The School of Health Sciences Covid-19 staff survey results: five things we learned about working in lockdown
Back in April 2020, the School of Health Sciences (SHS) Athena Swan team launched a survey to understand more about how staff experience of the Covid-19 pandemic. Specifically, the AS team wanted to understand what practices were seen as helpful and unhelpful, and to gather suggestions for improvement.
233 SHS staff participated over the initial period of lockdown (April to May 2020).
This is the first of two blog posts reporting on the findings. This first blog post will focus on what we have learned from your comments. The next will look at what will be done about it.
Here are five things the SHS AS team learned from what you said…
1. Experiences of the pandemic are highly individual.
“We are not all in the same boat. We are all in the same storm. Some are on super-yachts. Some have just the one oar.”
— Damian Barr
Responses to the survey showed just how variable the experience of the pandemic and lockdown have been for SHS staff. Even relatively common experiences, like home schooling, could have highly variable effects, depending on factors such as the ages of children, how much support people had and their other responsibilities outside of work. We also found that certain combinations of roles and responsibilities at work and at home have been particularly stressful, intensifying the ‘balancing act’.
To help better understand the range of colleagues’ experiences, we identified five profiles that reflected some of the issues and effects reported. Importantly, each individual person might reflect more than one profile, making the picture more complex.
2. It’s not just what we say, it’s how (and when) we say it.
It may seem obvious, but communication – both content and tone – is important to staff. Responses showed both positive and negative experiences around communication in the period:
- Reassurance, understanding, and compassion from managers and colleagues goes a long way. Many of us are less productive than we’d like to be at the moment. Respondents particularly appreciated messages from managers that recognise and accept this as normal in a time that is far from normal.
- Some colleagues found the volume and frequency of communications overwhelming. We all know by now that ‘Zoom fatigue’ has been an issue. And in some cases, the same messages were received multiple times from different people and lists within the University, resulting in unnecessary duplication.
- In other cases, the content and tone of messages varied, sending mixed messages to staff about what was expected. Certain ‘key’ communications – for example, regarding the initial lockdown and the University’s financial situation – were noted as particularly hard hitting for some.
- Some staff emphasised the importance of getting the timing right for important messages, avoiding creating situations where staff had to deal with implications at short notice, or over weekends.
3. Staff are uncertain about the future.
Staff are understandably concerned about what the future will bring. How will the University’s financial position and response to the pandemic affect workload and job security, particularly for those on fixed term contracts? How will the effects of the pandemic on productivity and goals be acknowledged? Could not being able to complete essential training affect your career progress?
While some answers to questions like these are emerging, others may take longer to resolve.
Some staff welcomed opportunities to address and account for changes in outputs formally in their performance and development reviews (PDRs). Others felt that PDRs were of less value under the current circumstances. In particular, staff coming to the end of fixed term contracts had many questions and wanted additional support.
4. IT has never been more important.
You may (or may not) have your home office set up by now, but back in March, the rush of going into lockdown took most of us by surprise. It meant that some of us were less equipped for the rapid switch to home working than others.
Teaching staff in particular experienced a “baptism by fire”, having to learn IT skills rapidly to deliver course material online. The quick and universal access to Zoom was a widely welcomed move, but not a panacea. Although access to offices has since been arranged for some staff, many are still working without optimal set up and felt hindered by not having essential equipment (e.g. chairs), software and access to data.
5. There might be some silver linings.
Whilst we’ve all (on some level, at least) found difficulties with working in a pandemic, we were heartened to see some more positive experiences and reflections on good practices that have emerged.
In particular, some people noted their gratitude for the support shown to them by colleagues, helping them to feel understood and cared for. Others noted their pride in taking opportunities to make a difference through their research into COVID-19, professional NHS practice or volunteering. And despite the pressured circumstances, several people welcomed the modernisations to online teaching.
Thank you to each of you who took the time to respond to the survey. We hope we’ve given you an insight into some of the key findings here. We are leaving the survey open for now – think of it as a ‘time lapse photo‘ rather than a ‘snapshot’. We will be following up with a second round of questions for you to feed back to us again soon ahead of the new term.
The SHS Senior Leadership Team have been presented with a full report on findings and are agreeing what remedial actions should be taken to address the issues raised. The results of our survey have also informed the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion letter sent to UoM SLT. We will also be presenting our report to FBMH Senior Leadership Team.
The actions to be taken will be the topic of our second blog (forthcoming). If you have ideas about what action could be taken, complete the survey or contact the AS team directly.
If you would like to get involved more formally, we are currently open to new members.
In the meantime, we’ll leave you on this thought: If you could record an answer machine message and send it back in time to yourself at the start of lockdown, what advice would you give?
by Lamiece Hassan, Jonathan Hammond, Elizabeth Camacho, Ruth Norris & Karolina Kluk