By JESSICA LUTZ
In the last issue of the University Times a staff hero was spotlighted. I’d like to share with you my own personal staff hero at the University of Pittsburgh: every single staff member who is doing their best to cope with job creep.
Job creep is defined as pressuring employees to deliver more than the normal requirements of their jobs. The employer gradually increases requirements for employees and behavior that was previously discretionary becomes increasingly expected or taken for granted by the employer.
With more than 450 staff taking the Staff Early Retirement Plan (SERP), departments that never recovered from the Voluntary Early Retirement Program (VERP) offered in 2012, no raise or cost of living adjustment last year and little hope for improvement this year, and women forced out of the workforce to care for children and family, the staff who remain have once again involuntarily had to pick up the slack and take on more responsibilities.
The hiring “controls” remain more than a year after we were all sent home to work. The breaking point for many staff draws near, if it hasn’t been reached already. We have staff working six or seven days a week, doing the work of two or more people, working through lunch, dealing with email well into the evenings, and logging in on the weekends just to stay above water on Monday morning. There is also the distinct possibility that many of us are now experiencing stress-related health issues.
As we place more and more work on people, on top of the stresses of existing as a human being during the pandemic, we move closer and closer to a dangerous place. The staff here at Pitt are willing to do what we need to do to get things done, but somewhere along the way, above and beyond became what just needs to happen.
I want to be clear: we cannot continue this way. This is not a sustainable practice. We cannot lunch and learn or self-care day our way out of this. Until expectations are adjusted and more staff are hired, we will continue to see staff burnout and staff attrition. We all can, and have, gone above and beyond in the past year but enough is enough.
Better than an annual staff appreciation picnic, let’s compensate the staff for their extra efforts and get them back to working 37.5 hours a week with a full hour away from the computer for lunch each day, rather than working 50, 60, 70 hours a week. We are bordering on exploitation if we have not reached this place already. The only real solution with lasting effects is to ease up on the hiring “controls” and reduce the excessive workloads our staff have been involuntarily forced into carrying.
The self-care day for staff on March 24 was a great start, but with increasing workloads and an exponentially growing pile of emails waiting for us, time off only adds stress to what is already a stressful situation. The extended vacation cap is much the same. We are encouraged to take vacation time while the cap remains extended through June, but for many, the idea of a week off is daunting. With fewer people to help carry growing workloads, everything (and more!) is waiting for us when we return.
This is not an easy or comfortable subject to broach but it is absolutely necessary to do so for the sake of the staff and the overall well-being of this institution. A rising tide lifts all boats and this would not just improve the well-being of our staff, but the University as a whole. Let’s normalize asking for what we need and advocating for our fellow staff and colleagues.
Alone, we can only do so much, but together, we can collectively advocate for real change. I am counting on Staff Council to do just that and I hope you’ll join us at our next general body meeting at noon April 21 on Zoom, which is open to all Pitt staff.
Jessica Lutz is a member of Staff Council and an academic advisor with TRIO Student Support Services, a federally funded program by the Department of Education for first generation, income-eligible, and/or disabled students enrolled at the University of Pittsburgh.