September 25, 2020 - Podcast

Episode 37—A changing work environment

As COVID-19 began its spread, parents from academia took on a variety of new or expanded roles: daycare provider, tutor, and more. At work, they managed new responsibilities while current duties grew at a rapid pace. But currently, there is no room for any of this work on the traditional curriculum vitae. IUPUI’s Rachel Wheeler, and her colleagues, are developing an app to help address the issue. Called COVID CV, the app will highlight disruptions caused by COVID-19, particularly as they relate to childcare for young children. Projected to launch in early 2021, the app will generate a COVID CV for the user using simple graphical elements to illustrate the pandemic’s impact. Wheeler says working women are being hit by the pandemic, as they are the ones more likely to be overseeing home learning of children, and in academia, women and faculty of color often bear a larger burden of academic service. If measures aren’t taken by universities to address these disparities, then academia will be riven with greater inequities along racial and gender lines in the years to come, she says. While COVID CV is not intended to replace the traditional CV, Wheeler envisions it being used for its therapeutic value, professional development purposes, and a window onto the realities of academic life at a particular cultural moment. Wheeler says she wants the app to help make the invisible visible and to represent the fuller context of faculty lives, both in terms of their work done on campus – what is recognized and acknowledged – and how their home affects the ebb and flow of their work life. As employees take on new roles during the pandemic, their supervisors are also finding new ways to communicate with them.

Even in normal times, providing feedback is one of a manager’s most dreaded tasks. But Charlotte Westerhaus-Renfrow, a clinical assistant professor of business law and management at the IU Kelley School of Business at IUPUI, says giving constructive feedback that focuses on employees’ goals and helps them do better work, is imperative, especially during this pandemic. Everyone deserves some grace during this year unlike any other, Westerhaus-Renfrow says. Employees are likely under more stress, with added responsibilities, like teaching school-age children or taking care of other children at home—or just living life during a pandemic, she says. Even as we settle into a new routine, regular feedback becomes perhaps even more important now, she says. More workplaces are keeping employees remote longer than originally expected, and this move to a remote workplace creates its own set of challenges. Westerhaus-Renfrow says since many employees aren’t working together in person, managers should try to give feedback on a regular basis to keep employees up to date. Managers should schedule regular check-ins and find out what each employee has planned each day or week, so they can let them know what is expected. And if you’re relaying news your employee isn’t going to want to hear, like performance warnings or furloughs, Westerhaus-Renfrow says don’t let the fact that you’re not in person create a disconnect from empathy. Give feedback over a video screen rather than phone or email and no matter what, try to have a personal conversation, however you can. This allows you to directly relay news to the other person, lets them respond to you and have a dialogue. And Westerhaus-Renfrow says empathy is imperative in these types of situations—especially if you want to keep up morale with remaining employees or those you would like to call back after a furlough. Moreover, she says rather than seeing feedback situations as something you need to just get through, see the conversation as an opportunity to create a virtual feeling of connection. It is critical for managers to pay close attention to an employee’s nonverbal cues, such as facial expression, tone of voice, eye contact and posture. Westerhaus-Renfrow says knowing the right way to give feedback (especially to a remote workforce) creates a less stressful and more enjoyable work environment—and a more stable and productive work environment for everyone.