University of Michigan staff who have been working remotely through the COVID-19 pandemic hope to continue doing so at least one day a week, according to a recent survey by University Human Resources.

In December 2020, UHR sent an electronic survey to 12,008 staff members on the Ann Arbor campus and received 6,580 responses for a 55 percent response rate. The survey did not include instructional personnel such as faculty or lecturers.

The survey asked about work experiences during the past year, dependent-care challenges, well-being concerns, effectiveness of communication and vaccine acceptance.

Richard Holcomb, associate vice president for human resources, reviewed some of the highlights at a Feb. 12 online campus briefing regarding issues related to COVID-19.

Positive experiences working remotely

One of the most notable findings is the overwhelmingly positive response to remote and hybrid work. According to those surveyed, 71 percent have mostly worked remotely during the past year.

Prior to the pandemic, 71 percent infrequently or never worked remotely. Yet, after almost a year, 87 percent are interested in continuing to work remotely at least one day a week.

Ninety-two percent said their unit has successfully adapted to a remote workplace.

Sixty-eight percent of staff members who have remained on site feel comfortable with safety protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Just more than half (55 percent) said they are treated fairly compared to employees who are primarily working remotely.

Most common well-being concerns

The realities of living and working through COVID-19 have put stress on employees’ health and well-being.

Seventy-eight percent of staff members reported some level of concern with stress and anxiety; 72 percent reported concerns with burnout. Work-life balance (66 percent), personal health or illness (66 percent) and physical activity (64 percent) are the next most common well-being concerns among staff.

Seventy-nine percent said they are aware of resources provided by the university to support well-being.

Challenges caring for dependents

Working during the pandemic has been especially difficult for those with children and other dependents at home.

Forty percent of respondents reported having dependents in need of care, and 76 percent reported disruptions to their care arrangements because of COVID-19.

The most common disruptions are online school, working remotely with family members present, and participation required to support online school. In response, staff members are considering alternate work schedules, structuring their job in a more flexible way and relying on family members to help with dependent-care needs.

The top barriers to dependent-care are concerns about exposing employees’ families to COVID-19 through interactions with caregivers or other families, uncertainty about 2021, and lack of in-person school. Twenty-five percent said help with the cost of dependent care would be helpful, and 20 percent want information on supporting online learning or homeschooling.

The university recently introduced two additional resources to help employees and students with dependent care needs.

The first is a benefit through Care.com that provides access to a national network of care providers, including babysitters, nannies, tutors, pet sitters and more. The other is a new Family-to-Family Support Posting Board to help employees connect to share free support with one another.

These are in addition to many resources previously available through University Human Resources’ Work-Life Resource Center.

Effective communication and interest in vaccine

Approximately 80 percent said communication has been effective from the university, their department and their supervisor on COVID-19 issues that impact employees.

Seventy percent said they plan to get the COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available. The survey period overlapped with U-M’s initial vaccine rollout.

Planning for the future workplace

The results of the staff survey support many of the recommendations made by the Workforce Innovation and Staff Experience Committee, in particular those around supporting remote work. The WISE Committee was charged by Kevin Hegarty, executive vice president and chief financial officer, to address the short- and long-term needs of U-M staff.

The committee issued a report in the fall of 2020 and work is underway to determine how to implement some of the top recommendations.

Work also is underway to plan for the fall semester. During the Feb. 12 briefing, university leaders expressed optimism about safely delivering an “in-person” semester for students. That message was reiterated in a Feb. 15 message to parents of U-M students.

“While no decisions have yet been made regarding the fall term, we remain optimistic and hopeful that the campus experience come fall will be much more normal than we are experiencing today,” said the message from the Office of Public Affairs.

“It’s clear from our many campus conversations that our faculty, staff and campus leaders all are eager to do their part to deliver a fall semester for students that is as close to normal as we can be while continuing to prioritize the health and safety of our community.”

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