Feature Story: Returning, With Caution

Erika Cerda, assistant vice president for Talent Management

white keyboard with yellow return key

It is now June of 2021 and most of us are back on campus, navigating our spaces after over a year of mandated masks and social distancing. It’s quite the shift from what we’ve grown accustomed to over the last year and I know many of you have questions. As we shift back to Level 1 operations, I wanted to acknowledge some of your concerns as well as provide you with encouragement.  

A return to Level 1 operations means, for the most part, that we have unrestricted operating procedures. Let’s go through some quick don’ts that may be different under Level 1 than other levels:  

  • Ask people their vaccination status 
  • Engage in behavior that could be considered asking people their vaccination status 
    • “If you’re vaccinated, you can take off your mask.” 
    • “I’ll take off my mask if everyone’s vaccinated.” 
  • Ask people why they are still wearing their mask 

While the university encourages individuals to follow CDC guidelines that state that those who are not vaccinated against COVID-19 should continue to wear a mask, the operational guideline on campus is that there is no mask mandateThis lack of certainty may be particularly difficult for those who have lost someone due to the pandemic, have medically compromised health concerns or live/care for others who do, or are struggling with any number of other things.

While recently discussing the new guidelines as a human resources team, Mary Deter, manager of employee relations, reminded us that many people are carrying their own unique trauma, and the journey of returning to a “new normal” looks different for each individual. While some may feel the relief of hanging up the mask, others may still prefer to have that extra layer of protection regardless of vaccination status. What is important is that we approach those decisions and concerns with kindness and respect. We don’t know their story.  

At the same time, it is important that we are kind to ourselves as well. Burnout is real and at an all-time high, even in well-resourced private companies. A quick Google search will inundate you with articles covering work-from-home burnout, pandemic burnout and good old-fashioned in-the-physical-workplace burnout. People are tired, work is copious, and at the same time, I challenge the idea that we cannot strategically manage taking breaks.  

It is more than okay to take a break. It is necessary to do so. Whether you’re interested in a staycation or looking to head out for a more traditional vacation, our Employee Assistance Program (EAP) through ComPsych is one phone call away from providing you with great planning support. We’ve also pooled some resources for you on The Hub. That’s one less barrier. 

Worrying about your team? Listen, your team wants you to be your very best self at work. Your leader wants you to be your very best self and if you have direct reports then I can 100,000 percent promise you that they not only want but need you to be your very best self.   

Talk to your leader about what you need, sooner than later, and together you can strategically work out what that looks like. And if you’re a leader, there are so many ways that you can resource yourself well now to assist when staff is away. Here are some things that work for us in HR, where several areas have just one point person that does a specific task:  

  • Desk manuals: These documents describe who is accountable for the task, what is the activity, when does it occur, where is it stored, why is it important, how is it done and any historical notes regarding changes.  
  • Cross training  
  • Work sharing: This requires planning and a bit of flexibility but is great for tasks that require minimal training and large execution. As an example, we use it during retiree open enrollment, COVID contact tracing, faculty/staff appreciation, etc.  
  • Regular 1 on 1s: This is a great time to discuss bandwidth, prioritize work tasks and to check on your staff members.  

Taking time-off is important and necessary for a healthy workforce. I encourage you to talk to your supervisor and find some time on your calendar, even if it is just an afternoon every so often, for yourself. After the year we’ve had, you deserve it.