National Disability Employment Awareness Month

This is a guest post written by HR Accommodations Specialist, Cherelyn Dunlap.

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), a month-long event held annually to raise awareness around disability employment issues and celebrate the many contributions of workers with disabilities. The theme for NDEAM 2020 is “Increasing Access and Opportunity”.

This year marks the 75th observance of NDEAM, and also commemorates the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). The ADA provides protections against discrimination of people with disabilities in numerous areas including employment, education, health care, recreation, transportation, and housing.

MSU is a leader in cultivating a diverse and inclusive campus environment, and our efforts to meet the needs of persons with disabilities was heightened this year due to the national COVID-19 pandemic. Extra measures were taken to provide guidance and a streamlined process for employees to obtain technology, accessibility and work arrangements that allowed them to manage the impacts of their disabilities. We continue to remove barriers and create possibilities for individuals with differing abilities.

We all play an important part in fostering a more inclusive workforce where every person is recognized for their abilities – every day of every month. Although many impacts are not physically visible, it doesn’t mean they do not exist. In the midst of these unprecedented times and beyond, let us all strive to be more flexible, more understanding, more inclusive, and more supportive of those with different abilities.  

For more information on National Disability Employment Awareness Month please visit the Office of Disability Employment Policy’s website at www.dol.gov/NDEAM.

2021 Jack Breslin Distinguished Staff Award Call for Nominations!

Remarkable, dedicated and hardworking are just some of the words used to describe the Jack Breslin Distinguished Staff Award Recipients. The Jack Breslin Distinguished Staff Award is presented annually to six university support staff members, hand-selected by the Selection Committee from nominations received by the recipients’ colleagues.

The award is named in honor of Jack Breslin, who served Michigan State University as a student leader, honored athlete, top administrator and steadfast advocate. His strong and innovative leadership played a pivotal role in MSU’s growth and development as the nation’s premier land grant institution.

One of the 2020 award winners, Shannon Davis, had this to say about receiving the award:

“I am humbled and incredibly honored to receive this award. I absolutely love what I do and am lucky to have found my calling in Human Resources and training.  It is extremely rewarding to lead the Human Resources operations in the College of Social Science. It is my goal to minimize the complexity and maximize the efficiency of the HR process so faculty and staff may focus on what is important – shaping the hearts and minds of our students and maintaining high productivity in world changing research. To be recognized for what I do and my small part of this effort is truly the highlight of my career.”

Nominations are now open for the 2021 award. Criteria for selection of recipients include overall excellence in job performance, supportive attitude and contributions to the unit or university that lead to improved efficiency or effectiveness, and valuable service to the university.  Review the nomination form for further details. The nomination form and accompanying materials are due October 3o, 2020. Contact MSU Human Resources with any questions at 517-353-4434.

Employee Engagement in a Rapidly Changing Workplace

Written by Jennie Yelvington, MSW, ACSW, Program Manager, MSU HR Organization & Professional Development 

Recent research analysis (Quantum Workplace, 2020) seems to indicate that employees are feeling more engaged now than prior to the pandemic. While that certainly isn’t true for everyone, there are a number of variables in this situation that have led many employees to rate their engagement as higher and their leaders as better than in the previous year, including increased communication and a focus on wellness.

Engagement during this time is complicated though, and efforts must be intentional and thoughtful as people struggle with a variety of new challenges.

Here are strategies that can help. 

Frequent, Honest Communication 

When times are ambiguous and rapidly changing, some leaders pull back, gloss over issues, and avoid decisions, which can cause more difficulty. “Cognitive biases, dysfunctional group dynamics, and organizational pressures push (leaders) toward discounting the risk and delaying action.” (Kerrissey 2020). Being straightforward with people about what you know and don’t know is essential, and it can include warnings that the direction could change as new information comes to light.  

Action Step: Share information frequently. Consider brief meetings with your team multiple times per week. This allows all to touch base, ask questions, and share new information. Don’t make them any longer than they need to be and make sure you ask “how” people are doing, not just “what” they are doing. 

Demonstrate Empathy 

The combination of direct honesty noted above must be combined with deep caring. When you do meet with others, make note of their behavior and level of interaction. If they don’t seem like themselves, check-in to see if they’re ok. Without the social contact we usually have, we rely more than ever on our work colleagues for compassion and the sharing of our human experiences. Taking a bit of time to do this helps to increase trust and the sense of being “in it” together. Also, be aware that people may be juggling multiple, additional responsibilities (such as helping kids with schoolwork) while doing their job. As much as possible and if the role allows, consider flexibility in schedules so that people can work when they are most able to focus.  

Action Step: Reflect and support. Take time to think about how individuals who report to you are being impacted by this situation. When people share good news, join in that celebration. Consider what they might be struggling within their individual situation and how you can empathize and offer support or resources. Make sure people are aware of the MSU Employee Assistance Program services available to them. For resources related to flex schedules, childcare, elder care, and more, check out the WorkLife Office. 

Keep an Inclusive Eye to Innovation 

Engage your team in a fresh look at the work before you. What has changed? What has continued? What could benefit from being done differently? You may find that some of your employees have untapped skills that are now very useful or inventive ideas that might successfully move forward in this environment. Create a safe space for people to bounce around ideas and take some ownership in reinvention. Make sure you are listening to ideas from all team members, not just those who think like you. Diversity of thought and experience is what drives innovation. Empower your team to work together to solve new challenges, rather than having them passively waiting to be told what to do. 

Action Step: Set the expectation that all team members stay up on best practices and future trends for their area of work. Set regular meetings (monthly or bimonthly) to share and brainstorm ways to integrate what they are learning. 

Manage Performance and Support Development 

The pandemic has resulted in many changes in how we approach and bring forward our work. Are you and your team prepared to meet the demand? Have you reviewed processes and expectations given the shifting environment, and made the expectations clear to your team? Be aware that employees might need help in developing new skills to carry out the work effectively in the new world. It is not uncommon for people to feel awkward or embarrassed about this need. 

Action Steps:  

  • Consider what materials, equipment, and training employees might need to be effective in this environment. If working from home, talk to employees about their home set-up. Is there something they could get from the office to aid their effectiveness, such as a desk chair or a second screen?  
  • If they are now coming into work, how are things going from a safety and process perspective? Frequently assess the situation. Make a plan to address any unexpected barriers and follow through. Be prepared to address non-compliance with the MSU Community Compact
  • Normalize the learning curve that exists and explore training programs and/or assistance from a colleague that might be helpful. Check out programs available from Organization & Professional Development, AANIT Services, Broad Executive Development Programs and elevateU

Difficult times can often provide opportunities to draw people together around the mission and culture of the organization. Spartans have long been hard-working, problem solvers and there are countless examples of how our teams have risen to the occasion despite shifting ground and tight resources. When leaders exhibit honest, compassionate communication, flexible support, inclusive problem solving, and the ability to respond to changing needs, people are likely to be engaged, even during tough times. 

Sources:

Kerrissey, M. J., Edmondson, A. C., (April 13, 2020) What Good Leadership Looks Like During this Pandemic. Retrieved September 3, 2020, from https://hbr.org/2020/04/what-good-leadership-looks-like-during-this-pandemic 

Quantum Workplace (2020) The Impact of Covid 19 on Employee engagement. Retrieved September 3, 2020, from https://marketing.quantumworkplace.com/hubfs/Marketing/Website/Resources/PDFs/The-Impact-of-COVID-19-on-Employee-Engagement.pdf?hsCtaTracking=1f30c83e-71cc-46e6-b9eb-9d682de56835%7C42c75679-4e54-4ddb-8a6f-87d61a43608b 

Best Doctors Benefit Offers New Behavioral Health Navigator Service

Your mental health needs to be a priority. As we continue living through this pandemic, that is especially important now more than ever. MSU’s Best Doctors (also known as Teladoc Medical Experts) benefit recognizes how important mental health is. A new service they are now offering to benefit-eligible MSU employees and retirees is their Behavioral Health Navigator.

As a benefit-eligible employee or retiree, if you or your eligible dependent is facing depression, anxiety, or a related condition and want a second opinion, Best Doctors/Teladoc Medical Experts wants to help. Best Doctors/Teladoc Medical Experts gives expert second medical opinions and access to coaching and online education tools. And now with the Behavioral Health Navigator, they offer these services for more than just medical care.

So whether you’re just looking for a second opinion, don’t feel like your condition isn’t improving, need help to find a mental health provider who specializes in your specific condition, or have questions related to your condition, the Behavioral Health Navigator is here to help. Listen to this member experience in the following video:

The Best Doctors/Teladoc Medical Experts team of leading psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers take the time to list to your concerns and complete an in-depth review and assessment of your existing diagnosis and treatment plan while guiding you through the mental health care system to monitor your progress.

How to use the Behavioral Health Navigator:

  1. Contact Best Doctors/Teladoc Medical Experts – You’ll be connected to a behavioral health nurse who will be assigned to you throughout the course of your care. The nurse will perform a video interview to help determine the need for additional assessment or record collection.
  2. In-depth review & report – After the nurse performs the interview, they will complete an assessment summary to send to the behavioral health medical director and an expert psychiatrist. After they review your summary and history, they will either talk to you further or provide recommendations for improvement.
  3. Follow through – Your nurse will guide you through the report, make sure you understand the recommendations, answer your questions, and follow-up throughout your therapy.

Contact Best Doctors/Teladoc Medical Experts today to get started at 866-904-0910, BestDoctors.com, or download the app. Best Doctors/Teladoc Medical Experts is available to faculty, staff, and retirees who are eligible to enroll in MSU health plans. Learn more about this benefit on the MSU Human Resources website.

Motivational Monday Round-Up

As the summer winds down to a close, it can be tough to transition back to a productive work routine, especially after the countless challenges and hardships this summer has brought about with the ongoing COVID-19 situation. Although this summer has been different, we are fortunate to have had a continuous source of motivation to keep our spirits high from MSU HR’s own Senior Learning and Organization Development Specialist, Todd Bradley.

Designed to encourage you during a time with many stressors and unknowns, Todd’s Motivational Monday videos have provided employees with quick and easy inspiration to start their days off right throughout the entirety of this long and difficult summer. Todd concluded his series last week with his final video of the series; however, his full video series will still be available to all in need of some extra motivation on the MSU HR Youtube channel.

Motivational Monday: Transitions

Todd explores the topic of transitions in this video and provides tips on how to guide yourself through difficult transitions.

Motivational Monday: Masking Up

Todd discusses the importance of wearing a face mask during this time and how to navigate asking others to wear a mask.

Motivational Monday: Conclusion

Todd’s final Motivational Monday video of the series.

Visit the MSU HR YouTube channel to view all of Todd’s Motivational Monday videos.

How to Build a Strong Remote Work Culture While Working in Virtual Teams

Written in collaboration with Kathie Elliot, MSU HR’s Senior Learning and Organization Development Specialist.

As the pandemic persists, many employees will continue working remotely in virtual teams with their coworkers for the foreseeable future. During this time, it is not uncommon for the culture of a workplace to change as the shared set of values, social norms, goals and practices employees have already established by working together in person are now drastically different. Successful collaboration with coworkers can be challenging while working remotely, but it is still possible for employees working in virtual teams to develop a positive and inclusive remote work culture that ensures the same level of quality and productivity as if the team was still in person.

Why is Remote Work Culture Important?

“The 9-Step Definitive Guide For Building Remote Work Culture in Virtual Teams” describes remote work culture as an unconditional feeling of connection coworkers experience when they’re bonded by similar priorities, interests, and attitudes (Bell 2020). When people are not able to see each other on a regular basis, this feeling of connection can dwindle. Strong remote work culture is equivalent to how strong your workplace culture already is. By creating a strong remote work culture in addition to what your virtual team might already have had in person, employees can continue to feel united around a shared sense of purpose while being on their own.

Your team’s culture is surely different than it was six months ago, and with the continually unexpected changes COVID-19 has brought into the world, it might continue to change rapidly. Even if you are unaware of it, your team does have a culture that is influenced by the work you do, your work location, your team’s composition and your individual team members’ histories. Having a strong remote work culture doesn’t require team members to be in the same location if you are aware of the priorities, interests and attitudes that your team shares.

How to Develop a Strong Remote Work Culture

There are many ways to go about developing a strong remote work culture, but one of the most impactful ways to do so is through effective communication. It is easy for misunderstandings to occur while employees are working together virtually, often causing the quality and timeliness of the team’s work to suffer. By practicing methods of effective communication such as these, you can strengthen your individual relationships with your team members in hopes of creating a unified and cohesive remote work culture with your team as a whole.

  1. Frequently inquire about your employee’s social and professional needs. Knowledge and information sharing may be inconsistent due to business, lack of attention, misunderstanding what info is valuable to the team (and why). And information sharing may be imbalanced (for some) due to such factors as work style or personality differences, supervisor or co-worker preferences or bias toward certain employees (whether or not consciously known), or technology access and skill differences of the team members.
  1. Ask specific questions using multiple formats. Frequently ask specific questions, using multiple formats. “How is it going?” is not going to get a fulsome response from many employees. But, “Do you feel the communication you receive from me is frequent and thorough enough, timely, and helpful? What can I do to improve my communication with you?” is very specific.
  1. Discuss and set standards for scheduling meetings, work hours, time off, etc. What sort of communications require visual meetings, phone, text, email, messaging? Is there a priority or urgency assigned to the methods? For example, is a phone call only used when an immediate response is needed? Do all messages need to be acknowledged? Within what period? Are there “blackout” hours or days when you won’t send work-related communication unless necessary. (Use the delay send feature in an email if you think you may forget.)
  1. If something isn’t working, try something new! Whether it’s approaching a work task differently or planning a unique social event, mix it up and look for ways to keep things fresh and use this time to grow as a team. Look for ways to build in relaxing or fun team activities; identify other units or colleagues that might appreciate support or outreach “just because”.

Sources:

Bell, Ashley. “The 9-Step Definitive Guide For Building Remote Work Culture in Virtual Teams.” SnackNation, 2020, snacknation.com/blog/remote-work-culture/.

“The 2020 State of Remote Work.” Buffer, 2020, https://lp.buffer.com/state-of-remote-work-2020.

Compassionate Leadership: Awareness of Mental Health Needs as the Pandemic Continues

Written by Jennie Yelvington, MSW, ACSW, Program Manager, MSU HR Organization & Professional Development

The last few months have been a long haul, and from all indications, it will still be quite some time before the COVID-19 crisis is behind us. Information changes daily, forcing us to shift gears quickly and adjust plans in virtually every role we have — be it employee, leader, parent, caretaker, or even citizen given our current sociopolitical landscape. As time goes on, the continually shifting ground can be disorienting, and emotional overload can impact our mental health. It is not uncommon for people to feel motivated and focused one day (or week) and then burned out and struggling the next. For those experiencing depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions pre-COVID — perhaps silently — the impact may be even more severe. 

In addition, “employees who have had to adjust to new vulnerabilities, uncertainties, and business practices from COVID-19 are now being re-traumatized through repeated exposure to images and threats of violence. For some, this moment is a wakeup call to make important and necessary changes, but for many, there is a cumulative deep emotional overload and exhaustion. Coping with these two huge social forces in the context of social distancing and greater financial uncertainty leaves people feeling frightened.” (Goodson, 2020) What can leaders do to support their team members and colleagues, while attempting to navigate this terrain? Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  1. Commit to your own self-care and encourage your staff to do the same. If you don’t take the time and effort for self-care, you will not be able to do the other items on this list effectively. Here’s the rundown:  
    • Get enough sleep and keep a consistent schedule as much as possible.  
    • Take breaks. Get outside, go for a walk, meditate, get away from your screens even if it’s just for a few minutes. 
    • Move. Do something that you enjoy to get some exercise. Walking, yoga, running, strength training, golfing, dancing, whatever you like.  
    • Connect. We all have an innate need to connect with others. Suggestions: call that friend who makes you laugh, reach out to brighten someone’s day, do something fun with your family (instead of just the to-do list), or meet with a colleague for a socially distanced, outdoor coffee hour. 
    • Take time off as you are able. Even a long weekend or a few hours here and there to get away from work — and social media — can be rejuvenating. 
  2. Stay aware. If you notice that a staff member or colleague shifts from being engaged and productive to detached or agitated, check-in. Not to judge or diagnose, but to see how they are and listen. 
  3. Show compassion and reassurance. Normalize these ups and downs and the impact on everyone’s psyche — though, it may look somewhat different from person to person. Demonstrate empathy and allow for flexibility when possible as people try to meet the demands of caretaking, financial struggles, and more. 
  4. Provide structure and continuity where possible. Talk about what isn’t changing, have project plans so that expectations are clear, keep people briefed on the latest information as you become aware, focus on vision, values, and mission as driving factors regardless of other changes. 
  5. Stay realistic while maintaining some base expectations. Productivity may not be as high or consistent as it was pre-pandemic. There may be points of higher output and other times when family or emotional demands take a toll. Communication is key. What are the priority items that must be completed on time? Where can there be flexibility? How do you prefer people communicate with you if a deadline is at risk?  
  6. Support skill-building. Most employees (and likely you, too) have needed to do their jobs in new ways to meet current needs. Some have put off this learning, hoping that they could ride it out until this situation passes. That is no longer an option. Covering for not having the skills to do the work needed adds to the stress. Do skills inventories with staff to see what areas to strengthen to do the work at hand in this environment. Support people in finding the skill-building opportunities they need and follow up to make sure they’ve followed through and found it helpful. Call MSU HR, Organization & Professional Development and/or Academic Advancement Network for guidance or read some of these questions to help assess learning needs. 
  7. Communicate openly, honoring what is difficult while staying optimistic about the future. Share information you can promptly. If you are having a particularly bad day, it is probably best not to share all your worst thoughts with your staff. Talk to a trusted friend to get perspective first. As new announcements come out, check in with staff to see what their reactions are, what questions they have and discuss how the news could impact them. 
  8. Provide referrals. If you notice that people are struggling, be sure to remind them of the resources available.  

“Leaders set the tone and culture of organizations. They should remind people to take care of themselves and share what they are doing to stay healthy and well. This may mean leaders must get outside their comfort zone. Employees are likely to be reassured by the willingness of leaders to show vulnerability and share how they are coping. This conveys to employees that they are not alone in what they are feeling and experiencing. Ideally, it communicates we are in this together and you are supported. Also, it demonstrates the organization’s commitment to transparency and continuous communication.” (American Psychiatric Association, 2020)  

So grant yourself and others some grace as we move through this imperfectly. Take time to relax and connect with others to further resiliency, set realistic goals and give yourself credit for all that you’ve managed thus far in a challenging situation. Take care, Spartans. Together we can do this. 

Sources:

Scott Goodson (2020, June 25). How to Lead Through Employee Mental Health Issues During Covid. Retrieved August 19, 2020, from https://www.inc.com/scott-goodson-chip-walker/how-to-lead-through-employee-mental-health-issues-during-covid.html

Employee Mental Health & Well-being During & Beyond COVID-19. (n.d.). Retrieved August 19, 2020, from http://www.workplacementalhealth.org/Employer-Resources/Employee-Mental-Health-Well-being-During-Beyon

Back to School Discounts!

The transition back to school this year might look a little different, but thanks to MSU Benefits Plus, MSU benefit-eligible employees can enjoy all kinds of great discounts and savings to help prepare themselves and their families for the upcoming school year. Whether you just need a new pair of shoes or want to treat yourself to a pair of Apple’s AirPods, MSU Benefits Plus has you covered this year.

APPLE

MSU faculty and staff can enjoy employee pricing on select Apple products such as iPhones, AirPods, MacBooks, and Apple Watches and more just by shopping through this link.

ABCMOUSE

With ABCMouse, employees can gain access to over 850 virtual lessons for kids ranging from reading, math, and science to social studies in the comfort of their own homes. Get two months of access to ABCMouse for only $5 when you shop through this link!

COSTCO

By purchasing a Costco Membership Activation Certificate, not only can employees become a new Costco member, but they will also receive a Costco Shop Card with a value of $20. Click on this link to join as a new member today.

CROCS

Employees can enjoy $15 off orders of $75 or more by using code SAVE15 when you shop at Crocs online!

DELL

MSU faculty and staff can access savings of up to 30% on select systems by shopping through this link.

DISCOUNT SCHOOL SUPPLY

Save $20 off any purchase of $150 or more by using the code SAVE20A and can get free shipping on orders over $99 by shopping at Discount School Supply.

MSU TECH STORE

Save on your back to school essentials with the MSU Tech Store! MSU staff and faculty can instantly save up to a $25 value on any Apple iPad with an Apple Pencil by shopping with the MSU Tech Store.

SAM’S CLUB

Employees who register for a one-year new membership can save up to 50% off on their membership and will receive a limited-time free gift!

SHOES.COM

Those who shop through Shoes.com can save up to 20% off sitewide and can enjoy free shipping by using the code SHOESDOTCOM at checkout.

To access all of these discounts and more, visit MSU Benefits Plus and sign-up for a free account using your ZPID number (located on your Spartan Card ID badge), or you can find the number in EBS. For more information on employee discounts, visit the HR website. If you have any questions about these discounts, please call MSU Benefits Plus at 888-758-7575.

Tips for Creating an Effective Remote Work Schedule

Whether you’re now working from home during this time period alongside your family members, or if you’ve got a furry friend by your side begging for your attention, working remotely can be a challenge. Stepping out of your daily routine at the office may be bringing added stressors to your work life as you try to effectively manage your workload from home while adjusting to new methods of collaboration with your coworkers. 

Figuring out what works best for you during this time is far from easy, but after already practicing working away from campus these past few months, many MSU employees have been able to find ways to bring structure and efficiency into their remote workdays. We asked employees to tell us what tips, tricks, or tools they’ve been using to help them effectively succeed at remote work, and here are some common themes we found.

  1. Utilizing flexible work hours where possible

Some employees have been able to coordinate a flexible work schedule with their supervisors that helps the employees as they work remotely.

“Since COVID-19 and working from home, I start my workday at 7:30 a.m. I also take a 30-minute lunch and these two easy changes allow me to finish my workday at 4:00 p.m… I feel very blessed to have some control over my workday schedule.” – Jackie Hohenstein

“A lesson from this remote work is, work does not necessarily have to be 8-5. Work needs to get done, but depending on your preferences and home situation, perhaps starting at 6 a.m. is better, or resuming at 8 p.m. As long as the work gets done, schedules can and should be flexible.” – Rick McNeil

“I learned in a training that working at your peak performance hours leads to better productivity. For example, if you’re a morning person, you work better and complete more during your peak times. I also found that stepping away from the computer for five or 10 minutes every two hours keeps your momentum going. Overall, I like the new things I have learned becoming a remote worker.” – Natasha Williams

  1. Build Breaks Into Your Schedule

As Natasha mentions above, taking breaks keeps the momentum going. Other employees agreed that building breaks into their schedule helps them work remote more successfully.

“Working from home means that when I’m working, that pretty much means I’m looking at a computer screen. In the office, meetings used to give my eyes a break but now most meetings are on Zoom or Teams so I’m looking at a screen even then. I try to give my eyes a break by getting up from my seat and away from the computer for at least a few minutes every hour or so…I make myself take a lunch break every day where I’m not looking at my computer or phone screen. I also still take notes and brainstorm in a notebook, so that also gives me a screen break.” – Courtney Chapin

  1. Continue Your Regular Morning Routine

“One thing I have done to combat “quarantine fog” is to try to stick to my normal work schedule while also integrating time to care for my child and animals every couple of hours. Sometimes this extends the workday, but I have found I am better able to focus on my work after I have taken the dogs outside and played with them for a little bit. In addition, my 10-year-old daughter and I have been using our time in quarantine to have some good quality ‘talks.’” – Mary Keyes

  1. Keep Track of Your Workload

“I keep a document that I plan my work for the coming week on Friday. During that workweek, I keep track of the things I accomplish and the new things that come up that need to be done. I leave future action items on the list. I find this to be more effective than a paper list.” – Renee Graff

  1. Limit Distractions in Your Workplace

“Set aside a work area and leave work in the work area.  Don’t invite it into other areas of your home life.” – Jayme Miller

After hearing from other MSU employees, it is clear there are many ways to navigate remote working schedules. However you go about working remotely, looking to other coworkers or your supervisor for guidance can be one of the most helpful ways to ensure future success for yourself and your team.