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For Now, Not Forever: Dealing with the Impact of COVID-19 at Work

Today's post comes to us from Workforce Institute board member Dennis Miller, AVP of Human Resources and Benefits Administration at The Claremont Colleges.

As the COVID-19 global pandemic continues to impact every aspect of our lives at work and at home, I'm seeing several topics of interest continue to float to the top in the field of higher education where I work.

We have seen many examples of remarkable leadership by institutions when it comes to how they are approaching this unprecedented and ever-changing time. In fact, just recently the Chancellor of the California State University system, the largest higher education public institution in America delivering higher education to nearly 500k students, announced the 23-campus system would continue to deliver coursework using their virtual model through June 2021

At an individual employee level, we're seeing a variety of impacts. Some employees can and do work remotely, such as those in accounting, IT, payroll, HR, faculty, librarians, and a list of others. Conversely, those working in buildings and grounds, building maintenance, campus security, student services, and others will need to continue to work mostly on-site.  Meanwhile, those workers in commercial operations such as food services or housing services, have experienced furloughs and lay-offs in many institutions.

Further, at a more granular level, another set of sub-groups seem to emerge with their own stories of how this pandemic is impacting their lives. Employees with small children that are not yet old enough for school seem to be impacted especially hard since day care is nearly non-existent, so parents working remotely must tend to their children and work simultaneously. Those with children in grades K-6 have a mixed impact, depending on the school district in which they reside. Some might be able to drop their children off at school for 1-2 days a week, or not at all. Those employees with children in grades 7-12 might fare a little better since children in these grades tend to be more self-sustaining when compared to a 1st grader.

Those with older children, or no children face their own unique challenges and may in fact feel that they are being asked unfairly pick up some of the slack from their co-workers who have small children at home and are not always able to respond quickly to work-related issues during typical work hours. In fact, employees with no children might feel they are working harder right now than their co-workers who might be tending to one or more small children at home throughout the workday instead of focusing on work issues. 

There are no easy answers to these issues and yet we have to have every expectation that they will continue for the foreseeable future.

I'd advise organizations and individuals to keep two things in mind when dealing with these difficult times: First, we all need to pace ourselves - this pandemic will be a long and challenging journey for everyone. We need to do our best to have compassion for all of our co-workers, and organizations and managers need to make sure that they are treating all workers with this same compassion, understanding their unique needs and supporting them as best as possible. As an individual, you can offer to help a colleague with a project or send a note of encouragement. As a manager, you can schedule regular check-ins with your employees just to hear what they are experiencing and how the organization may be of help.

My second piece of advice is that we all must work diligently to find and remain focused on the positive aspects of life and loved ones during this crisis and know that the situation we find ourselves in is for now, not forever.

We'll get through this time more successfully if we support each other and if organizations everywhere lead with compassion.

Share your insights!

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