Achievement relative to opportunity and Covid-19: Case studies

These case studies are intended to help staff and managers apply equity policies and guidelines.

Covid-19 has had dramatic impacts on employment, nationally and at the University. Covid restrictions and remote working have impacted all staff. There will be staff who have found it more productive working from home, and it may not have made a long-term difference to others. However, for some, the negative career impacts may be more significant, including for those:
·        who are over 70 and with the underlying conditions that increase the likelihood of serious consequences of Covid-19 infection
·       who have disabilities which are exacerbated by the emergency conditions
·       who are isolated from whanau’ and friends’ support
·       working from home and supporting children with online learning.
·       who have preschool children
·       caring responsibilities, including for those in aged residential care whom they have been unable to visit
·       staff who have given birth during lockdown and have had considerably less support in the post-natal period
·       whose family or friends have died and have not been able to follow the protocols that would have supported them in bereavement
·       with low income, and those whose family members have been impacted by unemployment
·       who have been unable to work standard hours and may have felt judged on their productivity, especially if they have not had explicit manager support
·       who have a number of the challenges above.

In addition to the above, professional staff may have
·     set objectives in Tupu that will need to be postponed or replaced
·     been set unplanned new tasks that may be challenging to complete effectively
·     a higher work load – in some cases, contributed to by staff cutbacks
·     challenges with technology working from home.

These may influence a variety of future performance assessments.

Academic staff may have had:
·       research and conference participation inhibited by travel restrictions
·       research funding and grants interrupted
·       teaching disrupted by the switch to online learning.

These may influence future Continuation, Promotion and Performance-Based Research Funding (PBRF) assessments. Some staff without carer responsibilities may have increased opportunities for productivity under these circumstances. This could create inequitable expectations for those who have been negatively impacted.

It is recommended that academic heads and managers are proactive in asking staff to keep a record of barriers and successes during this period for reference in future assessment processes, and have regular conversations with staff both informally and through Academic Performance and Development Review (ADPR) and Tupu (professional staff). The disruptions may have ongoing impact in 2021, and possibly 2022.

Case studies

1. Professional staff career advancement
A professional staff member had planned their next career step and was keen to remain within the University. They have attended appropriate professional development training and received excellent evaluations from their manager.

However, during the Covid-19 lockdown they found it very difficult to work from home. They had to provide caregiving to a high-needs family member who was usually in a care facility during the day. When they returned to work, there was much to catch up on and it took some time to get up to their previous performance. 

When a suitable vacancy was advertised later in the year, they felt at a disadvantage compared to other internal applicants who could show they had a full year of successful achievements.

In their application, they noted Covid-19 had disrupted their work during the year and drew attention to their achievements prior to the lockdown. They also recounted some of the initiative and citizenship they had demonstrated during the transition back to work. They gave their manager, who was well aware of the disadvantages they had experienced, as a referee.

It was agreed it was unnecessary to provide precise details of their personal circumstances and the manager’s confirmation was sufficient to show that unusual events had interrupted an otherwise highly successful career path.

2.   Continuation 2020

(Note: 2020 research publications and reviews will usually have already been received. Teaching and service may suffer.)

An academic staff member who has easily met the publications criteria for their grade, has fallen short on teaching and service. There were no SET evaluations in Semester One, although they have been strong in previous years. The staff member has been able to describe the challenges of teaching during lockdown, how they have been receptive to student feedback and redesigned some of the course-work to fit the new circumstances. However, two of their international postgraduate students, who intended completing this year, have decided to suspend their enrolment. While the staff member had committed to leading some meetings this year, the committees have been cancelled or reduced.

The staff member discussed this with their academic head in their ADPR and the head was confident that, although fewer in 2020, the achievements have been of high standard.

The academic head made a strong case in their recommendation for the staff member’s continuation.

The Faculty Staffing Committee (FSC) looked at the application holistically and, after considering the circumstances that were beyond the staff member’s control, recommended the application be approved. The committee discussed the impact on morale, in very challenging circumstances, of deferring the application to the following year but it was agreed that, morale aside, the quality of other achievements compensated for the gaps.

3.   Promotions 2020

(Note, Promotions applications would typically cover about three to five years and so the Covid-19 impact in the past year should not make a big difference to success in 2020.)

(i) A lecturer has had four very successful years of teaching, research and service before making their first promotion application. Teaching and service has been disrupted in 2020, but their performance has met or exceeded the criteria up until this point. However, it has not been possible to continue with their promotions mentoring and it has been very difficult to write an application while supporting their school-aged children and responding to stressed students. This resulted in the rushed application lacking ‘polish’ and meant the FSC members have struggled, in some places, to find appropriate evidence in the application. Given the disruption that has occurred, the FSC has taken a holistic view and paid particular attention to head of department and Departmental Staffing Advisory Committee (DSAC) adviser advice when clarity has been lacking elsewhere.

(ii) A senior lecturer who has recently been promoted, has had a major grant success at the end of 2019. They have decided to make an early promotion application, based on the size of the grant. Their academic head advised against this in their ADPR because, with their recent supervision and service falling below the criteria, the Covid-19 disruptions to service and teaching have created a greater gap than the grant could compensate for. The senior lecturer decided to make the application anyway but the FSC recommended the application be declined because, even taking the disruptions of 2020 into account, other evidence of continuous performance at the level necessary for the grade they were applying for was lacking.

4. Disability

A high-performing staff member with a history of anxiety and depression has found the transition to working at home very difficult. Unexpected changes are a source of anxiety. They have always been reassured by being able to discuss ideas with a cross-section of colleagues. Although living alone, they have enjoyed a stimulating social life within their department. Working from home feels deeply isolating and they have been dwelling excessively on minor concerns that once would have been simply resolved with a ‘corridor conversation’. Emails from students, many of them positive, but a few very unpleasant, complaining about online learning, are very distressing and making it difficult to sleep. This has been compounded by being unable to access the face-to-face medical consultations to which they are accustomed. This has had a major impact on their productivity and re-establishment back into the workplace will continue to require adjustments.

Their manager/academic head has been proactive in regularly checking on how the staff member is feeling and has advised that they keep a record of the impact of Covid-19 on their wellbeing during this period. The manager has responded sensitively to their concerns and has put support strategies in place. Both the staff member and their manager/academic head will ensure this is taken into account in future assessment procedures.