Flexibility is Key

I have to laugh at myself as I am writing this blog.  It is Thursday evening at 5:40 pm and I am just finally sitting down to write this next segment on recruitment and retention of related service staff for schools.  Flexibility to balance life and work was the number one factor for accepting or staying in a job. This was above compensation according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association’s (ASHA) Career Satisfaction Survey. ASHA’s study showed 98% of those responding to the survey indicated flexibility as either important (26%) or very important (72%). Think about that, only 2% felt that flexibility to balance life and work was neither important nor unimportant.

So how exactly do experts define this balance? When I Googled “work-life balance definition”, here is the first definition that was populated per Wikipedia.org, “Work-life balance is a term commonly used to describe the balance that a working individual needs between time allocated for work and other aspects of life. Areas of life other than work-life can include personal interests, family and social or leisure activities.” Digging a little deeper, I found an entire article dedicated to defining work-life balance.  Jim Bird, the Publisher at WorkLifeBalance.com, in his article “Work-Life Balance Defined” states, “However, at the core of an effective work-life balance definition, are two key everyday concepts that are relevant to each of us. They are daily Achievement and Enjoyment, ideas almost deceptive in their simplicity.” “Meaningful daily Achievement and Enjoyment in each of my four live quadrants: Work, Family, Friends and Self.” Bird also says, “There is no perfect, one-size-fits-all, balance you should be striving for.  The best work-life balance is different for each of us because we all have different priorities and different lives.” Hence the reason I am writing this blog at 6 pm on a Thursday evening.

When internalizing this and applying it to your staff, you’re going to have to find out what that could mean for them.  For some, it will mean a job share position.  They only want to work for 2 or 3 days a week.  But you have a full-time position to fill.  Being flexible in the number of hours you hire and not expecting them to complete a full-time caseload in 3 days of work will give staff the incentive to take the position and reach achievement and joy at work.  This may mean agency work for the other 2 days or until you can locate another therapist to job share with your first employee.

For some, it may mean more variety (others less variety) in their caseload or setting of work.  Finding out where they can feel successful with their students and putting them in that location will increase their enjoyment of their work.  I always found, when I was working with students, if they were improving and learning, then I felt I was achieving job satisfaction as well. When my caseloads were too high, I felt ineffective and frustrated.  The paperwork piled up and I couldn’t get the students scheduled adequately to meet their needs.  ASHA’s schools Survey 2018: SLP Workforce and Work Conditions Report, results indicated, “In every type of facility large amount of paperwork ranked as the greatest challenge, followed by high workload/caseload size in second place.” (ASHA 2018-Schools-Survey-Workforce-Report) Large amounts of paperwork were reported by 79% of SLPs as their greatest professional challenge.

Finally, consider allowing your staff some time to telecommute.  This can be working from home a specific number of hours per week.  The time that they need to do the paperwork for instance.  When looking for options companies can use to allow more flexibility to their staff, telecommuting was in the top four suggestions time and again.  You may argue, ‘But we are a school, not a company.’ True, but there are definitely options available for online therapy services and I don’t know many school districts today that don’t have an online or web-based IEP system that can be accessed from anywhere with a secure username and password. Remember the suggestion to allow a staff member part-time hours?  Online therapy would be a great option to consider when trying to cover those additional hours.  Kat Boogaard from toggl.com stated in a blog, 5 Ways to Increase Workplace Flexibility in 2018, “…by emphasizing flexibility and balance, employers can increase the happiness and satisfaction of their staff—which reduces turnover. 90% of organizations who have implemented work-life balance programs say it has improved satisfaction, with another 74% saying it actually improved retention.” (5-ways-increase-workplace-flexibility-2018).

As a Special Education Director or Administrator in charge of hiring for your district, your work is ever-changing and challenging.  By thinking outside the box and giving you some food for thought, I am hopeful that you can take something away from this blog that will be beneficial to your district and your staff.  A blessing that will help you retain staff by giving them more flexibility to do their work with enjoyment and a sense of achievement.

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