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Southwestern Recognized as a ‘Great College to Work For’

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Survey sponsored by the Chronicle of Higher Education finds employees give Southwestern high marks for time off, work-life balance and more

Southwestern is one of 150 colleges nationwide that earned recognition in the Chronicle of Higher Education’s 2009 Great Colleges to Work For survey.

Southwestern earned the designation as the result of a survey that was administered earlier this year. In the survey, faculty members, support staff and administrators were asked to rate their satisfaction with the university in such areas as job satisfaction, career development, communication, supervisor relationship and participation in college governance. Nearly 41,000 employees at 247 colleges and universities participated in the survey.

Southwestern was recognized in three of the 26 categories that employees at four-year colleges were asked about: Vacation or Paid Time Off, Work-life Balance and Supervisor-Department Chair Relationship.

“It’s not surprising to me to see Southwestern recognized in those three categories, as each one affects the other,” said Arden Baxter, a senior secretary who works in Southwestern’s library. “As a single mother of three, I am very pleased with the relationship I have with my supervisor and feel that through her the university supports my need to balance home and family with work. The flex-time system proposed through the Staff Affairs Council and approved by the university is key to this balance. Plus, the four-day work week in July really adds to my ability to spend quality time with my family and outside needs. Add to this the automatic 15 holidays and vacation days and I begin to realize that the university strives to support personal time away from work for its employees.”

Lisa Hopkins, who also works in Southwestern’s library as an assistant in the cataloging section, echoed Baxter’s comments.

“I love working here,” Hopkins said. “The SIRA (Southwestern Intramural and Recreational Activities) programs have been incredibly supportive for me (I take yoga and Pilates), as well as the administration’s support and encouragement for the SU Fit Club. I lost 30 pounds the first year I worked here, because I started swimming and utilizing the fitness programs at lunch every day. In addition, I was happier than I’ve ever been − this is more than a job for me, it’s a community. I work surrounded by interesting and intelligent people who truly love what they do, and that’s a contagious condition.  My curiosity is fed every day on the job. I love working in the library, which is not only the hub of intellectual life on campus, but has an enviable collection in comparison to other liberal arts colleges our size. In addition, I ride into work every day with my husband, and that has been really good for our relationship. I am also ecstatic about the generous Fridays off in July. Those days are a special gift to all of us. Especially in the summer when the kids are out of school, it’s such a treat to be able to spend the day with them at the lake or in museums or just playing games at home.”

Southwestern implemented the July four-day work week program in 2008 in an effort to save energy and provide additional employee benefits.

Alexandra Anderson, associate director of career services, led a group of Southwestern employees that researched and proposed an official flex-time policy for Southwestern when she was president of the Staff Affairs Council several years ago.

“I was thrilled when the policy went into effect, since it gives all of my colleagues the framework to discuss possible alternative schedules with their supervisors,” Anderson said. “I am very fortunate my supervisor demonstrates his faith in me by letting me fit my family and work lives together more smoothly. Because my husband has a strange shift schedule as a firefighter, I am a single parent one out of every three days, so getting a morning workout in, the dog walked and the baby to and from school takes some juggling.” 

Alisa Gaunder, associate professor of political science, said Southwestern also has an “outstanding” policy for faculty members who have just had children. “This policy is extremely supportive and reflects the priority that Southwestern places on work-life balance,” Gaunder said. “Many younger faculty have benefitted from it.”  

By combining sick leave with official responsibilities that could be done remotely, Gaunder said she was able to spend the spring semester at home with her son after he was born in October 2006. Her department chair even took over her classes for three weeks after she gave birth and later stayed on an additional year as chair so she could take a research sabbatical before becoming department chair.  

“These types of relationships are significant and make Southwestern an enjoyable and meaningful place to work,” Gaunder said.  

This is the second year the Chronicle of Higher Education has run the “Great Colleges” survey, which was started in an effort to create academe’s version of Fortune magazine’s popular “100 Best Companies to Work For” issue.

The survey is not a ranking program. Instead, it is designed to recognize small groups of colleges (arranged by the size of their work forces) for specific best practices. Among four-year colleges participating in the survey, 122 institutions were recognized in at least one category. Twenty-eight two-year institutions were recognized in at least one category.

The survey was administered by ModernThink LLC, a human-resources-consulting firm based in Wilmington, Del., that has conducted similar surveys for more than a dozen state best-workplace programs and oversaw the employee survey in 2007 for AARP’s Best Employers for Workers Over 50 program.

Colleges participating in the survey were asked to submit a list of employees randomly selected from among administration, faculty and professional support staff.