COVID-19: Supervisors Bulletin on August 5, 2020

Subject: UO Connection for Supervisors - Engaging employees in fall planning conversations

Message from Mark Schmelz, Chief Human Resources Officer:

The University of Oregon continues to prepare for the 2020 fall term and safely navigate the ongoing resumption of on-campus activities. Individual departments have been actively developing and implementing their plans, and some offices and research units have begun increasing the number of team members working onsite. Department-level planning efforts have been informed by the information employees have been sharing through the return-to-campus survey. 

While the university plans for fall, many of our employees continue to grapple with issues outside of the workplace. They may be concerned about how they will manage work and home life with so many uncertain variables, such as school districts’ plans to operate remotely again this fall. We must all recognize the K-12 schedule may impact some of our employees. As we did this past spring, we should be understanding and supportive and make every effort to work with employees to utilize flexible schedules, remote work, or a hybrid approach of onsite and remote work when feasible. Talking with employees about their needs will create opportunities to be creative in meeting university and individual needs as possible. It is clear that we will continue to need a combination of in-person, remote, and hybrid work in order to manage the safety of campus, which likewise may help employees find work-life balance as the school year takes shape.

We are encouraging employees to reach out to their supervisor to discuss their needs and collaborate on a plan this fall, especially in light of the recent K-12 announcements. We also encourage you to proactively approach the employees you supervise to promote an environment of mutual problem solving and invite employees to engage in a collaborative discussion. The prospect of engaging an employee in a conversation about their personal circumstances can feel uneasy, for legitimate reasons. However, it is acceptable, and quite possible, to discuss personal matters with an employee without getting too personal. Now more than ever, we need to recognize the pressure our employees may be under as they are searching for ways to effectively manage their personal and professional responsibilities. We can do this by acknowledging their experience and engaging in a dialog to establish work arrangements and set expectations that serve both the employee and the university.

Below, you will find guidelines and resources to help you demonstrate support while effectively managing a conversation about an employee’s personal circumstances. Learning to navigate these types of discussions is key to demonstrating the principle of “taking care of one another,” and when managed sincerely, and appropriately, builds trust and rapport with an employee that more often than not improves their satisfaction and supports their work-life balance.

Taking care of the university and our employees is a fundamental part of what you do as a supervisor. Thank you for all you do to connect with the people you supervise and to demonstrate that they have value as a person not just as an employee.


Take care of one another: Engaging employees in a collaborative discussion about work arrangements.

We know that employees who feel seen, heard, respected, and appreciated by their supervisor perform better and are more satisfied at work. This means building a professional relationship with your employees that is personal yet appropriate. Here are some tips and tricks to help connect on a personal level with the employees you supervise while remaining professional and maintaining appropriate boundaries:

  • Keep personal wellbeing regularly on the radar with individuals and teams by providing space and time for people to talk about their own life outside of work and creating a team environment which encourages healthy self-care.
  • Regularly include a brief discussion about how the employee is feeling about their work-life balance in your one-on-one meetings with employees. Model the appropriateness of this discussion by mentioning challenges you have faced as well as successes.
  • Listen compassionately and respectfully when an employee shares information about their personal life or personal obligations. Be a present and active listener without comparing their situation to yours.
  • Validate their feelings and the challenges they are facing by relaying back what you hear them share with you. Refrain from asking follow-up questions that probe further into the employee’s personal circumstances. You can offer compassion and validation without knowing the details of the situation.
  • Engage the employee in a conversation to explore what, if any, options are available to adjust their work-life to allow for greater balance between their work responsibilities and their personal obligations. Including the employee in the discussion encourages them to play an active role in seeking solutions and generates ideas for you to consider further. Frame the conversation as an exploration reserving the opportunity to confirm or finalize a plan at a later time.
  • Be flexible and creative. With an outcome-based mindset, you can reevaluate the structure, schedule, and assignments for an employee’s position and their roles and responsibilities potentially identifying innovative ways to empower the employee to meet their workplace obligations while also attending to their personal needs. Consider flexible work schedules and remote work options as tools to meeting employees where they are during this challenging time. 
  • Encourage employees to take time off for self-care and to take care of personal obligations. When possible, and without compromising the work of your unit, allow employees to periodically take time during the day to attend a meeting with their child’s teacher, take an elderly parent to a medical appointment, or use accrued leave time to take care of their own well-being. 
  • Note that it is normal for employees to struggle during this time, that this challenge has affected all of us in different ways, and that the university has resources available for employees should they need help. Direct employees to the COVID-19 resources for faculty and staff, which includes information on the employee assistance program, flexible arrangements and remote work, employee leaves, and other UO support and services that may be applicable. 

Please reach out to Employee and Labor Relations at if you have specific situations or circumstances you would like to discuss further.