Staffing Models and Institutional Flexibility is a timely and fascinating piece of research (writes Gwen Wileman), which explores the range of staffing models and approaches to increase institutional flexibility being introduced across an increasingly differentiated higher education system. The study suggests that institutions are endeavouring to respond to rapidly changing environments in ways that are innovative and forward looking, whilst maintaining the psychological contract they have with their staff.
The report is comprehensively researched and clearly presented, providing conceptual frameworks within which universities and higher education colleges can review their individual approach, as well as a set of practical questions which provide clear and helpful guidance to steer institutional leaders through the tensions and challenges along the way to determining the best approach for them.
When considering the drivers for change, the report emphasises that ‘Institutions are under pressure to consider more flexible models for managing staff, not only because of global, market orientated environments, financial constraints , and changing student expectations but also because of the changing aspirations and expectations of staff themselves’.
The term ‘staffing model’ is used to represent both the formal employment contract, and the way in which this translates day-to-day into the psychological contract. I welcome the emphasis placed upon the psychological contract in the report. Its importance in ensuring the engagement of employees should not be underestimated. The report provides some really useful insights into the extent to which employer engagement can facilitate or create a barrier to the development or transformation of different staffing models. I was particularly struck by the simple, but effective summary of ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ motivators and rewards which help institutions to think carefully about the balance between academic freedoms and practical constraints which arise from pressures on HEIs. Getting this balance right is central to the maintenance of the psychological contract and the development of successful staffing models.
A key aspect of the research identifies three generic models as an overarching frame for reviewing higher education staffing developments. These are:
These models are not mutually exclusive, and indeed one or more different models existed in the institutions taking part in the research, and I believe this to be true sector wide. The value of these generic models and the numerous examples of sector wide innovations and approaches offered by the report are an extremely helpful resource.
Issues such as flexibility in practice, relationships and contractual relationships, workload models, reward and retention, national bargaining and shared services are just some of the critical areas of impact which are explored in the research findings.
In summary this is a valuable report from both a conceptual and practical standpoint. It provides some helpful insights on a wide range of staffing models which within their own context help leaders to strike the balance between consistency, transparency and to recognise circumstances when individual solutions may be required. It is of interest to all leaders and HR professionals across the sector.
A myriad of questions and things to think about are highlighted and these seem to be equally applicable to all universities and higher education colleges despite the diversity in the sector. One size does not fit all, however this comprehensive research provides a clear framework which informs thinking and guides each institution to explore their current and future approach to staffing models and institutional flexibility in a way which is relevant to them.
Celia Whitchurch, Institute of Education, University of London and Professor George Gordon, University of Strathclyde. Research report series 3-6, June 2013.
This article refers to the report published in June 2013 and can be found online here. The literature review will be available in September 2013.
Gwen Wileman is a Leadership Foundation associate working primarily as an HR and OD consultant and executive coach with UK Universities. She is joint Programme Director for the HR Business Partners development programme run by the Leadership Foundation on behalf of Universities HR.
Gwen has experience as an HR Director in three culturally diverse sectors – Royal Mail, NHS and higher education, where she was until 2008, HRD at De Montfort University, Leicester.
Leadership Foundation Associate
Until 2009, Gwen was director of HR at De Montfort University, a post she held for eight years. She led a team of 45 people providing HR, leadership development, academic professional development, training and occupational health, safety and wellbeing services.
Prior to this, Gwen held HR director and leadership development roles in the NHS and UK Post Office, including a senior consultancy role at their National Leadership College. In addition, she was an academic at Leicester Business School. She brings extensive experience of organisational and leadership development, change and people management in three very culturally diverse organisations. Gwen has a particular knowledge and interest in the higher education sector, its culture and associated people management challenges.
Gwen has successfully coached many senior managers and directors, both formally and informally, in universities, the NHS and UK Post Office businesses.