6 ways to support your administrative workforce during COVID-19

Expert Insight

6 ways to support your administrative workforce during COVID-19

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, campus leaders are continuously adjusting their operations and services based on the latest information. These decisions have profound implications for their administrative workforce, many of whom have already experienced dramatic changes to their daily lives and workflows. EAB has identified six ways campus leaders can support their staff through the new and evolving challenges posed by COVID-19.   

1. Provide clear and consistent updates about campus operations and work expectations

Given the fast-moving nature of the crisis, staff are struggling to stay up to date on the latest institutional responses and policies. Institutions should ensure centralized COVID-19 webpages include a visible “For Employees” section or linked page—like Xavier University’s—that answers frequently asked questions about essential employee determinations, alternative work arrangements, and paid leave. Date-stamping posts and scrubbing out-of-date content can further improve web-based communications. Leaders should also share updates directly with staff via emails, virtual townhalls, and supervisor check-ins.

Of course, new and complex questions will arise as circumstances change. To promptly address employee questions, leaders should create venues for staff to raise concerns or request more information. For example, Boise State University has a feedback form on their COVID-19 webpage.

2. Review and update leave policies to increase flexibility

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Hours paid leave for employees impacted by COVID-19 at some institutions
Hours paid leave for employees impacted by COVID-19 at some institutions

Many staff are rightfully concerned about what they will do if they become ill, must self-quarantine, or need to care for dependents or family members. Although the emergency paid sick leave provision in the recently passed Families First Coronavirus Response Act only applies to employers with fewer than 500 employees, institutions like the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Missouri State University, and Brown University have already begun adopting similar policies. Many institutions are granting 80 hours—or 10 workdays—of paid leave for employees directly impacted by COVID-19.

Institutions should also consider adjusting other paid time off and sick leave policies. For example, the University of Minnesota, University of Toledo, and Boston University are temporarily permitting negative sick leave balances. Rutgers University will not charge staff paid time off for absences under certain circumstances. John Carroll University has also created a leave donation program specifically for COVID-19, which allows staff to donate accumulated leave to peers so long as their own balance does not fall below 75 hours.

While updated leave policies give staff much needed flexibility and comfort, they can also create confusion. The University of Minnesota’s leave guidance chart clarifies policy applicability for different COVID-19 scenarios. Washington State University went a step further by hosting virtual info sessions on “Leave and Work Options: COVID-19” for staff and managers.

3. Enhance and promote wellness benefits and resources

Many institutions already offer mental health services for staff. Yet, not all employees are aware of these offerings or currently eligible. Leaders should review their programs, expand access to previously ineligible employees when possible, and actively promote them in staff communications. For example, the University of Utah has temporarily given all employees access to their Employee Assistance Program. Some institutions are also expanding health and prescription drug coverage. Boston University has waived member costs for COVID-19 testing and care, established a dedicated coronavirus helpline, and added telehealth services to all health plans.

Along with expanding health services, institutions should provide staff with resources for managing stress and family responsibilities during the pandemic. For instance, Ohio State University’s Chief Wellness Officer recently hosted a webinar on strategies for relieving anxiety during COVID-19, while Yale University has aggregated back-up child care resources for employees.

4. Provide guidance and tools for staff working remotely

Many campuses have announced that all non-essential employees should work remotely. Even institutions that have not yet taken this step are experiencing a surge in teleworking requests. In response, many institutions are opting to waive traditional teleworking forms and approvals given the pandemic.

Since most staff have limited experience working remotely, leaders should clarify scheduling and communication expectations. They also must equip employees with the necessary tools and technology, like remote access to their network, shared drives, and desktops. To create accountability and monitor progress, institutions can create templates like SUNY Cortland’s work plan and weekly status report. Similarly, leaders should share best practices for remote work. For example, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill created infographics about working remotely and managing remote teams.

5. Take steps to protect and support essential employees still working on campus

Although many institutions have transitioned to a predominantly remote workforce, some employees are still required to work on campus. Leaders must educate these staff on strategies for preventing illness and equip them with needed protective equipment or gear. To enhance workplace safety and minimize potential exposure, institutions should frequently clean high-touch areas and install hand sanitizing stations across campus. For more ways to reduce the risk of worker exposure, see OSHA’s guidance on preparing workplaces for COVID-19.

Furthermore, supervisors should create staggered or rotating schedules where possible to minimize unnecessary staff overlap and time spent on campus. Johns Hopkins University has begun rotating facilities and custodial staff at minimal levels, and the University of California, Davis plans to rotate staff in utilities and building maintenance services on a weekly basis.

Several institutions have also enacted new policies to build morale and support essential employees. The University of New Mexico has relaxed their dress code and modified parking enforcement for staff still working on campus, while the University of Wisconsin-Madison is considering a supplementary lump sum payment for employees required to work on campus under difficult circumstances.

6. Recognize and promote the ongoing work and impact of your staff during this crisis

We’ve heard countless stories about employee dedication and perseverance over the last few weeks—IT staff working tirelessly to rapidly enable remote instruction, housekeeping teams diligently disinfecting campus facilities, and dining workers providing students on campus with safe takeout meals.

Leaders should brainstorm creative ways to thank and recognize these vital contributions. For example, MIT has an online form for community members to submit notes of appreciation, which are then posted publicly. Vanderbilt University has taken a different approach, developing and sharing short videos about how their Facilities and Dining teams are tackling this crisis. These small gestures go a long way in showing employee appreciation and giving the broader community a glimpse of the work still happening on campus and virtually.

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