Covid19 - Staff Update - workload pressures

Covid19 - Staff Update - workload pressures

Staff update - 14 May 2020

Dear colleague,

Undoubtedly one of the key issues facing staff right across the University, whether in Directorates or Schools, and whether you are working from home or as a key worker on campus, is the pressure associated with workload.

We want to share with you what we are doing to try to reduce workload pressures, and to invite you individually, and within your teams, to consider what other steps we might take together to reduce the burden.

We also recognise that for those colleagues who are furloughed there will also be a level of anxiety.

 

Individual circumstances

Every one of us - where indeed we can carry out our work at all - is working in less than ideal conditions, with the severity of the challenges varying depending on our own personal circumstances.

We understand the impact that for example caring responsibilities, home schooling, trying to work at home amid a global pandemic with sometimes less than ideal equipment and without access to materials left behind on campus, has on our ability to work effectively.

Therefore, Heads of School and Directors are encouraging staff experiencing particular difficulties to discuss their individual circumstances with their line manager so that those circumstances are understood and appropriate adjustments to workload can be made.

We urge anyone who has not yet done so to have a conversation with their line manager, and we are also encouraging line managers to remain in close contact with their staff throughout the pandemic. We all owe a duty of care to each other as a community - now more than ever. We also want to stress that no one will be disadvantaged in any way by their inability to work as normal due to their personal circumstances.

Moreover, we know that staff are anxious about the potentially longer-term impact on their career progression as the pandemic extends over months and potentially years to come. We see evidence emerging of the differential impact of the pandemic on different groups, including reports that female academic staff are being disproportionately impacted, while also being aware that there are male academics who are also very severely impacted by the likes of caring and home schooling responsibilities.

We have empowered line managers to make adjustments as appropriate to probation plans. We will also ensure that it will be possible to have the impact of the pandemic on productivity considered in any application for career advancement, recognition and reward in the future.

 

Structural workload issues

The measures described so far are designed to identify and address individual circumstances. But we recognise that there are also structural workload issues.

For some there are the stresses of not being able to work at all – including all those staff who are on furlough – and to whom we wish to reiterate our gratitude for agreeing to be furloughed to support the University. Others are severely impacted by not having access to labs, are unable to travel for fieldwork, or because their work involves working face to face with people.

It is also the case that as some colleagues are unable to work, workloads for others may rise unless we are able to reduce the overall volume of work. As a result, we are taking steps to try to reduce the overall workload.

For example, we have paused a number of committees and working groups across the University. At the same time, we are conscious that new working groups have had to be established to help us navigate through the pandemic. The Senior Management Team has agreed to take a further look, along with Heads of School, Directors and Deans, at what we should stop doing in the short term to reduce the overall work burden. As we prepare to deliver blended learning in the autumn, Schools are looking at whether they can streamline the number of courses being offered and how assessments will be carried out.

There are also the structural stresses caused by working from home. Many of us are also spending a large amount of time in Teams meetings. In response to a suggestion from a member of staff, as a first small step we are inviting everyone to try to ensure that all Teams meetings end at least five minutes earlier – and preferably more – than scheduled to allow breaks between meetings. We are also encouraging Heads of School and Directors to try to cut down the number of Teams meetings, though this needs to be balanced by the need to keep in touch and check in with each other.

We did look at introducing a Teams-free day or afternoon each week across the University, but it became clear that this is not workable universally. It would likely have disadvantaged those who might only be able to work effectively on that set day, perhaps because of caring commitments. However, this does not stop teams locally in Schools and Directorates developing their own protocols. Email traffic is also high. We are therefore developing updated guidance on email use and the effective use of Teams to try to reduce the burden and will publish this as soon as possible.

Guidance to support the work of staff including specific information for academic staff, developed in consultation with Heads of School, is available here. This will be updated as additional material is developed, and ideas for additional items/topics to include are welcome.

 

Call for ideas

You may have other ideas that we may not yet have considered on how we can further reduce the burden of work across the University. Please send your suggestions to wellbeing@abdn.ac.uk or to your team leader, line manager, Head of School or Director.

For many, being at home, working where we can, while worrying about a global pandemic and its impact on our productivity levels, is an enormous struggle. We fully appreciate the challenges associated with lockdown do not get any easier as time goes by – indeed they may feel even more acute. And there is a lot of work to do to get through the pandemic as a University. Our hope is that by working together we can make the best possible adjustments to the individual and collective circumstances we all find ourselves in.

 

Best wishes

Karl and Debbie

 

Professor Karl Leydecker

Senior Vice-Principal

 

Debbie Dyker

Acting Director of Operations/Director of People

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