Business as usual?

Working during a pandemic is hard, but necessary. Caring for loved ones and your children at home is hard but necessary too. But everything is harder for everyone when your employer says it is ‘business as usual’ or ‘this is not a crisis situation’, and expects individuals to come up with their own ways to solve problems without sharing solutions. Some people are OK, and feel supported, and it is helpful when people are told no-one will be ‘disadvantaged’. But many more colleagues already feel they are disadvantaged, because this is not ‘business as usual’ and it is a crisis. Those who are isolated, let down, and stressed, say this is what life is like when work is like this:

“Home schooling is challenging enough, but trying to balance this with teaching and programme management during the transition to online delivery has been highly stressful. In an effort to fulfil all roles, I am left feeling that nothing is done to the best of my ability, which creates a general feeling of anxiety.”

“Home schooling and working at the same time is hard. I didn't want to take a critical worker space (unsafe and unethical). Working flexibly now-all the other options offered by HR involve not being paid. Would have liked to be furloughed. Feel I'm being disadvantaged in my career because of these duties - but what's new?

“Is it working? Yes, but not very satisfactorily. I'm one of the lucky ones, I suppose.”

What is the secret to juggling caring for a parent with Alzheimer's with the demands of remote working with all of the software platforms and a good or wobbly internet connection for teaching, assessing and examining?”

“It is not feasible to sit and do marking or prep at the same time as caring for a vulnerable relative.”

“My wife is a teacher and is being made to teach online from home and attend F2F sessions when instructed to do so on a rota. I have to say it is almost impossible for both of us to work simultaneously. Fortunately, my line manager a decent person and is understanding; … Of course, my overall productivity is affected … The paradox is that it doesn’t feel that senior members of our faculty are doing as much as they could to help the younger members – you only have to look at their research outputs during the pandemic to see that we are not all in this together.”

I have been non-stop since early morning. Completed hours of home schooling. Then trying to mark assignments whilst my children occupy themselves (!) in amongst the constancy of tending them, housework, meal prep and conflict resolution. As a single parent I am exhausted and overwhelmed. I am getting migraines and by the end of each working day my eyes are blurry, and I cannot think straight. It is not business as usual. … It needs to be recognised that each of us are affected differently and that they genuinely care. We need to be supported as people rather than told to work harder and think smarter.”

“As a lone parent with home-schooling responsibilities and additional caring responsibilities (because child care facilities are closed), I found the increased workload unmanageable. My manager demonstrated some flexibility. HR offered to monitor the situation but they were unable to offer any suggestions, other than taking paid leave or a reduction in pay for reduced working hours. They were unable to come up with anything concrete about what to do when our workloads are unmanageable. They weren’t even willing to support practices taken on by other departments in the university. There is no university-wide policy on supporting staff who are home-schooling. I am forced to decide which is more important, my work or my child.”

“I have a book due in Dec. I haven’t touched that in over a month. I don’t expect to do so until school are back. I suspect any parents will have a hard time continuing with research if they have even modest teaching loads.”

“As a parent with schools no longer in session I must get up at 5:00am, I work until 1pm for the university then switch with my partner for home schooling. This is a double work shift and leaves no time for things like exercise, which I normally do to maintain mental health amid the stress of my university work. Additionally, I try to catch up with email after the child’s bedtime, though I find I am very tired. These are not sustainable working practices and I undertake them due to the extraordinary conditions we are placed in amid Covid. While my head of subject was sympathetic, when I asked for clarification on how the suggestions from HR around support for carers might assist she could not describe a course of action useful to both myself and my subject areas. … I will have to take sick leave which will further impact my colleagues but I will continue to try and balance things and find some ameliorative strategies in an attempt to mitigate against this.

“The pressures of homeschooling are difficult to describe; they vary from day to day. The only consistent feature is that from first thing in the morning until last thing at night there is scarcely a moment to spare. My younger child has an average of 3 hours of schoolwork to complete each day, and my eldest 6 hours. Neither has any live synchronous teaching, so it is left up to us to supervise and assist them both throughout the day as they work through various PowerPoint presentations and associated tasks. This means that as well as the minimum of 8 hours of work I need to complete each day to fulfil my responsibilities as an academic, I am also teaching my children for a further 6 hours at the very least (presuming that I am able to support them both at the same time, which isn’t always feasible). We have no additional support and both myself and my partner work full time, so we have been working every evening and every weekend since January 5th.”

“I realise that everyone is under pressure at the moment, and I doubt that anyone is thriving, but homeschooling presents a very specific set of challenges to a certain group of colleagues and it would be useful if these could be spoken about openly. In my Department, any mention of homeschooling is immediately shut down and lumped together with other ‘caring responsibilities’, rather than being acknowledged as a distinct phenomenon. While this situation is hopefully temporary, the repercussions of the school closures are likely to disadvantage those of us with childcare responsibilities for years to come. In the context of our work at the University, it is only right that we prioritise the learning and wellbeing of our students, many of whom are really struggling, but those of us who are homeschooling will invariably pay a personal price for this in terms of research, bidding, and promotion.”

“It is a struggle. I have been flexible in order to continue meeting key work and home commitments in this, and the other lockdowns. I’m regularly working long hours and my work-life balance has been negatively affected, which is affecting my health. I am constantly exhausted; more than usual. Most days feel like a herculean effort. … What can be cut out, flexed or delayed for now?”

“I am furious at the idea that we are ‘not in crisis’, everything about this situation is a crisis. How can we support our children developmentally when they are being schooled from home, emotionally when the death count is so high and rising each day, and physically when we are tied to our computers giving live lectures/creating and recording content and responding to students?... I’m exhausted, and whilst lucky to have a supportive line manager and head of department I shouldn’t have to beg and grovel for small concessions. It makes working parents feel worse than we already do, and we are too exhausted to problem solve. … The organisation should be offering clear and transparent help and support.”

“There seems to be little empathy or proper understanding about what it is like trying to work whilst looking after young children, how much constant supervision they need and how exhausting it is. I have been made to feel like it is my problem to solve, it is me who needs to make adjustments (it was suggested at one stage that I homeschool during the day and work all night). I have had to expend a lot of energy to get any adjustments made. Even now, I am in a position where I am constantly either looking after my children, working or both at the same time and I am also working on weekends. I can already feel my physical and mental health suffering.”

“Initial requests I made for a reduction in my workload (even offering to take a cut in pay) were rejected. Some were rejected on the basis that it might inconvenience other colleagues (without caring responsibilities), without any consultation with them. HR announced various options, but I don't actually know of anyone who has had these requests granted outright. I have been left feeling really negative about working here and pessimistic about how much staff are genuinely cared for as opposed to lip service being paid to gender equality and wellbeing.” “In my opinion, February is the most difficult month of the academic calendar, where Semester 1 meets Semester 2. Living up to our own expectations and those of our students is made even more challenging when the ability to concentrate is compromised because of (a) children in the background; and (b) additional anxieties about their wellbeing, ability to engage in their learning, exercise and get fresh air.”

“It is difficult as a parent in any event to devote time to personally-fulfilling exercises, and it is disheartening to feel that the pandemic is producing further inequality"

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