Returning to Campus: Information and Support for Faculty and StaffAs employees return to their offices, classrooms, and campus spaces, it is useful to acknowledge that a range of reactions may take place. In this time of transition, please remember that:
- People will experience a wide range of feelings about the return. For many, those feelings may include anxiety and stress.
- The variety of stresses and challenges people are facing looks different depending on the specific circumstances of their life. In addition to the pandemic, as Nature Human Behavior pinpoints, there are other “cascading collective traumas,” that people have faced in the U.S. and across the globe over the past 18 months.
- Plans at every level may need to change for us to be effectively reactive to the shifting environment, so we will be equipped to adapt while always prioritizing the health and well-being of our community.
- Alternative Work Strategies could and should be used to help people not only transition to campus and craft a routine that works best for them and their unit during this time but also to remain productive and engaged in the long term.
- Managers should be transparent and open when issues and/or concerns arise, show empathy, and work together with their employees as they convey reactions and emotions.
Measures Taken by Northwestern
What is Northwestern doing to keep faculty and staff safe and informed?
- Communicating frequently and transparently as the situation evolves
- Holding Return to Campus Discussion Series webinars to update students, faculty, and staff on developments
- Creating and updating a COVID-19 and Campus Updates website, which includes a COVID-19 Dashboard
- Developing a Symptom Tracker to allow for tracking and reporting of symptoms
- Developing Contact Tracing mechanisms to track potential exposure and prevent spread
- Providing on-site and at-home testing resources
- Implementing a Policy on Alternative Work Strategies to 1) allow individuals and units flexibility in their post-pandemic plans and routines, 2) aid the transition in the short term, and 3) increase innovation, engagement, productivity, and well-being in the long term
- Revising mask mandates to follow local, federal, and CDC guidelines
Psychology of Change and Ambiguity
What lessons from psychology can help us understand our response to change and ambiguity?
- Transitions tend to increase our anxiety from an evolutionary perspective because we must be on edge in order to survive in situations full of dangers with which we are mostly unfamiliar.
- When we avoid something, we are bound to feel nervous while thinking about it and facing it, so we should give ourselves and our colleagues grace and understanding.
- Stress can be a catalyst and motivator for positive change, so finding the right balance is the key to feeling good and functioning effectively. Cornell Health reports that “too much stress, or stress carried too long, can activate our ‘fight or flight’ response… which, if left unchecked, can decrease our ability to function in one or more areas of our life.” They provide the graph below to illustrate the relationship between stress and performance levels.
- The Office of Intramural Training & Education at the National Institutes of Health cites several factors that move us from a state of stress to a state of distress. They include:
- duration of the stressor,
- intensity of the stressor,
- predictability of the stressor,
- control of the stressor, and
- Intolerance of uncertainty (IU), which is higher with pre-existing anxiety or depression.
What can we do to acknowledge, address, and decrease our unease with change and ambiguity?
- Cornell Health states that to be our best selves and function at our highest capacities, we need to find a “healthy tension [and balance it] with self-care practices that bolster resilience.”
- The Family Institute at Northwestern University teaches us that with our return to campus, we are all likely going to experience some form of reintegration anxiety, which means that actively thinking through and planning our navigation of “engagement and safety,” will enable us to effectively tend to our own needs.
- Anxiety may be there for a reason, so being able to identify, express, and mitigate it in healthy ways is one method by which we can help ourselves keep it under control.
- In Harvard Business Review, Dr. Alice Boyes (clinical psychologist, researcher, and author) suggests that we show ourselves self-compassion by being kind to ourselves, balancing our negative emotions appropriately, “and expecting [ourselves] to make the best decision [we] can in the situation [we]’re in.”
- Elizabeth Grace Saunders (author and time management coach) advises in Harvard Business Review that we should “reclaim the routines that helped [us] feel prepared and manage [our] time well.” Imagine what a typical workday will look like and carefully think through each element—big and small—to craft a schedule that will give you comfort. Example elements are meal planning, morning and evening commutes, household chore assignments, school pick-up and drop-off, etc. Eventually, the routine will come to feel more natural, and the stress of the transition should decrease.
- One approach toward easing anxiety and increasing comfort with the transition is identifying your values and priorities, planning for the risks that may emerge as a result of your priorities, and preparing to have difficult conversations that may be required. In preparation for or upon your return to campus, Harvard Business Review suggests that you plan ahead for your “hazardous half-minute” opening exchange as it relates to the difficult conversations. It is important to begin by creating psychological safety, which is done by demonstrating a sense of care for the person’s needs and concerns and conveying a feeling of respect for them.
- Lack of resiliency training may contribute to burnout, but several external stress-inducing systemic factors should also be evaluated to potentially mitigate some of the stress. They include inefficient workplace processes, excessive workloads, and negative leadership behaviors.
Where can you find support?
- WELL (Well-being, Engagement, Learning & Leadership)
- Work/Life and Family Resources
- Policy on Alternative Work Strategies
- Alternative Work Strategies (20-minute video on myHR Learn)
- Alternative Work Strategies Toolkit (Managers and Individuals)
If you have any questions, please contact:
- Your supervisor
- WELL (Well-being, Engagement, Learning & Leadership):