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  • Writer's pictureDiane Stone

Faculty Retention and Engagement

In our article last month, we looked at revising faculty compensation and its role in meeting the challenges of attracting and retaining mission-appropriate teachers. In this article, our Senior Consultant Diane Stone continues the conversation by examining how employee benefits can be structured to increase your school’s ability to attract and retain teachers.

Currently, it seems one cannot open a browser without seeing a headline about the labor shortage so many industries are facing. International education has not been spared this issue. Despite the appealing professional and personal opportunities that international schools afford to teachers, predictions are that attracting and retaining mission appropriate teachers will be increasingly challenging.

The high costs of faculty attrition in international schools cannot be overlooked. The financial costs of flights, shipping and settling-in allowances, onboarding and administrative costs are easily measured, however, the culture costs of lost programmatic momentum and team rebuilding are real and must also be considered.

Most international schools recognize the need for a quality employee benefits program. The following are some ideas to enhance your employees’ experience and have your school stand out in a competitive market.

1. Know your Employee Personas

Employee benefits are no longer one size fits all. Human resource thought leaders know that employees of different ages, career stages and family situations have varied needs. For example, a young single teacher has different needs than a teaching couple with dependents. Designing flexible benefit plans that allow choice for participants is preferable to ensure the costly benefits that you are providing are both valued and utilized by your teachers. Another alternative is to perform a persona data analysis that matches the data from your specific employees to a recommended benefits offering.

2. Mental Health Supports

Teachers living away from their home country and extended family can face stressors that impact their mental health. Providing access to an Employee Assistance Program (“EAP”) that offers counselling and mental health supports is beneficial to employee wellness. Many EAPs now offer innovation and preventative supports such as online wellness coaching, exercise and meditation programs.

3. Telehealth

With the daily demands of the classroom, extracurriculars and family responsibilities, teachers can neglect their health or delay medical appointments simply because they cannot fit them in their schedules. Providing access to telehealth services where appointments with health care providers can be conducted online is convenient for teachers and reduces the school’s costs for substitute teachers.

4. Personal Financial Wellness

International school faculty face a complex personal financial planning paradigm where they must plan for their financial future while living abroad in varied tax jurisdictions, often travelling extensively and managing real estate purchases and rentals from afar. This is in addition to the competing demands of managing debt and student loan repayment, saving for retirement and college tuition for dependents - all under the shadow of high inflation and rising interest rates. Many progressive schools are recognizing the impact that this has on employee wellbeing and providing employees with access to online platforms providing tools and courses in personal financial planning and budgeting. Some schools also bring in independent financial advisors annually for face-to-face meetings with teachers.

5. Enhanced Paramedical or Vision Coverage

One cost-effective way of enhancing your benefits offering is to increase the allowance for services that your employees value. For example, many teachers highly value massage therapy and vision care yet many plans limit this benefit below the teachers’ annual expenditures. From a cost perspective, if an employee’s salary is increased by $400 it is inconsequential whereas if the allowance for vision care is increased by $400 it is highly visible and appreciated by teachers. Survey data can help to uncover which benefits could be enhanced with the most perceived value for your employees.

6. Mission, Vision and Values

Each school has its own unique mission, values and approach to social responsibility, sustainability, diversity, equity and inclusion. Faculty are attracted to work at a school because of its mission, so develop ways to communicate this clearly. Your employee benefits can convey your school’s values and commitment to social issues. For example, including sustainable or “green” investment options in your group retirement plan is one option. Ensuring the language used in communication from insurance companies is inclusive is another approach. Most large insurance and health care companies now publish an annual report with metrics that can be reported to your school’s sustainability team.

7. Health or Lifestyle Spending Account

Providing employees with an annual allocation to a Flexible Spending Account is one way to add flexibility to your benefit offerings. Employers can set the parameters of these accounts. E.g., a Health Spending Account is typically used to purchase additional health benefits or insurance such as critical illness insurance or paramedical services such as massage or physiotherapy when the employee requires additional services. A Lifestyle Spending Account is typically used for wellness such as gym memberships or athletic equipment. Alternatively, think about ways in which you can improve the wellness at work offering for staff. Empower faculty and staff to create programs that use school facilities and improve the school's community feeling.

8. Digital Marketplace

A digital marketplace provides teachers with access to savings on a curated selection of services. The purpose of this service is both a convenience to employees and to provide discounts on insurance products that are provided by insurance carriers but not included in the benefit offering. Although the staff member is purchasing the product personally, schools can provide discounted car, home contents, travel and even pet insurance to employees conveniently when employees may not know where to source this insurance locally.

9. Communications

Most schools make a significant investment in their employee benefit programs but often the programs are communicated in thick booklets written like legal agreements and the message of employee engagement is lost. Your IT and Human Resources department should collaborate to create a user-friendly website and written materials that simplifies the enrollment process and communicates the depths of your benefits offerings in a simple to understand format. Similarly, claims submission can be time consuming and confusing for teachers. Simplifying this process also improves employee engagement.

10. Be creative!

After a particularly challenging school year, one finance director suggested that every teacher be given a “bonus” of $100 at year end, paid from the unbudgeted surplus that arose from higher than anticipated enrollment. The Finance Committee was concerned that the nominal amount was going to offend teachers, but with the Head of School’s encouragement the board took a risk and communicated their gratitude to the staff along with the bonus and it was highly appreciated.

A recently surveyed group of international teachers were asked what it is about their school that makes them want to stay. The consistent message that the respondents conveyed was that they need to feel valued and supported by the school administration, receive excellent employee benefits and professional development opportunities.

There is no single solution for building a benefits program that attracts and retains teachers, but the toolbox is growing, and innovative solutions can enhance your employee engagement.

At Sage Consultancy our team has experience in various compensation and benefits packages for international schools as well as understanding the advantages and practicalities of implementing them. We help school leadership in making the desired change their school is seeking regarding faculty retention.

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