Are you prepared to handle FLSA’s impact on employee morale?

Are you prepared to handle FLSA’s impact on employee morale?

Starting Dec. 1, 2016, colleges and universities across the United States must comply with the new Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) regulations. While many HR professionals are justifiably concerned about the financial impact, the backlash from staff may be just as costly.

“HR will have to mitigate drama to preserve the institution’s culture, regardless of their strategy for compliance,” said Heather Murray, customer advancement executive at PeopleAdmin and former associate director of human resources at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington.

David Perryman, assistant director for talent solutions at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, North Carolina, agreed. “It’s going to be a morale issue.”

Why are they so concerned? According to Edward Wilson Jr., Ph.D., director of strategic partnerships at PeopleAdmin and former director of academic affairs at the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City, Kansas, “A lot of the issues will be perception-based because exemption is a status symbol.”

Heather echoed that sentiment. “It’s not uncommon to associate exemption with being a professional,” she said. “I don’t like that. To me, we’re all professionals.” To combat this perception, David suggests communicating with your staff to let them know that exemption classification is “not intended to be a personal judgement of someone’s contribution.”

Communicating that clearly, while acknowledging that employees who switch from exempt to nonexempt status may lose certain perks, may help prevent employees from feeling discouraged about the FLSA change.

“Exempt staff members have privileges that nonexempt staff may not,” said Ricardo Coronado, Ph.D., associate vice chancellor for human resources at Tarrant County College in Fort Worth, Texas. “They might be able to take off early at four to go play golf, wash their car, pick up their kids from daycare, or whatever. Nonexempt staff may not have that option.”

According to Sara Pohl, assistant director for compensation and benefits at Blinn College in Brenham, Texas, “They’re going to have to adjust their work schedules and really prioritize their tasks. Right now, they’re used to being able to work as many hours as they need to get the job done.”

Explaining the benefits of going from an exempt to nonexempt classification — such as a better work-life balance — can ease the new FLSA transition.

“I can’t say it won’t be demoralizing,” Ricardo said. “But we need to work ahead of it and plan. If you just go into the deadline and say, ‘Sorry, your status has changed,’ you’re probably going to do some damage.”