Ian Reynolds is Director of WorkLife and Community Programs in the Office of Work, Life and Engagement at Johns Hopkins. In his position, Ian oversees the delivery of a variety of programs designed to assist faculty and staff achieve healthy worklife effectiveness. These include childcare, backup care, and eldercare services; lifespan workshops; the Breastfeeding Support Program; flexible work arrangements; staff recognition; and housing and relocation support. From 2014–2016, Ian also served as President of the College and University Work-Life-Family Association (CUWFA). Comprised of approximately 100 member institutions across the United States and Canada, CUWFA supports a diverse group of professionals contributing to the development of worklife programs and policies on college and university campuses. Ian holds an MA in American Studies from the University of Wyoming, and he received his BA in American Studies from Skidmore College. He lives in Columbia, MD with his wife Stephanie and their three boys.

1MFWF: What sparked your personal commitment to and interest in flexibility in the workplace?

Ian: My understanding of the impact flexible work arrangements can have in the workplace began to take shape thirteen years ago. Liz Albert, my then supervisor at Johns Hopkins, invited me to attend a workshop titled “Managing in a New World: An Introduction to Flexibility and Supportiveness at Work,” taught by Kathleen Beauchesne, Director of Worklife Programs in 2003.

A few years later, the ideas imparted during that workshop became immediately relevant to my personal life. My wife and I were pregnant with our third son during which time we learned that he had Down syndrome. Anxiety and stress ensued as we knew babies born with Down syndrome were at higher risk for serious health problems. While our son Owen did endure some complications, his overall health was strong. Nonetheless, there were more medical appointments than normal to schedule and attend. Additionally, following Owen’s birth, we benefitted from early intervention programs like speech and occupational therapy. While wonderful services, they too required time away from work.

Liz, with whom I had attended the workshop three years earlier, was a progressive thinker around workplace flexibility. I firmly believe that her openness to my proposal for a flexible work arrangement contributes to my ongoing devotion to Johns Hopkins and shaped my path to becoming Director of Worklife Programs in 2011. In short, Liz treated me as a person, not just an employee, which I believe is paramount to the viability of flexibility in the workplace.

1MFWF: When and why did Johns Hopkins make work flexibility a component of its workplace offerings?

Ian: Our flexible work resources have been in place for approximately 25 years. They are a product of the realization that flexibility is one of the most important traits individuals seek in an employer, and an acknowledgment of flexibility as a factor in Johns Hopkins’ mission to attract and retain world-class faculty and staff.

1MFWF: Is work flexibility available to a specific subset of faculty/staff, or to all?

Ian: Johns Hopkins is a large educational, medical, and research institution comprised of multiple entities and divisions. This significantly challenges the ability to implement a set of flexibility policies that apply equally to all. Therefore, the role of the Office of Work, Life and Engagement is to educate our faculty and staff about flexible arrangements and provide resources to both managers and employees so they can have productive conversations about what successful flexibility looks like in their departments.

1MFWF: How do you go about resolving conflicts that arise with respect to flexibility?

Ian: The most effective way to resolve conflict is to prevent it from happening! For a flexible work arrangement to be successful, important steps must be taken before reaching the implementation stage.

I periodically consult with supervisors struggling with an employee’s request to work from home one day a week because they equate working from home with a forfeiture of managerial control. I talk with employees who feel unsupported by bosses for whom they have worked loyally for twenty years but who will not agree to a reduction in hours. The common denominator is almost always that employees and supervisors have not allocated time specifically for meaningful exploration of a flexible arrangement.

In advance of such conversations, we recommend that employees draft a proposal that outlines explicitly and thoroughly the nature of the flexibility they are requesting. This is critical to a supervisor’s comprehensive evaluation of a flex arrangement. For example, what are the specific tasks that will be completed from an alternate location? How long is each task expected to take? When and how will progress be communicated and assessed? When preparing a proposal, we also encourage employees to put themselves in the shoes of their managers, colleagues, stakeholders, clients, etc. What are the potential disadvantages of the proposed arrangement for each of these groups and how can they be mitigated?

The supervisor’s responsibility is to be open minded. We recommend a results-oriented mindset when considering proposals, focusing on productivity and outcomes, rather than how much an employee sits at his or her desk, or when they arrive at and leave the office.

I am not suggesting that all conflict is avoidable, but when employees and managers work through this process openly and collaboratively—focusing on job responsibilities, productivity, and trust—flexible arrangements are not only viable, they are mutually beneficial.

1MFWF: What feedback, both internal and external, have you had in relation to your support for work flexibility?

Internal feedback from employees, managers, and HR colleagues is generally positive, although there is definite consensus that more education is necessary. We are in the process of enhancing our online training modules for managers and employees, and we are working toward more in-person opportunities to raise awareness—workshops within specific departments, manager trainings, etc.

External feedback has been encouraging as well. Peer institutions who are co-members of the College and University Work-Life-Family Association (CUWFA) periodically reach out to say they find our online information very helpful. Our flexible work resources have contributed to Johns Hopkins University and Health System’s selection as a recipient of the WorldatWork Worklife Seal of Distinction Award for the past four years. That said, there is much work to be done as we know the need and desire for flexible work arrangements is an ever-growing driver of employee performance and satisfaction.

photo credit: Ian Reynolds