Cathy Davidson had an amazing thread on Twitter about how faculty can help “save the semester” for their students (and for themselves) by practicing kindness and by letting go. Institutions, as well, are recognizing how stressful this semester has been for faculty and students, extending the winter break to give us all a chance to recharge.
Well, not everyone on campus.
What often goes unspoken is that staff do not benefit from these extended pauses from courses running on campus (remote or otherwise). There may not be classes, but the campus is still open, and so the staff are expected to be at work. And we are just as burned out as the faculty and the students. I am hearing from more and more of my colleagues, especially those who are in supervisory roles, that staff are increasingly frustrated by this inequality between faculty and staff.
But there are things that can be done to help staff in the same spirit of extending winter break. Understandably, these may be challenging to implement, based on factors such as union contracts, campus climate, political climate, etc. But, if it is possible, it is important to recognize the important contributions staff have made and reward them in similar ways that the faculty have been rewarded. Some suggestions:
No-Meeting Days: We know that even if there aren’t classes, there is still work to be done administratively. But, supervisors can implement “no-meeting days” to help alleviate Zoom and screen fatigue. Look, some meetings really can be emails, and sometimes, there is no reason to meet as frequently, especially under these conditions. Put some no-meeting days on the calendar to give us some relief.
Comp-Time Generosity: Raise your hand if you’ve been working more than 40hrs a week during the pandemic. It’s time we get that back as comp time. If supervisors could be generous with giving staff members “days off” for comp time, it would go a long way to acknowledging the work we have done and give us a much needed break.
Expanding Paid Vacation Days: Let’s be honest, in the before times, on those few days before Christmas and the campus officially closing when it’s a ghost town, you’d roll into work at 10am, answer some emails, have a long “team building” lunch, and then go home early to beat traffic. This is one of those weird years where Christmas is late in the week, and most campuses will probably be open for all staff for that week. Why? If the campus isn’t already shut down for two weeks, think hard if it really needs to be open. And, if the administration won’t close the campus, supervisors should think long and hard about what they communicate to their staff and work expectations on those days.
Advocate for Staff: This is more for faculty. I asked on social media what is happening on campuses with regards to extended winter break and if it has been extended to staff. Many faculty responses reflected their knowledge of classes being out for a month or more, but nothing about the situation staff are facing. Faculty are still a powerful voice on campus (see, getting an extended winter break), and it would be appreciated if they extended that power to advocating for staff as well.
Finally, a plea to just trust staff. We’re getting the work done. Let us do it in our own way, taking the time we need to get things done and to try and keep ourselves relatively sane and healthy. Controversial, perhaps, but we are professionals and we should be trusted to do our jobs in the same way faculty are trusted to do theirs. It’s the easiest thing for supervisors and institutions to do, but somehow the hardest one at times to enact.
There are no easy answers, and this year has been a train-wreck. But, we are all in this together, and it’s time that institutions start acknowledging that.