Thank you for working together as we return more fully to offices and to more frequent and often larger in-person programming. Camps and fairs are in motion, and there are a great many clientele reaching out with program requests (both virtual and face-to-face). I know there are still lots of logistics, planning, and cooperating required as we continue to navigate through ever-evolving situations. I wanted to share a few of the thoughts that have crossed my mind recently to make sure we are all approaching things with a common understanding.
Flexibility: I’m not sure I have effectively connected the dots between some of the recommendations from our Life/Works task force, the Return-to-Office surveys (RtO), and our return-to-office guidance that was shared in our April 22 and May 7 News and Notes. The increased options for gaining some flexibility (i.e., compressed work weeks, staggered stop and start times, the maintenance of some telework “post-COVID,” and professional scheduling) were informed by the Life/Works recommendation for reviewing the policies and procedures that intersect with life/work, as well as the continued interest in flexible work arrangements by our Extension professionals expressed in our RtO survey. It is my hope that, with these options formally identified as supported in Extension and with collaboration in each of your local units, we can continue to find opportunities for flexibility (with guardrails) that help us attract and retain our talent and still meet the local needs of our clientele. Thank you for embracing these options as they make sense, and know that our goal is to have a healthy and well-functioning organization.
Setting Priorities: Setting priorities and being able to say yes and no, when and how you should is critical. We have learned a lot during this pandemic.
We have learned what we can do virtually.
We have learned we can’t do everything and have likely made tough choices this last year regarding programming and service.
We have likely had a chance to observe what was most valued by our clientele and what was not missed.
Our Life/Works task force stated the following in its report about the need for the culture of Extension to support life/work balance:
“In their article published in the Journal of Extension, Harder and Narine quote Sir Richard Branson, billionaire founder of the “wildly successful Virgin Group empire” as saying "Put your staff first, customers second, and shareholders third". In the same vein, Dr. Lisa Washburn from University of Tennessee Extension warns against the faulty thinking that Extension professionals need to be all things to all people at all hours of the day. As human beings, we have limitations and need to care for ourselves to best meet the needs of our clientele. This entails setting boundaries and turning the mission of OSU Extension inward – to use research-based education to strengthen our own lives and communities. OSU Extension professionals should feel supported in their decisions to focus on quality of programming over quantity, and know it is okay to say “no” or “not right now” when at capacity.”
One educator, Roseanne Scammahorn, shared this perspective with me and other colleagues recently:
“My transition to the office has been a challenge. I feel more pressure than ever to say YES to all opportunities for face-to-face programming and maintain online programming, almost to force my world back into its pre-pandemic norm while maintaining the new norm. By saying yes, I was creating an unhealthy work/life balance which was causing stress, anxiety, and tension. The feedback from my fellow co-workers tells me I am not alone in the fear to say no. It is almost like we need to have permission to. The Live Healthy Live Well team decided we would make this a part of our professional development day in August. We have called it, "What is your best Yes?" We will highlight times when we said YES to something because we were passionate about it, because it helped us grow, because we wanted to try something new, and because we had the courage to say NO to other opportunities without the guilt to make room for the YES. We hope to cultivate a culture that allows us to not fear saying NO and allows us to really live a work/life balance rather than just talk about it.”
You can read more in the Live Healthy Live Well blog online.
Making choices about what to say yes to and what to pass on, delay, or recommend another for is a critical component of our work. I hope you know you are trusted to understand the needs of your local community and your program, and to make solid and informed decisions about priorities. Don’t be hesitant to reach out to your supervisor, your program area leader, or work with your local advisory committees to effectively determine these priorities if they are not immediately clear. We will be giving greater time and attention to assessing needs and setting priorities over the next months as we continue our strategic planning process with engagement from all of you and our stakeholders.
We will continue to review the recommendations from our Life/Works report and the findings from our recent RtO survey to inform how we approach our work in Extension, while supporting a culture of health for our employees. Thank you once again for your commitment to the conversation, solution-finding, and support for one another as we move forward in our mission.
Juneteenth: On June 19, 1865, enslaved African Americans in Galveston, Texas were informed of their freedom and that the Civil War had ended by Union General Gordon Granger. For more than 150 years, the celebration of freedom for all Americans has been celebrated as Juneteenth — a combination of June and 19. Want to learn more about Juneteenth? Visit this great resource from the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Father’s Day: I also want to take a moment and recognize all of the fathers in Extension and encourage you to take a moment this weekend to reach out to those men who have made a difference in your lives through this important role.