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I have never experienced such collective stress, in my life. I am coaching clients….and myself through endless pivots, changes, adaptations, and we are struggling mightily. To remain resilient. To adapt. To evolve. To pivot. To adjust. To the ever-changing plans for fall 2020 on our higher ed campuses.

I can appreciate that COVID numbers and testing and guidance evolves and shifts daily. I understand that we need to think outside of the box and get creative. And we, alt-ac and faculty employees alike, have been pivoting our asses off. 

So at this point, I would like to squarely aim at higher ed as employers and ask:

What’s the plan here?

At what point are you gonna “call it”? What’s the deadline for committing to a path for fall 2020? And does that deadline take into account staff’s mental health too? Staff are stressed. Staff need their employers to commit to the official path ahead for fall 2020, and so they can align their work and personal plans with the official workplace plan. 

We see endless communiques to students, outreach on social media, and public-facing messages about concern for the health and well-being of our communities. We see that you are making every effort to support them.

And us, employees? Are we being supported? 

Faculty and staff are being asked behind the scenes to scenario plan and figure out the domino effect fall-out from each and every scenario. And we are exhausted. 

Some of us are also caregiving for someone who has fallen ill with COVID. Some of us are caregiving for elders who are at high risk. Some of us are also parenting. Some of us are doing all of those things while also trying to manage a full-time job. Some of us are working off-contract, not being paid for our summer planning. All so we can continue to operate and provide teaching and safe learning to our students.

It takes employees to support our students. Whether faculty or staff, we are depleted, weary, worn out, zoomhausted. We need a break. 

By having us continuously plan and evolve up until the 11th hour….higher ed employers are depriving employees of the ability to plan their own work in any concrete way, and to plan for their own families. 

This is some of the hardest career coaching I’ve ever done. I have several clients whose plan A is to continue to try to make this all work becoming ever-more-worn out…and plan B is to quit.  Even though I am the strongest advocate for women in the workplace, and know the data that shows women pay a steep price for leaving any workforce, ever….I would like higher ed employers to face their employees and answer:

How is asking employees to carry on like this any less stressful than us just taking unemployment? 

Sure, of course, the practicalities. Unemployment won’t pay the bills. It’s not forever. The penalty of a gap on your resume, and the struggles of getting a foot back in a door someday. The penalty that means you’ll never command the same earnings potential. The career capital one sacrifices by walking away. The medical and retirement benefits gone. 

But as a career coach, I’m also always guiding clients to focus on what is within their locus of control. With unemployment, for those who have really thought through whether they could swing it…it seems like they have an advantage there. There’s much more they can control. 

They can control what their personal career plan is, how best to execute it  and the timeline. They can plan whether to sign their kids up for online or hybrid or in-person schooling. They can plan what they can work on to advance their careers in a manageable time frame, under reduced stress. They can control how they find and protect time for: doing (creating,  making, writing….), rather than planning for one’s employer. (The way this is playing out is also incredibly inefficient for employers! Employees are faithfully planning, all the while knowing that yesterday’s planning efforts will be replaced by today’s, on repeat ad nauseum. Employees are spinning their wheels planning….and not DOING!)

Asking employees to ever pivot and remain flexible is fine up to a point. My clients are well beyond that point. They have flexed so hard they have snapped.