruction and, where possible, virtual operations.

Among the short-term recommendations are flexible work arrangements for positions and units where that is possible – with eligible staff who are granted permission for such arrangements expected to work a minimum of three days per week on campus or at Rutgers locations where employees are regularly assigned to work. Called FlexWork@RU, the year-long pilot program will begin Sept. 1.

Mindful of frontline workers who don’t have a remote work option, the short-term recommendations include exploring emergency caregiver support programs and expanding the types of authorized flexible work arrangements to include a flex workday schedule or a compressed workweek option.

Holloway acknowledged that faculty members work in a different fashion from their staff colleagues, and that he expects academic departments, centers and institutes may be able to develop flexible work options for faculty. “That said, it is my unambiguous expectation that faculty teach, train, advise and mentor in person,” he said.

Many of the task force’s recommendations, Holloway also noted, will be discussed with labor union representatives as they are considered.

“During this pilot year, we will apply what we have learned to formally offer employees more flexibility and develop programs to help improve their work-life balance and overall well-being and enhance workplace culture while operating the university with greater efficiency,” said Vivian Fernández, senior vice president for human resources and task force chair. “The changes we will make will help us better meet the needs of our students and employees and attract and keep the excellent employees we need as a leading national public research university.”

Details for employees who wish to apply for flexible work arrangements will be provided by University Human Resources through various means including virtual and in-person information sessions and on the Future of Work website, where you can read the full task force report. Supervisor approval is required for all flexible work arrangements.

The university will implement the report’s other short-term recommendations, including developing the infrastructure needed to support new work arrangements and establishing a Presidential Employee Excellence Recognition Program, this fall. During the pilot year, the university will also assess the effectiveness of flexible work arrangements in supporting student services, patient care and other areas, including how reducing the number of cars on roads and related carbon emissions may help Rutgers’ progress in achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

When the task force began its work, the president said that Rutgers is meant to be an in-person, face-to-face university community with campus walkways, academic buildings, libraries, dining halls and student centers busy with activity.

“In returning to that model, we also need to heed the lessons of the past two years and the creative ways in which we took advantage of technology to perform our work effectively amid the tremendous challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said in his message to the Rutgers community.

Planning will begin in the fall on the task force’s long-term recommendations, which include ensuring that Rutgers maintains a robust student-centered campus environment, reimagining teaching approaches to enhance student engagement and learning, and improving the quality of technologies and faculty preparation for effective online teaching.

“We will work together to put in place a thoughtful plan to support workplace excellence, attract and retain top talent, improve student and patient experiences, support innovation and sustainability, and foster a caring, inclusive, respectful work environment,” Holloway said.