Update on Employee Well-being
As we close out what has been a simultaneously rewarding and challenging academic year at St. Lawrence, I write to share with you an update regarding initiatives to support employee well-being.
The past two years have been hard on all of us–in society, in higher education, and at St. Lawrence. They have been challenging financially, socially, and emotionally. And as we appear to be reaching a new phase in the pandemic, with viral transmission lessening, masking no longer broadly required, and people gathering in ways that resemble the pre-covid era, it is now time for us to consider how we can regain some of what has been lost during the pandemic.
I am grateful to Faculty Council and to Senior Staff for their work, both separately and in collaboration, to move us forward with important conversations about the current state of well-being among our faculty and staff, and with the generation of ideas about initiatives to support employees on campus. As a result of these activities, I am pleased to report to you that Senior Staff has agreed to the following commitments that will be enacted over the coming year:
- Rejuvenation Grants: As indicated by many people on the surveys about well-being, one of the greatest challenges of the pandemic is that it has imposed time demands on all of us that have compelled us to focus on the most necessary aspects of our work, making it difficult to find time for attention to the ideals and values that inspire us, and to think creatively about the professional horizons ahead of us. To help reconnect with those core aspects of our work and to reconnect with each other, the University is pleased to offer professional Rejuvenation Grants, which will be announced tomorrow.
- Workload: There is widely shared sentiment that people are fatigued from the nature of work across the pandemic time period. Over the past two years, we have collectively shifted the times, places, and ways we have worked. Not surprisingly, people who completed the survey and participated in the discussion groups are looking for more balance within their workloads and across the work-life spectrum.
- Staff have expressed an interest in more time off. The two extra days after winter break were very positively received, and helped staff be able to have additional time away without getting further behind at work because virtually everyone else was away from work at the same time. As a result of our success this past January, we are pleased to announce that this summer, in addition to being closed on Monday, July 4, vice presidents have the leeway to keep the offices and programs they oversee closed on Tuesday, July 5 and Wednesday, July 6. As with our added days after winter break, staff whose jobs cannot be foregone during these days will be able to take time away at a different time. Although the University hopes to make these additional days available to union members where additional days away would not compromise the needs of the University or division, by law we are required to have conversations with bargaining unit leadership. The University will communicate with each union in the coming days.
- Faculty have indicated challenges with committees and meetings. The Dean’s office is committed to working with the incoming Faculty Council to assess the structure and function of committees, with a concerted effort to establish equity in participation on committees, to identify a common meeting time, and to identify any committees that may be candidates for elimination.
- For employees who are in office throughout the summer months, we are pleased to offer modified Friday afternoons, beginning June 3 through August 5, where possible. We must continue to provide excellent service to our internal and external constituents (and in particular, admissions tour groups), but quieter summers offer opportunities to do so with lower levels of staffing. Division and/or department leaders are responsible for determining appropriate modification of hours, staffing, and scheduling of both hourly and exempt employees. Although the University hopes to make this additional flexibility available to union members where scheduling would not compromise the needs of the University or division, by law we are required to have conversations with bargaining unit leadership. The University will communicate with each union in the coming days.
- Faculty and staff alike have expressed concerns about the work day never ending. We have been asked if we can shut down our email systems after business hours. Because some employees have significant work in the evenings or on weekends, a shut down after regular business hours is not possible. However, those of us whose workdays follow a more traditional daytime schedule can make commitments to respect the hours associated with the business day. We will spend time this summer identifying University-wide commitments we can encourage and foster to create more guard rails regarding the start and end of the business day. Student Life and Academic Affairs leaders are committed to working with students beginning this summer, to set expectations for when faculty and staff members are available to students.
- Also to this point, the Dean’s office will work via the newly formed academic communities to collaborate across the institution to host a smaller number of higher impact academic events. We will strive for coordination across events and spacing of events throughout the academic year to foster balance between educational activities and personal time.
- Job performance and recognition: Across faculty and staff alike, the survey and group discussions revealed concerns with components of our work related to talent, including the need to enhance our performance review and evaluation process and to identify meaningful ways to foster recognition for outstanding performance. Human Resources (for staff) and the Dean’s office (for faculty) are committed to reviewing our current performance review and recognition programs in the coming year.
- Wellness activities for employees: A number of people who completed the survey asked for activities that promote well-being through engagement in activities that are known to support wellness. In the fall, we will resume some of the wellness activities that were reintroduced this spring, such as walking groups, yoga classes, and mindfulness training to anyone interested. Human Resources will collaborate with the Wellness Committee and the Office of Wellness Education in Student Life to maximize the opportunities available to students, faculty, and staff alike as we seek to support well-being for all members of our campus community.
- Employee Assistance Program: Human Resources is actively evaluating our Employee Assistance Program. They are working to make the benefits of the existing program more broadly known. In addition, they are evaluating whether there are added benefits of the program we are not current accessing or whether an alternative vendor might provide better service to our employees.
- Social engagement: The pandemic environment has limited our ability to engage with each other through in-person interactions. Although we have been able to get much of our work done remotely, we have lost so many of our opportunities to engage with each other personally, check in with friends, and simply enjoy being together. Indeed, the increased number of gatherings (e.g., faculty-staff wine and cheese receptions, employee recognition reception, academic gatherings and lectures, employee appreciation luncheon, etc.) have resulted in many people commenting on how nice it has been to be with colleagues in person. We will continue to look for ways to offer people the opportunity to gather, both formally and informally, when we reconvene for the fall semester.
Finally, and importantly, we know that many faculty and staff have ongoing concerns about the financial status of the institution. As indicated in the recent post-Board update, these concerns are justified, and it is important to acknowledge that directly. We will provide an update after the Canaras Board of Trustees retreat and host an employee town hall at the beginning of the new academic year. There is plenty to talk about, between our strategic framework and our financial challenges. Please stay tuned for forthcoming details.
In summary, I hope you see these commitments, which I am making on behalf of myself and Senior Staff, as evidence that we hear your concerns, we care, and we want to work with you to foster as positive a workplace experience as we can. More details on the rejuvenation grant program will be released shortly. Vice Presidents will be working with other divisional leaders regarding summer flexibility. And we will launch other strategies over the summer or shortly after the new academic year commences in August.
On behalf of Senior Staff