Denials were rare in first round of WorkFlex requests

About 15% of eligible staff requested a flexible work arrangement under the new WorkFlex program, and nearly 95% of the requests were approved, according to data university human resources (UHR) leaders shared at the Professional and Scientific Council's Jan. 6 meeting.

WorkFlex allows staff to adjust when, where and how they work, when it makes sense for their job duties -- options that include a hybrid schedule of up to three days a week of remote work. Interested employees submitted requests in November, and supervisors and hiring authorities had until Dec. 22 to consider the proposals. The flexible work plans can begin when the spring semester starts Jan. 18.

Of the 700 employees who requested a WorkFlex arrangement -- out of the 4,657 eligible P&S and merit staff -- only 42 were denied. The high acceptance rate shows that employees and managers were usually able to find common ground, even if it required modifying the original proposal, said Ed Holland, UHR benefits director. 

"What I saw was very much a collaborative approach, and I think that shows in how few denials there were," he said.  

By far, the most common WorkFlex option was hybrid remote, which allows staff to work up to 60% of their work week out of the office. Nearly 85% of requests included a remote aspect, according to the data shared with the council. About 24% of requests sought flexible start and stop times, and about 8% proposed a compressed work week, with an employee working longer but fewer days.

Among the university's four divisions, the highest rate of WorkFlex requests was in academic affairs, where 20% of the 2,641 eligible staff submitted a request. The request rate was 11% for operations and finance staff, 8% in the president's division and 6% in student affairs.

It makes sense that WorkFlex usage would be lowest in student affairs because employees in those units often work directly with students, said Dwaine Heppler, associate vice president for human resources service and strategy. WorkFlex applications required staff to specify how their flexible work plan would benefit their unit, the university and their clientele.

"There are a lot of roles in student affairs that by the nature of the work require being on campus," Heppler said.

The WorkFlex data presented to the council doesn't count staff who are in flexible work arrangements through a departmental pilot project, such as an ongoing trial in information technology services that allows employees to work remotely full time. If a full-time remote option is added to WorkFlex in the future, which isn't certain to happen, the earliest it would be offered would be this fall, Holland said. 

"We're going to want to see how this is working out before there are significant changes to the program," he said.

Heppler said some colleges and other units established additional guidelines that affected requests. He urged staff to provide feedback about those guidelines to their HR service delivery partner or associate dean/vice president, so decision-makers understand the impact.

Formal agreements documenting WorkFlex plans should be finalized and signed by Jan. 14, the Friday before spring semester plans begin. An application window for WorkFlex plans will be available before the start of classes in the fall, spring and summer. The timeline isn't set yet for submitting new requests that begin when the first summer session kicks off May 16, but communication about the process likely will begin in February, Holland said.