Managers guidance during coronavirus

Update 7 January - national lockdown

As we enter another national lockdown, working arrangements may change as staff are asked to remain at home.

During this time, staff may be concerned and have worries about how to balance their work and home life, particularly if they have caring responsibilities. We have updated our Guidance for staff with Caring Responsibilities - and many staff may address their concerns to you in the first instance.

Please refer to the guidance below, about managing your team and expectations during this time.

A reminder that the University offers a wide range of support for staff wellbeing - HR advice to support your wellbeing.

Remember to be realistic and kind to yourself.

Having discussions with your staff

Some patterns of work will already be established, but there may be occasions where individuals may still need to change work routines/hours during this period. You should reassure your staff that they can only do the best they can in the circumstances and offer flexibility, where possible.

Be mindful that if a member of your team is unable to work, or has limited capacity due to caring responsibilities, this may impact on colleagues and you need to ensure that this is managed carefully.

All staff should ensure they take adequate rest breaks and not work excessive hours. Staff should also be encouraged to take leave and spread it out throughout the year, particularly from a wellbeing perspective and to take time out from the work environment.

In discussion with your member of staff, establish a sustainable work pattern that best fits the individual's personal circumstances and the work priorities. Depending on the nature of the work, discuss realistic completion dates. This will help to give focus and should aim to identify what can be left until a later date if necessary.

Depending on the nature of their role some team members will have a very high workload or conversely they may not have much to do. Consider how you can help to spread the load, where possible, and if an individual has insufficient work encourage them to undertake some online e-learning/staff development as appropriate.

Advice for managers regarding staff members with caring responsibilities

The HR team has provided guidance on this during previous lockdowns and you can talk to your HR business partner or designated HR Manager about options for your team to try to find the right solution. Flexible hours, changes to working patterns, reducing hours for a temporary period, taking annual leave or unpaid leave are all potential solutions. We also now have the option of furloughing staff on either a full time or part time basis, and this can be explored as well. In all cases there is a balance to be struck between getting enough work done and supporting the member of staff to manage an achievable workload in difficult circumstances.

Options that can be utilised for supporting working parents and staff with caring responsibilities to find a balance between work and home life:

  • Flexibility - changes to working hours or days, for part-time staff extending the contracted hours over more days to spread the load
  • Reduce tasks / responsibilities for a period of time or agree which activities can be left until later in the year
  • temporary reduction in hours with reduced pay
  • dependent care leave (to be used in an emergency)
  • annual leave or using additional annual leave carried over from last year
  • unpaid leave
  • parental leave
  • career break
  • Part-time or full-time furlough.

Any of these options are possible, and/or in some cases a blended approach, and the best solution for the individual and the team should be reached by discussion so that individual needs and those of the university can be balanced.

Looking after your wellbeing as well as your team

There are many issues to be mindful of during this time, but it is also important to care for your staff and their wellbeing.

As a Manager, you have a key role to play. You may be at a distance from your team and this can make it more difficult to identify whether or not an employee is struggling. Despite this, we have a duty of care and your team may look to you to help them. For instance, recognising signs of pressure and stress, talking to them about how you can help, and making them aware of support available to them, including the Employee Assistance Programme and Occupational Health Services, so that support is maintained wherever staff are located. Remember it is not always easy for individuals to open up and be honest about their feelings, so being attune, listening and offering help will go a long way.

Coronavirus has highlighted the important need to support employees with their mental health. Many may be experiencing heightened feelings of anxiety, isolation and/or loneliness as well as concerns for their physical health and that of their families and friends. For those juggling work with child/elder care commitments and home-schooling, the added pressure can feel overwhelming.

Look after yourself first

It is always critical to prioritise your own health and safety and wellbeing first so that you are better equipped to help others. This includes setting clear boundaries for your own circumstances and making it clear when you are available via your Google Calendar or similar. This will provide a positive example for people in your team. Be open to sharing ways in which you are looking after your own wellbeing and your strategies for coping in your team meetings etc.

Be kind

In some cases, these extraordinary circumstances are prompting many people to question what really matters in life. Most are realising that relationships, kindness, compassion and care are more important than to-do lists. We are all facing our own challenges, so listen to your team about what theirs are. Some may need more support than others, but be careful that your support is not seen as micromanaging.  

  • Be considerate and realistic when setting expectations.
  • Consider flexibility for staff with caring responsibilities.
  • Consider any requests for adjustments in duties, support needs etc.
  • Some staff are likely to be feeling very anxious and may be feeling lonely, even though they may or may not be living alone.
  • Staff may suffer from being ill, or friends and family being ill, whether Covid related or not, and/or the loss of a loved one.
  • Encourage teams to support each other, and provide informal settings to meet eg, virtual lunch together, or organise a team quiz or similar. Humour can also be a great antidote to stress and anxiety.
  • Encourage your team to connect socially, e.g. for coffee breaks, either within the team or with colleagues in the wider Brookes community.
  • Remind staff to have regular breaks from the screen and encourage them to move regularly - it doesn’t have to be formal exercise. Dancing to a favourite track or doing some gardening are all beneficial. 

Facilitated conversation to support staff working remotely

If you would like to have a facilitated conversation with your remote working team to work out the best ways of supporting their wellbeing and motivation throughout the pandemic, please contact your HR link team.

Brookes Staff 1:1 Connect scheme

The 1:1 Connect scheme (formerly known as Brookes Buddies) is available to any member of staff, at any level, who may be feeling isolated and wishes to connect with a colleague for an informal chat and coffee.

Visit the Brookes Staff Connect Google site for more information on 1:1 Connect and staff chatrooms.

Wellbeing resources

The University offers a wide range of support for staff wellbeing for you and all members of staff - see HR advice to support your wellbeing

Communicate and then communicate some more

Managers are strongly encouraged to make time for regular contact with their staff and to remember that for many this is a stressful time. Be mindful of your own feelings and try not to add to individual concerns and worries: however, make sure you look after yourself first.

Communication is essential even when there is nothing to say. This will include team meetings and one-to-ones. During one-to-ones it is important to recognise people’s unique contribution to the work of the university, even if it has been affected due to circumstances around the pandemic. Take the opportunity also to ask about, and respond with empathy to, their pandemic challenges inside and outside work. You may find that members of your team would appreciate meeting more regularly during this time than would normally be the case. The greatest protective factor for our mental and emotional wellbeing is a sense of connectedness: that we matter, that others care about us. For many people their sense of identity is derived from the working environment.

Remember, communication is a two-way process and as well as passing on information and updating the team, it is important to listen carefully to what is not being said as well as what is being said. It might be hard for your team members to be honest about how they are feeling, especially if they feel like they might be letting the team down, so encourage use of the video chats so you will be better able to pick up on facial expressions and body language. Remember to update team members who are unable to attend a team meeting.

You may wish to discuss and agree with your team the best methods/platforms for communications, frequency and timing bearing in mind that some team members may be flexing their hours around caring responsibilities.

Covid return to work guidance for Managers

A huge amount of work has been undertaken to help keep colleagues, students and visitors safe on campus ensuring it is Covid-secure.

Some staff members have already returned to campus, whilst others continue to work remotely, or work a mixture of both. VCG have reviewed the period for those Professional Services staff who have been asked to work from home, and this is likely to continue for the foreseeable future, possibly until Easter 2021. This will be kept under review as circumstances can change quickly.

However, if it is essential for your employees to return to campus, and agreed by the Recovery Steering Group, then please follow the Covid return to work guidance for Managers.

Managers' Guidance FAQs