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May 26, 2016

Work-life tension focus of Gallagher’s SAC assembly talk

sacassembly.gallagher.KKB“Technology has actually disrupted how we live and how we work,” Chancellor Patrick Gallagher told a packed William Pitt Union Assembly Room for the keynote address at the Staff Association Council’s May 10 spring assembly. “We all need to make the tension explicit. There needs to be a very open discussion between you and your supervisor, you and your colleagues,” he said, “because it’s not reasonable to assume that any time that phone pings you should be ready to drop one role … and be ready to respond to this at any time.

“We’ve all been involved in email threads at ridiculous hours that we wish we weren’t involved in,” Gallagher acknowledged. “I’m not going to tell you never to send me something — but just know that unless I feel like I have to respond to you, I’m not going to” — at least not until the morning. He won’t acknowledge a non-emergency communication at certain hours, the chancellor explained, lest he be caught in an endless round of thank-yous.

“I suspect that that kind of thing is true of every job on the University,” he said.

While his topic was work-life balance, “I actually hate that term,’ Gallagher said. “You have that mental image of a teeter-totter: They can never be in balance; they are always in opposition.”

Instead, he suggested that University employees concentrate on the different roles possible for staff and faculty at different moments during each day.

Before smartphones, time management was easier, he allowed: “You punched in, you worked, you punched out, you went home. It’s become a lot more confusing to handle the boundary between the two” realms of work and home today, with messages arriving from home, friends and other organizations during normal work hours and work intruding on home and community life.

At any one moment, “are you representing the University you work for or are you representing yourself or some other organization?” he asked.

Sometimes there are rules, such as during political campaigns, when Pitt, as a tax-exempt institution, can’t play an active role in elections, whereas individuals are encouraged to be civically engaged on their own time.

“There’re no real easy answers here,” Gallagher said, but he encouraged people to maintain a vibrant home life “because it enriches the community as well.

“When we’re at the beck and call of the institution we work for … we do run the risk of making a major mistake”: ignoring our own needs and well-being. “A healthy, happy, fulfilled and engaged person — the University wants that,” he said, adding: “It’s not in anyone’s interest for you to be sick.” For those suffering from extremes of stress, repetitive motion injuries or other injuries at work, or illness from the flu and other serious physical ailments or mental health issues, “all the other roles have to stop” while you get better, he said.

Regardless of new wellness opportunities, such as the clinic recently opened for Pitt employees in the Medical Arts Building, “the commitment to take care of yourself starts with you,” he said. “Every role begins with you. Just do the simple things”: Watch what you eat. Move around instead of sitting all day. Find new ways to de-stress. Also, he added, “You will find that the simple mindfulness to your needs as a human being makes turning to help” for any tougher problems easier. “We can … make this a personally fulfilling place for us, where we thrive,” he said.

Asked after his talk how to approach a supervisor about this problem, Gallagher answered: “Your supervisor is just as worried about this discussion as you are. This new technology has disrupted everything they thought they managed. The tension is real on both sides.

“And be patient enough to let the learning occur on both sides” about the specific role balance that’s best for you, your supervisor and your work, he said. “It turns out that simple discussion really does re-set expectations.

“Who knows,” he added, “in five years they may have a new app and we’ll have to figure this out all over again.”

—Marty Levine 

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