The impact of COVID-19 on our professional lives

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As we look back at the past fifteen months of living with the pandemic it is good to reflect that, as an institution, we are in much better shape than we feared we would be a year ago. I reflect with thanks on the efforts that have been made to understand and to address the ways in which COVID-19 has made our working and home lives challenging.

The University was fortunate to be able to provide flexibility in our support for those staff with caring responsibilities, to adjust workload or use the furlough scheme, and to maintain salaries and benefits for all those furloughed, for whatever reason. Colleagues from around the University provided input, resources and support so that we could all take appropriate action with regard to our wellbeing and mental health.

Having said that there is no doubt that the impact has been felt differentially across our University community, and for some colleagues it may cast a long shadow on their career. To minimise impact into the future, we will need to continue to take COVID-19 into account as we consider career progression and reward and recognition.

We have already taken some actions in this regard, including addressing the impact on recently appointed staff by reviewing or extending probationary periods; Associate Professors have had the option to extend their Initial Period of Office by one year; in the recent Recognition of Distinction exercise we have encouraged applicants to make known any circumstances arising from the pandemic; and guidance is in place to adapt PDRs to take account of COVID-19 and remote working. The Priority Candidate Support Scheme has provided extra support for staff nearing the end of fixed-term contracts. Where these measures continue to be helpful, we will maintain them. Please do disclose the ways in which you have been affected if you are participating in future rounds of the Professorial Merit Pay Scheme (for statutory professors and those with professorial title), Recognition of Distinction scheme (for award of professorial title) and Awards for Excellence Scheme (for all staff in grades 1–10).

Our colleagues in fixed-term research posts have been particularly affected by the crisis, as there has been an impact on funding and on their ability to deliver their research. Where we can we have taken practical steps to limit the effects on this group in particular by ensuring that internal recruitment is prioritised; by working with PIs in negotiating extensions to externally funded research projects; and by providing a fund to help rebuild research momentum for those who have been most severely affected.

We ask all recruiting managers and PIs to be mindful of the potential impacts of the pandemic on research staff when considering applications or writing references. The recruitment guidelines will be updated to reflect this.

This has been a uniquely challenging time when so much has been happening so fast, amid enormous uncertainty. Our communication channels have improved during this period and it has been very helpful to hear from colleagues directly on the issues they are facing. On that note I would like to thank everyone who participated in the 2021 Staff Experience Survey. In total, 8,597 colleagues participated, which is an overall response rate of 59%, an increase of 8% over the previous survey in 2018. The results of the survey will be made available shortly. Individual divisions and departments will be looking at their results and will communicate with you directly regarding the feedback and any actions they are considering.

Thank you again and I hope that the summer will provide a respite for us all.