Vanderbilt launches ‘Future of Work’ to elevate university staff experience

Vanderbilt University has launched the Future of Work initiative to improve the recruitment, professional development and retention of valued staff members and help them reach their full potential as employees.  

“The Future of Work project will help us begin to think carefully about what it means to grow and progress as a Vanderbilt staff member,” Chancellor Daniel Diermeier said. “While there are many possibilities and details to explore, the support of our staff is grounded in the fundamental values that set us apart as an institution and also as an employer.” 

Evolutions in the nature of work and staff expectations, driven by technological advances and societal trends, have impacted institutions across the nation, including Vanderbilt. The Future of Work initiative will bring together staff from units across campus to explore four basic questions: Why do people come to Vanderbilt? Why do people stay at Vanderbilt? How do we help our staff grow? Why might someone choose to leave the university? 

A major factor reshaping the workplace landscape everywhere has been the COVID-19 pandemic, with many positions becoming remote or hybrid. Last August, in response to this significant change within many university departments, Vanderbilt announced a remote and hybrid work policy that includes a toolkit for managers and employees. In December, the university released the initial findings of the first survey on hybrid/remote work to determine how various work arrangements influence employees’ engagement, productivity and quality of life.  

The Office of Data and Strategic Analytics has followed up with a more detailed report providing a broad overview of the survey’s responses. The findings will help shape the priorities of the Future of Work project. 

“We knew that drafting the remote and hybrid work policy and surveying employees who were eligible for remote or hybrid work were only the first steps, and there would be questions that required additional consideration and reassessment,” said Eric Kopstain, vice chancellor for administration. “Human Resources is committed to working with representatives from every area of campus on the Future of Work initiative.” 

Kopstain noted that 15 committees of employees have been assigned to work on five long-term projects and 10 shorter, targeted efforts—all of which have goals related to recruitment and retention of outstanding staff members.  

The five major projects are: 

  • Employee Brand, Marketing and Communications 

Charge: Explore market insights and determine Vanderbilt’s employer brand and value proposition. The project committee should identify marketing strategies to communicate Vanderbilt’s employer brand and value proposition to attract and retain talented employees. 

  • Onboarding and Orientation 

Charge: Create a well-defined, consistent process for all new staff hires that aligns with the Vanderbilt Way. 

  • Performance Management 

Charge: Develop a performance management strategy and identify tools to support all stakeholders of performance management, including those with accreditation and certification needs. The project group should create a plan for launching the tools to lead to adoption throughout the organization. The plan may highlight quick wins and long-term projects needed for successful implementation of the performance management strategy. 

  • Predictive and People Analytics 

Charge: Review and diagnose Vanderbilt’s current capabilities and mindset toward predictive and people analytics. Develop a plan for Vanderbilt to improve its predictive and people analytics and position itself to make reliable HR predictions and recommendations in the future.  

  • Total Rewards and Benefits  

Charge: Examine insights and trends by varying segments to identify opportunities for developing and expanding benefit offerings at Vanderbilt.  

The 10 targeted efforts for study and recommendations are: Candidate Sourcing, Career Mapping, Employee Affinity Groups, Employee Recognition, Exit Interviews, Experience Surveys, Job Postings, Leadership Training and Coaching, Mentorship Program and Staff Hardship Fund.  

One goal that has been accomplished is the development and launch of exit interviews for all departments starting this spring. This is the first time the university will have a centralized process for tracking the reasons staff leave Vanderbilt.  

Plans are underway for additional Future of Work surveys to learn more about employees’ recent work experiences and reflections on Vanderbilt. Information from eligible staff members will be collected through pulse surveys, focus groups and more.  

“I am excited for the engagement and recommendations of staff from across campus as we raise the bar on recruitment and retention of the highest caliber staff at Vanderbilt,” said Cleo Rucker, associate vice chancellor and chief human resources officer. “And building an equitable, diverse and inclusive workforce remains among our strongest priorities.” 

Chancellor Daniel Diermeier, Vice Chancellor for Administration Eric Kopstain and Associate Vice Chancellor and Chief Human Resources Officer Cleo Rucker host university committee members for a breakfast to discuss The Future of Work project in late March. (Vanderbilt University)