In a letter to the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) community in April, President Bruce E. Jarrell, MD, FACS, announced plans to create the Future of Work Task Force, which “will help us think through the changing needs of this institution, support our existing workforce, and plan for the future.”
At a kickoff meeting in August, task force members met one another in person for the first time and discussed the many ways in which the workplace landscape has changed since the spring of 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic began wreaking havoc on what people everywhere once considered “normal” life. The event also marked the launch of the Future of Work Task Force website as well.
“I can’t take the smile off my face because I’m just so excited about this work,” Malika S. Monger, MPA, PHR, associate vice president and chief human resources officer of UMB’s Human Resource Services, said as she welcomed task force members.
“I feel like this is a pivotal moment for our UMB community. And what we’re trying to do in this work is hugely important,” said Monger, who is a task force co-chair along with Flavius R.W. Lilly, PhD, MA, MPH, vice provost of academic and student affairs and vice dean of the Graduate School, and Diane Forbes Berthoud, PhD, MA, chief equity, diversity, and inclusion officer and vice president. “We definitely have our work cut out for us.”
The task force is composed of three committees: Work Flexibility, Employee Value Proposition, and Employee Well-Being. The committees, which reflect Universitywide representation, are charged with developing short- and long-term recommendations to leadership related to work flexibility, employee value proposition (why people want to work at, and remain, at UMB), and employee well-being. The committees also will address other needed resources, including technology, training and development needs, and any other identified resources required to ensure UMB continues to be an employer of choice now and in the future.
In addition, a human resources work group will be charged with creating a job needs assessment tool, ensuring policies and practices reflect the recommendations of the task force and identifying the strategic workforce planning needs of UMB.
Monger credited Patricia Hoffmann, MA, MSL, director of benefits, work/life strategies, and compensation, and Elisa Medina, MSW, manager, career development, both of whom serve as project managers on the task force, for the research they conducted on workforce issues before the task force launched.
Leadership for the Future of Work Task Force also includes executive sponsors Dawn Rhodes, DBA, senior vice president and chief business and finance officer, and Roger Ward, EdD, JD, MSL, MPA, provost, executive vice president, and dean of the Graduate School.
“I'm going to begin by saying thank you,” Rhodes told the volunteers. “To my knowledge, we didn’t have to twist anybody’s arm to get you here. And that’s because you care about the future of work, which is directly tied to the future of UMB.”
She asked that task force members approach their work with a mindset based on UMB’s core values set of Innovation and Discovery.
“I’m going to ask you to look at the research, look at our mission, and make the best recommendations on all of that and not personal agendas,” Rhodes said. “I need you all to know that everything is on the table. We don’t have anything that we’re saying, ‘Don’t touch.’ ”
The work of the task force is as important as any strategic planning process or accreditation renewal, Ward noted.
“This is right up there with them, in my point of view, because we are talking about: ‘How do we remain competitive? How do we remain excellent? How do we position ourselves going into the future to recruit the very best faculty and staff to this institution?’ The answer is based on the recommendations that come from this group that will build that foundation,” he said. “The recommendations will come to the executive leadership for review, consideration, and hopefully eventual adoption.”
Meanwhile, Lilly is so passionate about the topic that he joined the kickoff meeting virtually from vacation in Madrid, Spain.
“Perhaps I’m not modeling the best habits of work-life balance by participating in this meeting while I’m on my vacation,” he joked. “But I’m really enthusiastic, if not zealous maybe, about this topic, and I really couldn’t bring myself to miss it. It’s too important to me; I think it’s really important to the University.”
Among all of UMB’s assets, there is none more valuable than its people, Lilly said.
“The world of work is undergoing a bit of a metamorphosis, and the future holds immense potential for those organizations and institutions and universities that get it right,” he said.
Forbes Berthoud spoke of what she referred to as the “triple pandemics” — COVID-19, the social issues related to the racial reckoning of 2020, and the economic downturn.
“When you think about equity, we need to be thinking about populations that have been marginalized and are impacted disproportionately because of these triple pandemics, such as those who are caregivers or have domestic responsibilities,” she said.
“By thinking about those who have been forgotten and/or marginalized, and looking at the data, and the best and emerging or promising practices, we can ensure that UMB is that community that’s caring, that’s nurturing, but supportive, that aligns with our core values of respect and well-being and integrity,” Forbes Berthoud said.
Task force members viewed a virtual presentation by guest speaker Bonnie Dowling, MPH, MSN, associate partner at McKinsey & Company, a global management consulting company based in Denver.
“I don’t think this should come as any surprise. But despite the economic uncertainty that we are looking at and thinking about and talking about in great detail, employees actually continue to be quitting their jobs at a record pace,” Dowling said.
Since the start of the Great Attrition — or what some call the Great Resignation — in the United States, over 50 million people have quit their jobs, she said.
“If that number just feels kind of large, and you’re not really sure what to do with it, I’ll put it into perspective: More than the entire full-time employee population of California, Florida, Texas, and New York combined have quit their jobs. Thirty-six percent of those did so without another job in hand.”
Instead, she said, people joined the gig economy, retired, went back to school, or stayed home to take care of their families.
Research shows employees said they quit because they didn’t feel valued by their organization, they didn’t have a sense of belonging, or they lacked caring and trusting teammates. When employers were asked why they thought employees were leaving, they cited looking for a better job, seeking more money, or they were poached by other companies.
“When we look at these together, what we start to see is a disconnect between what employers are seeing and what employees are highlighting,” Dowling said. “But we know that flexibility was the No. 1 ask of employees back in 2019. That has not changed. Flexibility is still massively important. However, we got rather lazy over the course of the pandemic. And we said that flexibility was just the location of work. In reality, flexibility is how we work and when we work as well as where we work.”