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Making the Business Case: The Imperative for Supporting and Promoting Workplace Flexibility in Higher Education

December 30, 1899


Examples of Workplace Flexibility in Higher Education

  • Best practices for faculty career flexibility include programs and policies that work to create, implement, evaluate, and sustain flexibility. These efforts can include assessment, training of gatekeepers, creating campaigns and collateral materials, and measuring and rewarding usage of policies.

  • Implementing these flexible policies and programs would also comply with new National Institutes of Health (NIH) guidelines, which allow recipients to use grant money for supplementing faculty dependent care, providing child-care resources at NIH-funded conferences, and allowing for on-ramp funding for research.

  • In addition to NIH’s policies, the White House, the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Association of American Universities, and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities have also pledged their support to workplace flexibility in higher education.

  • Some examples of flexible policies and practices are listed below:  

    • Dual-career policies

    • Web page dedicated to listing flexible options, such as on-ramps to career opportunities

    • Tenure clock adjustment

    • Tracking tenure outcomes for faculty who stop the tenure clock

    • Memoranda of Understanding clarifying expectations for both faculty members and their institution during faculty leaves

    • Paid leaves for biological or adoptive mothers

    • Paid leaves for biological or adoptive fathers

    • Parental leave for same-sex and opposite-sex couples when a partner gives birth or adopts

    • Partial relief from duties with no reduction in pay

    • Equity study on paid and unpaid leaves

    • Part-time appointments for tenure-track and tenured faculty

    • Phased retirement

    • Committee on addressing career flexibility

    • Training for department chairs on career flexibility

    • Communications campaign to publicize flexible options

    • Holding administrators responsible for equitable usage of flexible career options

    • Reducing biases for users of flexible career options

  • For more details, please visit ACE’s Toolkit for Faculty Career Flexibility.

Revitalizing and Retaining Faculty

  • Providing faculty these flexible policies and programs allows them to be less stressed and reduces burnout, which in turn improves the quality of instruction for students. Flexible work arrangements allow for faculty to be more productive regarding the number of grants that they bring in, thus benefiting the institution. Flexible work arrangements also improve morale and employee relations.

  • A study conducted by the Families and Work Institute found that 44% of Americans were overworked. These overworked employees self-reported that they made more mistakes at work, felt increased levels of stress and resentment, and experienced poorer health (Families and Work Institute, 2004b).

  • Flexible policies are no longer just for women; they are important for recruiting and retaining men in the workforce as well. A 2013 Pew Research Center study showed that fathers with children younger than 18 are now about as likely as mothers to say they feel pressed for time and have difficulty balancing the demands of work and home. Far more fathers say they feel they aren’t spending enough time with their children: 46 percent, as compared with 23 percent of mothers. The report also found that fathers are less likely than mothers to feel that they’re doing a good job as a parent.

  • Revitalizing faculty also applies to senior faculty. The contributions of senior faculty can be immense, as these individuals are often the principal investigators on grants, usually hold senior administrative positions, and provide mentoring to junior colleagues on teaching philosophies and techniques (Bataille & Brown, 2006).

Promoting Inclusion and Diversity

  • Faculty career flexibility promotes inclusion and diversity. The changing demographics in the United States show that minorities are roughly one-third of the U.S. population, and are expected to become the majority by 2042 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2008). There are now four distinct generations working side by side, and there is an increasing number of dual-income families and single working mothers. Institutions need to adapt to promote success for these individuals. The key to advancing inclusion and diversity is to provide work/life flexibility for faculty, so they can have the appropriate flexible work arrangements and, in turn, be engaged, productive, and satisfied in their academic careers.

Remaining Competitive Internationally

  • The United States is at risk of losing talented faculty to other nations’ universities and colleges, where there is more work/life balance available. A 2012 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development study investigated two indicators: 1) time spent on leisure and personal care, and 2) number of overworked employees. The U.S. ranked 30 out of 36 for the first indicator and 27 out of 36 for the second indicator. Thus, U.S. workers have less leisure time and work more hours than their OECD counterparts.

  • A 2010 International Labour Organization study of 167 countries showed that only five—the United States among them—did not provide cash benefits to women during maternity leaves. While the United States offers employees 12 weeks of unpaid maternal leave, several developed countries offer multi-week 100% paid maternal leave, ranging from 12 weeks to 36 weeks (i.e., Austria, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Israel, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, San Marino, Slovenia, and Spain).

Keeping up with the Private Sector

  • While the United States in general falls behind other countries regarding work/life balance, the higher education sector lags behind the sector to which it loses many of its most talented faculty: the business sector. The latter typically takes a more aggressive role in women’s advancement initiatives, diversity initiatives, mentoring, networking, generational diversity management, and team effectiveness approaches (Alliance for Work-Life Progress, 2011). In turn, this allows for the business sector to be able to recruit and retain the best candidates available.

  • The business sector offers more options for flextime, telecommuting, and compressed work-weeks, along with more options for part-time schedules, job sharing, and phased returns from leave (Alliance for Work-Life Progress, 2011).

  • For example, the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), which focuses heavily on recruiting and retaining women, offers part-time options and creates a culture in which these options are utilized. Lucy Brady, a BCG partner and mother of three, states that “she was appointed partner while working part-time at the firm, which she has done for 10 out of 15 years" (Kwoh, 2013).

Recruiting and Retaining Future Generations

  • It is important to make colleges and universities an attractive place to work for future generations. Recruiting and retaining Generation Y (those born between 1981-2000) may prove to be harder than previous generations—out of 1,007 generation Y workers polled, 73 percent said that they worry about balancing professional and personal obligations (Yahoo! HotJobs & Robert Half International, 2008).

  • Fifty percent of Generation Y and 52 percent of Generation X  (those born between 1965-1980) describe themselves as family-centric, compared with 41 percent of baby boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) (Families and Work Institute, 2004a).

  • In addition, Generation Y workers expect to have more frequent job and career changes, meaning that it will be harder to retain them at one place of employment (Yahoo! HotJobs & Robert Half International, 2008).

Saving the Institution Money

  • Providing work/life balance for faculty increases the rate of retention, which in turn saves the institution money. Sustaining these initiatives over the long term will end up being a worthwhile investment. Examples of the models of cost-benefit analyses for faculty turnover rates can be found below.

Models of Cost-Benefit Analyses for Faculty Turnover
Iowa State University's Model

Through a National Science Foundation “ADVANCE” grant, Iowa State University created a template for determining the monetary cost analysis of their tenure clock extension policy, broken down by four different department categories (listed as A,B,C, and D in the charts below). Their findings showed an average savings of $83,099 by retaining one faculty member through flexible policies, rather than having to hire a new faculty member (Gahn & Carlson, 2008). Their model is shown below, and can also be found here.

​Cost-Benefit Analysis
A​ B​ C​ D​ Average ​

Search Committee Costs Sub-Total1

​$6,872 ​$8,065 ​$5,727 ​$5,021 ​$6,470

​On-Campus Interview Costs Sub-Total2

​$2,711 ​$4,788 ​$2,029 ​$3,392 ​$3,072

Advertising & Covered Classes Costs​3

​$53,084 ​$59,978 ​$39,765 ​$32,784 ​$48,352

​Average Assistant Professor Start-Up Costs FY 2003-FY 2006 Sub-Total4

​$310,621 ​$310,472 ​$93,225 ​$64,351 ​$167,222

Average Cost to Hire One New 9-Month Assistant Professor (Tenure-Eligible)​

​$373,288 ​$383,304 ​$140,746 ​$105,548 ​$111,432

Average Cost to Retain One 9-Month Assistant Professor from FY 2006-FY 2007 Sub-Total​

​$65,946 ​$78,516 ​$57,559 ​$50,471 ​$66,220

Estimated Staff Cost (Central) to Administer Flexible Policies​5

​$625 ​$625 ​$625 ​$625 ​$625

Total Cost to Maintain Faculty with Flexible Policies​6

​$66,571 ​$79,141 ​$58,184 ​$51,096 ​$28,332

Dollars Saved with Flex Policy Retention vs. Hiring New​7

​$306,717 ​$304,162 $82,562 ​$54,453 $83,099


  1. See Table 1
  2. See Table 2
  3. See Table 3
  4. See Table 4
  5. See Table 5
  6. See Table 6
  7. Does not include salary savings for vacant positions, but dollars were calculated and appear in Table 7 


​Table 1: Search Committee Costs of Hiring One Tenure-Eligible Assistant Professor
A​ B​ C​ D​ Average​

​Number of Committee Members

​5 5​ ​5 ​5 ​5

​Average of All Faculty 9-Month Salary Equivalent FY 2006   

$84,651 ​$99,343 ​$70,546 ​$61,848 ​$79,697

​Length of Search in Days

​199 ​195 ​131 ​180 ​171.4

​Average Search Committee Hours Spent Per Week

​2 ​2 ​2 ​2 ​2

​Hours Spent on Search (Average of All Colleges)

​48.97 ​48.97 ​48.97 ​48.97 ​48.97

​Average Faculty Hours Worked Per Week

​58 ​58 ​58 ​58 ​58

​Committee Member Percent of Year Opportunity Cost

​1.624% ​1.624% ​1.624% ​1.624% ​1.624%

​Committee Member Opportunity Cost

​$1,374 ​$1,613 ​$1,145 ​$1,004 ​$1,294

​Committee Costs Sub-Total

​$6,872 ​$8,065 ​$5,727 ​$5,021 ​$6,470
Table 2: Interview Costs of Hiring One Tenure-Eligible Assistant Professor​
A​ ​B C​ D​ Average​

​Average Number of On-Campus External Candidates Interviewed Per Search

​3.38 5.97​ ​2.53 ​4.23 ​3.831

​Average Domestic Airfare FY 2006

​$436 ​$436 ​$436 ​$436 ​$436

​DSM Airport to Ames Ground Travel Cost

​$38 ​$38 ​$38 ​$38 ​$28

​Average Ames Hotel Cost Per Night FY 2006

​$89 ​$89 ​$89 ​$89 ​$89

​Food, Per Diem Estimate FY 2006

​$75 ​$75 ​$75 ​$75 ​$75

​Number of Days on Campus

​2 ​2 ​2 ​2 ​2

​On-Campus Interview Costs Sub-Total

$2,711 ​$4,788 ​$2,029 ​$3,392 ​$3,072
​Table 3: Advertising & Covered Classes Costs of Hiring One Tenure-Eligible Assistant Professor
​A B​ ​C D​ Average ​

​Average Advertising Costs Per Search

​$1,084 ​$1,144 $967​ $454​ $751​

​Average FTE Lecturer Salary FY 2006

$52,000 $58,834 ​$38,798 ​$32,330 ​$47,517

​Advertising & Covered Class Costs

$53,084 $59,978 $39,765 ​$32,784 ​$48,352
​Table 4: Summary of Start-Up Costs to Hire One Tenure-Eligible Assistant Professor
A​ ​B C​ D​ ​Average

​Average Assistant Professor Starting Salary FY 2003–2006

​$63,857 ​$71,745 ​$53,793 ​$46,433 ​$63,357

Average Assistant Professor Start-Up Costs* FY 2003–2006​

$246,764 $238,727 ​$39,432 ​$17,918 ​$115,406

Average Assistant Professor Salary and Start-Up Costs FY 2003–2006 Sub-Total​

$310,621 $310,472 $93,225 ​$64,351 ​$167,222

*Start-up costs include: computer/peripherals, lab space/equipment, graduate assistants, summer support, moving expenses, research support, other.

​Table 5: Cost of Maintaining One Tenure-Eligible Assistant Professor
​A ​B C​ ​D ​Average

Average Assistant Faculty Nine-Month Salary FY 2006 ​

​$63,951 ​$75,883 ​$56,046 ​$48,991 ​$64,093

Average Annual Percent Salary Increase​

​3.12% ​3.47% ​2.70% ​3.02% ​3.26%

​Average Annual Salary Increase in Dollars

​$1,995 ​$2,633 ​$1,513 ​$1,480 ​$2,127

Maintenance Costs Sub-Total​

​$65,946 ​$78,516 ​$57,559 ​$50,471 ​$66,220
​Table 6: Flexible Faculty Career Program Administrative Costs 
A​ B​ C​ D​ Average​

Number of Administrative Staff (FTE Equivalent) Central​

​1 ​1 ​1 ​1 ​1

Administrative Salary Costs​

​$50,000 ​$50,000 ​$50,000 ​$50,000 ​$50,000

Hours Spent Per Week Processing Requests​

​0.50 ​0.50 ​0.50 ​0.50 ​0.50

Average Administrative Hours Worked Per Week​

​40.00 ​40.00 ​40.00 ​40.00 ​40.00

Administrator Annual Percentage Cost​

​1.25% ​1.25% ​1.25% ​1.25% ​1.25%
​Administrative Staff (Central) Cost Per Faculty
​$625 ​$625 ​$625 ​$625 ​$625
Table 7: Position Vacancy Salary Savings​
A​ B​ C​ D​ Average​

Length of Search in Days​

​199 ​195 ​131 ​180 ​171.4

​Time from Hire to Start in Days

​105 ​113 ​117 ​171 ​127.8

​Average Percentage of Year Position Vacant

​0.83 ​0.84 ​0.68 ​0.96 ​0.82

Average Assistant Faculty Nine-Month Salary FY 2006 ​

​$63,951 ​$75,883 ​$56,046 ​$48,991 ​$64,093
Average Salary Savings Per Vacancy
​$53,263 ​$64,033 ​$38,081 ​$47,112 ​$54,059
Ernest Schloss’s Model

Ernest Schloss analyzed faculty turnover rate and cost at 19 departments within the University of Arizona College of Medicine over a five-year span (Schloss, Flanagan, Culler, & Wright, 2009).

Schloss found that the turnover rates ranged from 4.9 percent to 8.3 percent per year. To calculate the annual turnover rate, he used the following formula:

Number of faculty leaving the institution in any given year  ÷  Total # of faculty with appointments in the same year

His model for determining turnover costs involved studying recruitment costs, hiring costs, and lost clinical income costs. Adding these three variables together, and using data from the departments of medicine and surgery based on completed searches during 2005, Schloss was able to determine the mean cost of replacement for one individual in three different categories of faculty:

​Category of Faculty ​Number of Completed Searches ​Cost per Search ​Mean Cost of Replacement of One Individual
​Generalists ​1 ​$115,554 ​$115,554
​Subspecialists ​9 ​$286,503 ​$2,578,527
​Surgeons ​7 ​$587,123 ​$4,109,875

It should be pointed out that the calculations do not attempt to take into account the stress and loss of productivity involved in the turnover process.

Deane Waldman’s Model

Deane Waldman’s template for cost/benefit analysis calculates turnover costs by categorizing the phases of employment: hiring, training, working, and termination. He looked at the sum of three factors: hiring (time spent in the selection, recruitment, and preparation of candidates), training of new candidates, and the cost of reduced productivity (CoRP). From this, he created a formula for calculating the cost of turnover: Hire + train + CoRP = Cost of replacement. Based on his formula and a case study that he conducted with a medical school and university hospital, during which he analyzed the payroll records over a period of time, Waldman found that turnover costs represented an expenditure of about five percent of annual operating budgets (Waldman, Kelly, Arora, & Smith, 2004).


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Bataille, G.M., and Brown, B.E. (2006). Faculty career paths: Multiple routes to academic success and satisfaction.  Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Education.

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