College introduces shift differential for night staff

The college has recently decided to improve the wages of staff who work night hours by one dollar. Effective July 1st, the increase will apply to staff from Environmental Services and Public Safety who normally start their shifts between 9 p.m. and midnight.

This change is known as a “shift differential,” which offers higher pay for employees who work late at night.

Shift differentials are designed to pay a premium for shifts that support 24/7 operations.” explained Vice President for Human Resources Pamela Prescod-Caesar. “In some institutions, shift differential serves as a retention initiative for staff in those positions that are required to work various shifts.”

The introduction of this new policy follows the completion of a full review of staff payment structures by the Department of Human Resources over the past year. Conducted in partnership with Mercer Global — a premier consulting firm, the review examined the market competitiveness of staff wages, the effectiveness of the current salary grade structure, and the reliability of the survey tools that the college relies on to make compensation decisions on a year-to-year basis.

The review found that the college currently meets or edges out most peer organizations in its compensation program. According to the human resources department’s web page, only around half of staff salaries deviated by more than 10% from market standards. Of the rest, 43% fell above the median range, and only 7% fell below it.

The last time that HR conducted such a thorough review was over ten years ago. Between 2001 and 2004, the college introduced several phases of changes through a Compensation Review Committee. Among the changes brought on at that time were the introduction of a nine dollar minimum wage and an increase in the college’s contribution to pension funds. Following their research, Mercer suggested that the college conduct a comprehensive review of college-wide compensation policy every two to three years. Currently, the college performs market surveys on an annual basis, but these provide a less holistic reflection on the payment structure than the kind of review that Mercer advocates.

Before appearing on the agenda of the recent external review, the idea of a shift differential had been brought up repeatedly by staff members themselves.

Mary*, an EVS employee, began working at the college several years ago and was surprised to find that a night differential was not offered here, unlike at her previous place of employment. She said that she brought the issue up frequently at staff meetings, diverging from some co-workers who did not believe that the college would make the change.

“I didn’t drop it. I was consistent with it,” she said. “Every time they turned around, I was asking for a night differential.” She even mentioned the issue to President Valerie Smith when the then-new president met with various staff members.

All the same, Mary did not think that her voice was by any means a uniquely strong motivation for the change: “I think a lot of things pushed it, I don’t think one particular thing pushed it.”

Timkia Mason, another member of EVS night staff, emphasized the particular difficulties of a night shift as context for the shift differential.

“Working this shift does affect your life, and your sleeping habits, and your body, and everything. It doesn’t just take a toll on your body,” she explained. “I think we earned [the differential], and we deserve it. Everybody’s asleep, we’re up working and making sure everything’s nice and clean for the next morning. So yeah, I think it’s well deserved.”

She went on to mention that most other schools already have similar programs in place. For comparison, Bryn Mawr College, University of Pennsylvania, and Williams College all offer such programs.

Each EVS member interviewed said that the shift differential has been discussed among staff members and between staff and administrators for as long as they have worked here. One member of the night staff, Dave*, addressed this history.

“[The shift differential] has been talked about for quite some time, almost as long as night shift has been around,” he said.

Even though several individuals have raised the issue, Dave said that planning for the policy never quite got past beginning stages.

“It was always ‘it’s in the works,’ or ‘we’re having meetings about it,’ but it was almost like it never went from phase one to phase two,” he said.

Another member of the EVS night staff, Carl*, discussed some of the factors that may have delayed the policy for so long. For one, he thought that it might have been difficult to coordinate one policy between the varying schedules and needs of different staff departments, such as EVS and Public Safety. Additionally, he speculated that the recent rounds of administrative turnover played a role in pushing the shift differential back. Besides the high profile replacements of the president and several deans, the past few years have seen turnover in almost all positions in the HR department.

For Carl, it always seemed that the shift differential was a possibility, but it turned out that it would take a while to actually get there.  

“I think it never really left the table,” he explained. “It was just that we had a lot of administrative changes at one period and it just got mixed up whose table it was on.”

“Within the last few years it has been a strong push to get it through,” he added.

Carl emphasized that he did not see the administration’s role as one of intentional neglect, and that he saw how difficult the process of putting the program in place could be.  

“I don’t think it was a ‘let’s shuffle this back there’ type thing. I really think that [between] trying to coordinate, and trying to make administrative change …  that it took a long time to get it all together.”

Carl also explained that much of the initial push came from public safety staff, and was then supported by members of the EVS. Director of Public Safety Mike Hill reported that his staff were all very satisfied with the change, but declined to discuss the issue further. One public safety officer contacted for an interview indicated that he was not allowed to discuss the policy change.

As the EVS night staff grew to the current count of eighteen, reported Carl, the frequency of discussions about the lack of a shift differential increased. Once these conversations began, however, they had to work through multiple layers of administration.

“[EVS staff] would go through supervisors, the supervisors would take it to an administrator, and it would go up the ladder,” he explained. “Which way it goes from there I’m not sure, but over the past two years it was a process. Where the funding comes from, getting it approved from different areas from human resources to the president — it is a time-consuming thing. And the staff has been very patient with it.”

In the end, though, Mary was just happy that the differential was now in place.

“Thank god we got it. I’m just glad we got it now,” she said. “It’s well over-due.”

Dave agreed wholeheartedly.

“[The change] is a good thing. It’s like they say, it’s better late than never,” he said. “Because it’s needed. This is a tough shift to be on consistently. It takes its toll on you.”

The EVS crew has several weeks of hard work ahead of them in preparation for the influx of visitors that comes with Commencement. When the first week of July arrives, the diligence of the night staff will find its reward in the college’s first round of differential payments, and then  again in the many more to follow.


*Names have been altered to protect the anonymity of staff members.

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