My friend, Becca Obergefell, recently wrote a post related to “work/life” balance that was spot on. Fortunately, for me, I’m fairly good about taking my time, leaving enough in the bank should catastrophe hit, but not leaving any on the table that I would lose (disconnecting from work when I’m out of the office, however, is a different story – one for a future blog post). While some of us need to be pushed to be more mindful of achieving balance (or integration) I think there are others, especially some newer professionals, who feel like they want to, but can’t. While some of that may be self-imposed, there are colleagues out there who are stuck – working for supervisors who aren’t always the best stewards when it comes to helping their staff achieve the balance they might desire.
A few years ago, I interviewed for a position and was participating in the on-campus portion. I was sitting with the potential supervisor, and was asked if I had any questions for her. Prior to that, she set a pretty obvious tone with expectations of being “present” on campus, which was fine, but I wanted to explore that a bit more. So, I asked her how she created balance for herself and set an example for her staff. It was definitely a curve ball, a question she didn’t expect at all, and she stumbled quite a bit as she tried to frame her answers in a way that didn’t make it seem like most of her life was spent at or with work. While I don’t begrudge the decisions she makes for herself, I knew at that moment that this was not the environment I would want to work in as it became apparent that my own formula for work/life integration would likely be a square peg in this round hole.
So, this post is directed at my colleagues who are supervisors. We are in a profession that espouses believes in being “holistic” and having an “ethic of care”. We talk a good game when it comes to the students with whom we work, but does the same hold true for our employees? We train and develop our staff members when it comes to skill sets and aptitudes, why should it be any different for balance and well-being? Here are a few challenges I’m making to my fellow administrators.
Actively Manage Vacation Schedules: Now you’re saying “of course I manage vacation schedules”. I’m not talking about managing to make sure there aren’t holes in coverage. What I AM talking about is making sure your employees are TAKING their vacations. When you receive vacation requests, are you checking to see if they have a few random days sprinkled throughout the semester instead of just checking it against what events or programs they absolutely can’t be gone for?
Stop the Lunchtime Meetings: Working lunches are stealing. Yes, that’s what I said, stealing. If you’re staff members have a lunch period as a part of the work day, scheduling a meeting in the middle of the day and telling staff “bring your lunch” makes us no different than the playground bully grabbing lunch money. Many of our staff members, especially if they are new, may not feel comfortable saying no. And, actually, if you work in the state of NY like I do, requiring a staff member to work through a lunch is a violation of labor law.
Avoid Monday Morning and Friday Afternoon Meetings: I can’t repeat the words uttered under my breath after working all week, followed by a Saturday event, then to discover I have to be work by 9 on Monday for a meeting. Really? I can’t even come it at 10 after I spent my entire Saturday night watching people Dougie? And the Friday afternoon meeting…well now you’re asking for people to ignore “Boss’ Day”. Yes, situation may require the occasional meeting at those times, but if your staff members are expected to work a schedule outside the 9-5 bounds, protect their sanity by at least giving them some breathing room.
Stop Letting Others Watch Your Clock: I can remember numerous times when, walking in at 10 AM after having attended a 3 hour SGA meeting the night before that was 1 hour meeting and a 2 hour interpretation of Robert’s Rules, and running into a colleague from another office who said “Oh nice to finally see you”. While I have enough witty comebacks in my arsenal, it can be disheartening for a staff member to feel that others think they don’t work as hard or just mosey on in whenever the mood strikes, because the case is quite opposite. It’s important that we advocate outside our areas to let it be known that our staff members are often burning “the midnight oil”. It is especially critical when the mere snickers turn into actual pressure to have your staff “conform” to a more traditional morning schedule. If we routinely want our staff to be present at 9 PM meetings and yet be bright and chipper and in the door just 12 hours later, then our staff members will be burning out just as quickly as that midnight oil.
Be the Guardian of Equity: If supervising multiple professionals, you might find yourself in a situation where one is much more willing, and seemingly eager, to volunteer for the above and beyond assignments. It is probably a very genuine interest, and it saves us the time and hassle of having to “assign” something…but that doesn’t always make it fair. I see this happen especially when some staff have partners and/or children and others do not. The soccer practices and ballet recitals start to take precedence over the “well I didn’t have anything going on anyway, so I’ll take that event, no worries”. If people are in equal positions, then they must also equally share the load. It might not be the most harmonious way, but being a supervisor means having to deal with the flat notes as well.
Stop Micromanaging by Proxy: I realize that some managers are a bit more hands on than I am. I sometimes joke that I’m more of a “macro-manager”. Where it gets a little out of hand is when our micromanaging spreads through our staff members as well and we expect them to be intimately aware of every nook and cranny of our students’ extracurricular lives. Yes, major events and special programs require staff presence (and sometimes they’re actually quite fun to be a part of). But, honestly, do we really need them to be present for every meeting? Any time two or more students gather on the quad, do we really need someone from our office to be there in case there might be a “learning moment”? Academic advisors don’t sit in on every class with the students they advise, why must our staff members sit through every weekly meeting? We’re trying to teach our students to be autonomous, yet we never let them be untethered. Sure, there might be a moment where Robert’s Rules anarchy breaks out…but there’s a book for that.
No, “Because That’s What you Did When You Were a New Professional” is Not a Good Enough Reason: If a student uttered that same phrase, we’d have an entire monologue ready on how we need to “break cycles”, yet we somehow think it’s ok to approach our supervision of staff in that way. Sure, we may have to pay our dues, but that doesn’t guarantee that it was always the best way to learn or to do our jobs. Yes, we might have accepted that having “a life” just wasn’t possible in our first few years in the profession, but that doesn’t mean we can’t work to be more intentional about helping the next phase of new professionals have better balance than we did. We have a responsibility to them; yes they are adults capable of advocating for themselves, but there’s power in our expectations and reactions. The first time we make a staff member feel guilty about requesting a day off for no reason or when we don’t notice that they worked every night of Homecoming week and forget to say “hey make sure you take some comp time next week” will set the tone for the rest of their employment. Don’t let our students be the only ones we act “developmentally” towards – our staff members deserve the same consideration.