Tuesday, February 8, 2011

culture vs. policy: more on family-friendly workplaces

I'm blessed with a family-friendly workplace (despite some problems, as mentioned here and here). But Tiny U is notable for its family-friendly culture, not its family-friendly policies. In fact, our policies are pretty strict. Women are allowed 6 paid weeks off for giving birth, and can take an additional 6 weeks unpaid. Men are allowed 2 weeks off, as are women who adopt children. According to strict HR policy, no other arrangements are allowed.

Luckily, we're a small campus, with many young families, and some administrators are willing to bend the rules to benefit everyone. For example, when Pumpkin was born, I didn't take any time off, but I dropped a class for the semester. It was against the rules, to the point that the department chair didn't tell the dean. But, it worked better for everyone. I was able to take more time with the baby for longer, rather than having 6 weeks off, then jumping back into 12 hours/week in the classroom (actually, more than that, since one of the classes has labs, and those are longer hours for the same credit load.) My colleagues didn't have to fill in for me for 6 weeks, a serious problem in a small university with no other archaeologists (other than Dr. Mr. Palimpsest, who had a new baby, too!) Finally, the students didn't have to worry about switching instructors.

My department chair (and others around campus) have been very flexible in interpreting (aka ignoring) the rules. Men and women with family obligations have worked out various solutions that work for them and their departments, and that makes Tiny U a family-friendly environment. Culture is more important than policy, when it comes to concrete achievements for families.

The problem, of course, is that culture can change with just a few, key administrative appointments, and then the policies on the books take on new life. I love my department chair; she has been supportive of our family needs and our two-body problem. But, she is leaving for another university. It remains to be seen whether our family-friendly culture survives without her.

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