Treat Support Staff as Professionals

Educators must be treated as professionals.


This phrase is commonly advertised in school districts.


However, I'm afraid many educational leaders believe this expression only applies to teachers.


What about support staff? Support staff make up nearly 50% of the work force in school districts. Without custodians, cooks, secretaries, bus drivers, and para educators our schools would not function.


Unfortunately, many educational leaders treat support staff as inferior to certified staff.


One example of this inequality?


The punch clock.

Asking support staff to document their time by punch clock, computer program, or time card is one of my biggest pet peeves.


I believe the practice of forcing support staff to chronicle their start and end time is one practice that flies in the face of treating employees as professionals.


Yes, I realize there are laws employers must follow to ensure accurate records of hourly employees are kept.


However, I would argue hours worked should be assumed rather than doubted. Why can't human resources err on the side of the hours worked as opposed forcing employees to document labor? Do we really need support staff to write down their exact minutes worked?


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The first job I had was a bagger at a local grocery store. For two summers, I was asked to punch in and out using a time clock.


This was the last time I have ever been asked to document my hours. Every other employer has trusted me to work my assigned hours.


Why do school districts treat support staff like a 16 year old high school student working a summer job?


Too often, unnecessary anxiety is placed upon support staff as a result of the punch clock. Whether they are running a few minutes behind, or they forget to punch out when heading home, support staff are unnecessarily controlled by the clock.


In his book The Infinite Game, Simon Sinek talks about similar frustrations with time sheets: “I used to work for a large advertising agency. After my first year at the company, leadership decided to implement time sheets. Unlike a law firm, where a lawyer may be billing their clients for the actual number of hours of work, this was a way for the company to keep track of ... actually, no one really had any idea of the utility of the time sheets. It was just something we were told to do. I have to believe that the time sheets were implemented because something went wrong in accounting. In order to correct the issues in accounting, a new process was implemented across the company. This kind of solution is called "Lazy Leadership." When problems arise, performance lags, mistakes are made or unethical decisions are uncovered, Lazy Leadership chooses to put their efforts into building processes to fix the problems rather than building support for their people.”


Certainly, eliminating time punching places more pressure on leadership to ensure staff members are working their assigned hours. But isn't this what managers are supposed to do?


Effective administrators recognize when employees do not complete job requirements. Personally, I am more focused on the job getting done than I am how many hours are worked. Furthermore, it becomes pretty obvious when support staff are not around given they are almost always in the presence of others.


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I’ll be honest, we have a punch in/punch out system in our district. This system was put in place before I arrived. Although I haven’t been successful in eliminating this practice, I encourage administrators to trust hourly employees and model this behavior with my direct reports.


Presumably, the reason this system was established was because some employees abused the system.


My belief is employees who chronically arrive late probably have bigger issues than time management. A quality manager will address these concerns and let the employee go if problems persist.


Daniel Pink addresses this topic in his book Drive. Pink suggests, “85% of our employees don’t need rules, policies, etc. So what if we flipped our thinking - and designed our workplace policies for the 85 percent rather than the 15%? Use them to unshackle the hard working majority rather than inhibit the less noble minority. If you think people in your organization are predisposed to rip you off, maybe the solution isn’t to build a tighter, more punitive set of rules. Maybe the answer is to hire new people.”


When we say "We must treat educators as professionals" let's not forget support staff.


By reviewing staff procedures such as the punch clock we can eliminate disparity between teachers and support staff.

Copyright © 2019 by Dr. Jared Smith LLC.  Specializing in Leadership, Education, and Personal Growth.