A New Age of Work – Harvard Gazette
Traditional ideas about where and how we work are being reconsidered nationwide, and no group of employees is more in the grip of change than human resources departments. In its first year under Manuel Cuevas-Trisán, Harvard Human Resources is considering new policies and initiatives to adapt to changes in the workplace, including retention and recruiting challenges in an environment remote work. The Gazette spoke with Cuevas-Trisán to get his thoughts on initiatives to address employee burnout, recruiting, and the challenge of providing general direction to a decentralized campus community.
GAZETTE: Over the summer, HHR introduced new dynamic work guidelines for Harvard staff. If you could just talk about what they are and why they are important?
MANUEL CUEVAS-TRISAN: The work that led to the Dynamic Work Guidelines for Harvard Staff actually began before I even started at Harvard, shortly after the shift to remote work due to COVID. The Guiding Principles are an attempt to articulate – although I don’t particularly like the phrase – what the “future of work” at Harvard will look like. We have intentionally framed our perspective with principles, rather than an overly prescriptive policy lens, and our focus areas are:
- Dynamic and scalable workstation
- Intentional presence
- Performance based on results
Looking back to March 2020, employers had no choice but to provide remote options to continue operating in a pandemic environment. Today, as we emerge from the pandemic with more knowledge and experience, we have choices about how we build on the two years of work habits that have changed during this time. A statement of principles provides schools and units with a flexible framework that takes into account the different ways in which our staff provide support and services and accommodates the differences in cultures and operations of each of our schools. The Guiding Principles also recognize that we are operating in a highly competitive talent market and that the concepts of work, worker and workplace have evolved after 2.5 years of collective experience working remotely.
This recognition must be balanced by the fact that Harvard is a residential campus teeming with intellectual dynamism, research, teaching, learning and discovery. It is also an integral part of the economic and cultural fabric of Cambridge and Greater Boston. Coming together to learn, research and collaborate, as well as to support the communities in which we operate, is in the DNA of the Harvard experience. We want to balance that reality with the fact that this is also a 21st century workplace that must compete for talent that demands a greater sense of agency in the way they work. The institutional position in the Guiding Principles makes us more competitive and attractive as an employer, without sacrificing our core identity as a residential campus.
GAZETTE: Given the differences in size, operation and culture between schools, how did you develop principles that apply across the whole school? It is evident that the pandemic has brought about a drastic change in the workforce in terms of remote working. How has this reality been taken into account in these initiatives?
CUEVAS-TRISAN: Consider what has happened since March 2020: a vast majority of the workforce (ours and across all sectors of the economy) is working entirely remotely or on a hybrid basis. Our habits have changed and our expectations have changed. We have tried to determine which new habits can be integrated into the way we collaborate, which can be changed and which are incompatible with our mission. The question then is: how are we going to do this in a way that allows Harvard to leverage the best of the hybrid and remote work experience, but also preserve and enhance the value of a residential experience. on the campus ?
Harvard Human Resources has worked closely with Trustees, with employees who have contributed along the way, with University Academic Leaders, with the Academic Council, and with the Board of Trustees to ensure ensure that the guiding principles reflect the perspectives of the whole community. I think the community at large and certainly the leadership of the University has agreed that operating from a set of principles allows us to establish minimum standards around which every school and unit can rally. Within these broad principles, each can adapt and operate with the autonomy to which they are accustomed and in a manner that takes into account the uniqueness of their respective workforces.
GAZETTE: During the pandemic, there has been much concern about burnout and the phenomenon of burnout. How does HRH recognize and combat rising burnout?
CUEVAS-TRISAN: Burnout is a real phenomenon. It was experienced in American workplaces before the pandemic and was exacerbated by the uncertainties – economic, public health, personal isolation, among other disruptions – of the pandemic. We reviewed our own data indicators on burnout and, with the support of senior academic and administrative leaders, we launched the Recharge Harvard campaign. It may sound like something only associated with vacation usage, but everything we do in the area of benefits is aimed at achieving a more optimal integration between our work and your personal life. It is also about recognizing that burnout is not about isolated individual factors, but rather about the organizational context and support systems for individual members of our community. As such, Recharge Harvard is a first step to encourage a culture of well-being by setting a different tone, to change the habit of treating all work with the same urgency. Remember that we have been operating in “crisis mode” for over two years. Recharge Harvard seeks to establish a different tone from the top. This encourages leaders and their teams to distinguish what is mission critical from what may be important but can and should wait. It provides a structure for collaborating in organizing, designing, and performing tasks in a way that helps each of us stay energized with our work, increase our sense of effectiveness, and enjoy the time we have. won.
GAZETTE: HHR has just announced an extension of what could be described as “inclusive benefits”. What was the motivation behind these updates?
CUEVAS-TRISAN: Harvard already has a strong benefits infrastructure for all of our staff, from support and total rewards to medical, educational and professional development benefits. But we have actively monitored the benefits market, benchmarked other institutions, and listened to our staff and faculty – primarily, but not exclusively, through various affinity groups. Through this process of analysis and active listening, we have identified opportunities to improve the design and coverage of our benefits with a lens of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging.
In early July, we announced the expansion of our child care bursary programs. The change expands the range of eligibility criteria based on income and we have increased the cap so that more people can access these programs. As part of this improvement, we have increased the funding provided by the University to reimburse child care expenses.
For the 2023 benefit year, we are also adding hair transplantation and electrolysis to the range of existing medical benefits. I believe these enhancements reflect a commitment to include all families and identities, and a step forward in promoting and continuing to invest in our diverse workforce.
We are pleased to announce that the benefits for adopting a second parent include stepparents. Married employees, regardless of sex or gender identity, can now enroll in the legal adoption program for their partner’s child. This change is particularly important for LGBTQ+ couples but benefits all in-laws. And we’re enhancing our infertility benefits to remove barriers for same-sex partners and single women.
GAZETTE: Reflect on your time here at Harvard, now that you have held this position for over a year. As you look to the future, nothing else on the horizon?
CUEVAS-TRISAN: Well, it’s been a very intense first year and I feel like I’m still moving up my “Harvard learning curve”. My team and I are committed to making Harvard the best and most attractive talent platform for our current and future workforce. We have a lot to offer as an employer, but we also have opportunities for improvement, including how we communicate the value of working at Harvard. I view Harvard’s staff and their extraordinary array of talents, the quality of our workforce, as a great source of wealth for the University. But talent must be cultivated, developed and shared.
Going forward, you can expect enhanced professional development programs for our employees through our Workplace Development Center, an increased focus on diversifying our talent pools, a continued focus on promoting mental health for our workforce, thoughtful use of workforce data to improve our investment in our people and expanding collaborations with key partners such as OEDIB, Deans of human resources of each of the schools, HUHS and our different identity affinity groups.
From where I sit, there has never been a more exciting time to be in higher education, especially as a human resources leader. For the future, optimism is the key word for me.