Since the start of the pandemic, my colleagues at the University of Birmingham and across Higher Education (HE) have been working under the most exceptional circumstances that the majority of us have ever known. While past crises also required a swift organisational response and change, nothing in recent history has had such a profound impact on the resilience of the HE sector and those working within it.
For all of us, the challenges of Covid-19 (Coronavirus) demanded a new and different type of resilience, both in our personal and professional lives, which became merged as never before. Forced to work from home, many University colleagues were faced with the challenge of balancing their jobs with looking after children or other caring responsibilities. Some also had to cope with shielding due to particular health vulnerabilities.
But from focused discussion forums and line manager engagement, it became apparent that many colleagues were facing challenges in maintaining their wellbeing against a constant external, global backdrop of fear and uncertainty due to the pandemic. So the university reacted by increasing its wellbeing support to colleagues in numerous ways, all with the clear aim of building longer-term personal and organisational resilience that would extend beyond the pandemic.
For instance, the College of Social Sciences produced regular ‘@Home’ articles sharing how staff were dealing with the challenges of lockdown and managing their wellbeing. These authentic voices and personal experiences from colleagues at all levels really engaged people, encouraging them to consider new ways of looking after themselves and building their resilience. Seeing each other photographed in our home environments also helped us feel connected while we still weren’t allowed to be in physical contact.
Other regular communications helped share our organisational, team and individual successes, while also providing comprehensive guidance on the latest governmental guidelines. It all enabled staff to keep focused on their missions and be clear on shared objectives throughout the pandemic, at the same time as reminding them of the importance of maintaining a healthy work-life balance, no matter how challenging that might be.
As a result of this work, the University now has a much greater emphasis and shared understanding of the importance of building personal resilience and wellbeing. It’s a critical factor for the success of our organisation and the more flexible way of working that is likely to become the new norm for all employees after Covid.
Sophie Sinclair is engagement and operations manager at the Lloyds Banking Group Centre for Responsible Business, University of Birmingham