Coronavirus recovery and workloads

Our rapid response to COVID-19 and changes in ways of working has resulted in a significant amount of new or different work undertaken by colleagues, often working at home. I am delighted to publish new COVID-19 Workload Principles and guidance to support managers and teams in ensuring workloads are prioritised and planned to ensure that such new or different working does not place additional pressure on colleagues.

Responding to the challenge of coronavirus
Our community has been nothing short of outstanding in both our initial response to the global pandemic, and how we have continued to respond to new demands as we work to recover from lockdown and prepare to welcome students from September.

The result of this has been that we have maintained our pastoral support for our students, were able to deliver the final materials for modules in the spring semester, delivered an assessment period using rapidly adjusted approaches, and as far as possible continued to conduct the highest quality research, including projects that directly supported the COVID-19 response. This delivery and commitment has been enabled by teams from all over the University, and the collaboration and collegiality that has shone through during this period has been overwhelming.

However, this increased level of demand, alongside the wider global and societal context that we find ourselves living through, has built on our existing challenges around workload. When the Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Provost, Professor Andy Long, led the consultation to inform the University Strategy in 2019, one of the key issues highlighted was concern around increasing levels of workload, and the pressures that this placed on staff within the University. This feedback was mirrored in responses to the consultation that informed the development of the wellbeing strategic delivery plan in the same year.

COVID-19 has presented, at times, what can feel like an impossible situation, with the need to balance our own personal health and responsibilities at home with the rapidly changing demands of working in a University at a time of severe challenge. As we are asking people to take on new duties to reflect our changing times, it is critical that we recognise that there must be other duties that may now need to be done differently, at a slower pace, or indeed not at all. We also need to recognise that previous expectations around balance of work will have changed, and how different outcomes are considered in future criteria and expectations for job application or promotions.

Workload Task Group
Early in 2020, a task and finish group to review staff workload was established. I sponsor the group, supported by three co-chairs – Nalayini Thambar (Director, Getting in Shape), Pip Peakman (Director, Research and Innovation) and Professor Steve Howdle (Head of School, Chemistry). The group was tasked to understand the root causes of the workload issues that have been identified, understand the impact of these on our staff and our working culture and identify appropriate action to develop our approach and support our staff. The group was established with members drawn from across the University community.

Several weeks after the COVID-19 lockdown was declared, it was agreed that for the immediate future, the focus of the group should move to delivering guidance and advice that could help support staff address the workload that they were experiencing now. The group agreed that the most effective way forward was to provide some guidance for all staff and their managers, to highlight the diverse issues that colleagues were encountering, and provide a steer and expectations around work prioritisation and planning in the short and medium term.

Workload Principles and Guidance in light of Covid-19
The resulting COVID-19 Workload Principles are now available to support conversations and planning within teams, and between colleagues and their line managers, with all expected to adopt them in their prioritisation of workload. These principles and guidelines were developed in collaboration with the workload review task and finish group members, and also informed by helpful consultations with our trade unions.

The principles encompass the University Strategy values of inclusivity, fairness, openness, ambition and respect and provide guidance on issues ranging from the planning and allocation of work, communications between managers and colleagues, career progression, physical and mental wellbeing, and the workplace culture we aspire to.

Staff Engagement Meetings: COVID-19 Recovery and our People
Recognising that workload is just one of the many issues that can affect our staff, our Human Resources department has been working to develop and implement a number of new policies and processes to support colleagues, whilst responding to the significant financial constraints that the impact of COVID-19 has presented.

I know that the unavoidable uncertainty that the pandemic presents us with can be very difficult to cope with, and I am keen that colleagues have an opportunity to ask any questions that they wish. Director of Human Resources, Jaspal Kaur and I are therefore running a series of staff engagement meetings with teams across the University to focus on “COVID-19 Recovery and our People.”

These sessions will provide teams with an update on work that has taken place so far and, most importantly, allow for discussions that will help us all look forward and ensure that we can reflect any learnings on agile working, flexibility, and support our staff. Do look out for your invitation to one of these sessions over the coming weeks.

I look forward to working with all colleagues to navigate successfully the challenges of blended teaching, learning and indeed working, whilst ensuring that workloads are planned, prioritised and balanced in the interests of all colleagues.

Professor Sarah Sharples

Pro Vice-Chancellor for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion and People

29 June 2020

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

Trent Building
University Park Campus