Driven by Data

What Staff Want Most and How You Can Give it to Them

Attracting and retaining high-quality employees is critical to school success. One of the ways school leadership can show its staff, both new and returning, that they are valued is by offering benefits that they truly value.

According to a 2015 study by SHRM, 22% of workers report they have “accepted, quit or changed jobs because of the benefits – other than salary or wage level – that an employer offered or failed to offer.” Echoing a similar sentiment, the graph below highlights the most desirable benefits from a survey published by Harvard Business Review.

Image Source: “The Most Desirable Employee Benefits” Kerry Jones HBR, February 15, 2017


It is striking that four of the top benefits on the chart above are PTO and flexibility related. Research has shown that all workers, particularly the younger workforce, put an incredible value on flexibility and make job choice decisions based on the availability of these benefits. 

Now, we know what you are thinking: “We are a school. Staff can’t work from home.  And we can’t increase PTO – we have a hard enough time with subs already. ” Those constraints are all very real, but you may still be able to make some specific changes to improve flexibility for your staff without hurting your program.

  • Allow for remote work when possible: Identify specific staff members for whom working from home would be appropriate during certain parts of the year. Could central office staff work from home one day a week? Could leadership work from home during breaks? Could year-round staff work from home during Summer Fridays? Education has been generally resistant to the work-from-home trend, but it’s been shown not to decrease productivity in other industries, and it is something staff appreciates. In what situations might it be possible for your school?

  • Switch to banked PTO instead of accrual: Many schools have a traditional PTO accrual system, in which a fraction of PTO is accrued with each day worked – meaning, staff often cannot take multiple days off early on in the school year. This limits flexibility for staff, and is often perceived as demonstrating a lack of trust by leadership. Moreover, PTO accruals can be a headache to administer. If possible, consider moving to banked PTO (making all PTO days available at the start of the school year) to help staff budget their time and demonstrate that you trust them professionally.

  • Roll-over (or cash-out) unused leave: What happens to unused leave at your school? If you currently have a use-it-or-lose-it policy, consider allowing employees to roll over their unused leave to the next school year. Leave rollovers are appreciated by staff and avoid creating an incentive for employees to use all their leave at year-end, causing an administrative scramble. You can limit the amount of leave that can be rolled over with an annual cap (i.e., no more than 5 days). As an alternative to rolling over leave, you can consider partial payouts to staff for unused PTO. If the daily payout rate is lower than the cost of a substitute, you can actually save money by instituting this benefit. If pursuing payouts for unused PTO, make sure that your Employee Handbook clearly states that unused PTO has no cash-out value upon the end of employment – otherwise, you could be setting yourself up for a large liability in future years.

  • Decrease black-out days: Black-out days (dates on which employees are not allowed to request PTO) are as common in schools as they are unpopular with staff. Consider how you can decrease or remove black-out days and still ensure that your schools are staffed appropriately every day of the year. Some creative schools have done away with black-out days entirely but capped the number of people with scheduled leave for any given day. Leave is granted on a first-come, first-served basis. This policy allows schools to forego distributing the dreaded black-out days list each year while still maintaining appropriate staffing.

  • Partial and reduced schedules: Say yes to employees requesting partial or reduced schedules, particularly if they are your top performers – and especially if the reduced schedule is a temporary situation (for example, while the employee cares for a family member). Partial schedules may not be possible for all roles, but schools have made it work for some surprising positions, so don’t reflexively reject the request. It can be critical to retaining staff when they need to balance other parts of their lives.

Often, what staff desire is not less time spent working, so much as more flexibility to fit work around other priorities in their lives. An added benefit of providing work flexibility is the sense that leadership trusts staff to balance their work responsibilities with other needs.  Of course, each school is unique – not all the changes above may be possible or prudent for your staff at this time; however, it is possible that there are creative ways to give staff some more flexibility without reducing academic outcomes or raising costs.

[This post contributed by Geoff Pecover, Human Resources Manager and Vera Krimnus, Charter School Consultant.]