Future-Proofing Higher Education With Employee Experience

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Higher education is facing many obstacles. The entire industry has shifted over the last few years and many higher education institutions are having to adjust how they operate to meet those changes. This article will explore how employee experience and good service management can help higher education institutions overcome those obstacles.

The Changes in Higher Education

One of the biggest changes in higher education is the shifting student demographic. Just a few years ago, student populations were made up of 18-22-year-olds, who lived on campus, went to school full-time, and were working toward a 4-year degree. Today, many students are adult learners, part-time students or taking classes completely online. Many individuals are questioning whether a traditional higher education degree is worth the financial burden and are opting out of traditional higher education altogether.

Additionally, students on campus are dealing with different struggles than past students. Many students are forced to balance multiple jobs while in school to make ends meet. This has resulted in students struggling with increased financial pressure and higher education has become plagued with mental health problems.

And on top of all of those changes, higher education is struggling with decreased funding, increased competition, and budget cuts. Higher education institutions must find innovative and cost-effective ways to engage current, prospective, and past students. The best, easiest and smartest way to do that is by engaging their employees.

The Need for Engaged Employees

Perhaps most worrisome among higher education institutions is that they are struggling with employee engagement. Simply stated – many higher education faculty and staff members are not engaged. Gallup performed a detailed study on employee engagement across several industries. After performing 258 million interviews including 75,000 with faculty and staff members, Gallup found that just 34% of faculty and staff within higher education are engaged at work. This engagement score is lower than most of the industries that Gallup measures.

Unengaged employees could be costing institutions at the bottom line. The faculty are often the institution’s frontline for their students. An engaged faculty can provide students with tools they need to overcome the obstacles they’re facing, which will not only help students stay at the institution, but can help create a dedicated and successful alumni network.

Also, engaged employees are more likely to stay at the institution. Studies have shown that focusing on employee engagement can result in better retention rates and cost savings over time. In fact, according to the American Council on Education, Iowa State University estimates an average savings of more than $83,000 per faculty member retained when engagement practices are applied. Employee turnover can be costly – so imagine how much that adds up over time when good faculty members are retained!

The Institution’s Role in Employee Experience

The question is what can the institution do to support employee experience? Mike Bollinger, global AVP of thought leadership and advisory services for Cornerstone OnDemand notes, “Faculty and staff members help create the student experience, and it’s up to the institution to provide their employees with the learning curriculum, professional development opportunities and recognition they deserve to help both higher education employees and their students succeed.”

Higher education institutions can leverage technology and services to create a better employee experience that includes professional development, learning opportunities, and better operational management.

Digital is an obvious choice for most of these experiences. Higher institutions are already successfully implementing digital-first experiences like digital workflows, online onboarding, training programs, and online learning management systems.

But future-proofing higher education with employee experience requires more than creating digital-first experiences. Technology alone won’t guarantee an exceptional employee experience. Good service management is necessary. The service management I’m referring to is not just IT service management. I’m referring to the holistic approach of delivering value through the use of services, based on the use of technology. Some refer to this as Enterprise Service Management. Whether you call it Enterprise Service Management, service management, or IT service management, one thing needs to remain the same: you must focus on how organizations can co-create value and then deliver that value using technology.

What can higher education leaders do to create exceptional employee experiences?

Institutions must acknowledge the silos that exist among their faculty and staff before they can begin to consider the technological needs. Silos are culturally embedded in higher education institutions. There are silos between faculty and staff. There are silos among adjuncts, full-time professors and tenured professors, as well as, silos among departments. Working to create open lines of communication and to empower the entire institution to collaborate to run higher education as a business. It’s important that both faculty and staff adapt their thinking and actions in terms of value and outcomes instead of activities and things.

This is where IT can take the lead within an institution. Higher education CIOs can work with the rest of the institution to understand the overall goals and determine how technology can help the institution meet those goals.

There are two steps a CIO can take to begin this process.

Identify, map, and manage value streams
When a CIO maps value streams across the institution and identifies where technology is used to support those value streams, they can begin to identify and eliminate redundant spending and waste. They can also begin to find process improvements that can support better employee experience.

Establish an experience center
An experience center is a little like an expanded IT service desk. It is a single point of contact for reporting and managing service issues. Successful experience centers have well-defined processes supporting defined value streams. The experience center can benefit both the student and the faculty and staff as it supports the entire engagement lifecycle of both the students and the faculty. It reduces any frustrations or problems using technology so they can be quickly solved.

Higher education is evolving and the evolution isn’t going to slow down any time soon. While there are many questions about the future of higher education, one thing that remains certain is that the time is now to engage employees and strengthen the brand, operations and bottom line of an institution. This approach of addressing and improving the employee experience of faculty and staff on the front line can create a ripple effect that will leave the end-users, the students, feeling satisfied, cared for and supported by their institutions.

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