Careers Clinic: which pandemic change should management make?

THE’s Careers Clinic brings together the great and the good of higher education to answer a burning careers question

January 26, 2021
Manager and team
Source: iStock

University responses to the pandemic so far have been littered with examples of caring and inspirational leadership – and just as many that have left most onlookers scratching their heads. With what looks like months of disrupted schedules and home working still ahead, we asked five experts about the one change they would like to see from senior management to help staff during the pandemic. Here is what they said:

“I’m not sure this is about senior management so much as those in charge of diaries − but setting meetings from 8am to 6pm, on the hour, every hour, makes the first suggestion of self-care impossible. And, for long meetings, properly scheduled comfort breaks are a must; a time when we can all switch off our videos and do whatever we need to for 10 minutes (again, time for some caffeine and a visit to the bathroom should be factored in). Some people understand this; too many don’t. But an additional change that does have to come from senior management is clarity about how the consequences of the pandemic – such as a necessary absence from labs, or the impact of home-schooling and/or caring, disrupting work for months, for those who have had to bear that load – will be factored into subsequent decisions about career progression over the years ahead.”
Dame Athene Donald is professor of experimental physics at Churchill College, University of Cambridge.

“In our staff survey I am grouped in the category of senior management, so I’ll be careful what I say. I think leading by example in terms of self-care. The temptation is to be online 24/7, to accept early and late meetings as normal and book annual leave then dip in and out of work because you haven’t gone anywhere. If those in senior positions don’t take some time away it sets an expectation that others need to be in always-on mode.”
Robert Macintosh is professor of strategic management and head of the School of Social Sciences at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh.

“For jobs where working from home is possible, a more flexible and remote working system needs to be introduced. Even with the remote working system, however, some senior managers still try to check the progress of work by sending online messages to staff from time to time. These actions can hinder staff productivity and concentration. Therefore, through consultation with the staff, efforts to give them sufficient authority and discretion in their work should follow even in the working-from-home environment.”
Chang H. Kim is a research fellow at the Cairns Institute, Australia. He serves as executive director of the Korean Association of Human Resource Development in South Korea.

“Without doubt the thing I valued the most was communication that was clear and compassionate. While it didn’t always come in a timely fashion, I grew to appreciate that our senior management were prioritising care, clarity, accuracy and consistency in their messaging. In the long run, that mattered and made a difference.”
Cath Ellis is associate dean (education) in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at UNSW Sydney.

“Do not use the pandemic as an opportunity to implement cost-cutting measures that treat staff as commodities.” 
Kalwant Bhopal is director of the Centre for Research in Race & Education at the University of Birmingham, UK.

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