Contributed by Charlene Buckley, Director, Compliance Office/District Title IX Coordinator
Austin Community College District’s (ACC) Compliance Office supports employees and students districtwide. In addition to ongoing engagement with stakeholders across the College, Compliance staff assists individuals facing a variety of challenges and circumstances. Also, we stay current on publications from many nationally recognized organizations which highlight articles on workplace trends.
Throughout the pandemic, we have learned some valuable lessons. As we integrate back into more normal College operations, we want to identify some of these key topics and ways that ACC can support you during this time.
The Compliance Office reports directly to the vice chancellor for Finance & Administration to address concerns about discrimination, harassment, and retaliation across the College. Our focus is fostering a safe and productive environment so that employees and students may fully engage at work and school to achieve their professional and personal goals.
It’s crucial to recognize and honor that many people suffered traumatic events during the course of the pandemic. This past year and a half has disrupted feelings of safety and protection from individuals within our community and has led to elevated stress responses, potentially compounding the impact of other stressors (Absher, 2021). The pandemic has added layers to experiences of trauma and adversity such as the death of a loved one, illness, intimate partner violence, child abuse, poverty, and more.
The basis for a strong and successful work culture and mission here at ACC is collaboration, connection, and caring. However, the added stress brought on by the monumental circumstances of COVID-19 can wreak havoc on any workplace (Bergeron, 2020). While everyone may handle stress differently, there is potential for employees to manifest stress onto the workplace in various ways.
Working from home kept employees safe from spreading the novel coronavirus but opened the door for lines to be blurred between work and personal time. According to the Harvard Business Review, “evidence shows that many of us are working longer hours, suffering chronic stress, and burning out at levels the world has never witnessed.” (Meister, 2021) This is leaving many of us with the desire to regain energy and connection with colleagues.
Prevention and Response
With an understanding of the challenges being discussed, the Compliance Office strives to address issues at the lowest level possible. Our office has provided continuous support for reports of discrimination and harassment since March 2020. As we return to in-person conversations and meetings, remember that professional boundaries are vital. In fact, people may actually need more personal space than prior to the pandemic. It’s wise to be mindful that everyone will have different comfort levels regarding one-on-one interaction, and research has shown that conducting most activities with mindfulness, from working independently to being a part of department meetings, can drop stress levels and make us feel more connected.
Chat and video conferencing are great tools to keep us connected. As with all workplace communication, the expectation is that employees have civil and respectful conversations, just as they would in person. As a reminder, chat records are subject to open records requests and can be used as evidence in discrimination and harassment investigations.
It may sound very simple but one of the most impactful things we can do is to support one another. Assume best intent. Have open and honest conversations with colleagues and supervisors. If you need support with this conversation, you can always contact our confidential resource, the ombudsperson.
The ACC Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is well known for offering free confidential counseling sessions, but did you know that they also provide support to find child care or adult care, support for parents as kids resume school post pandemic, and financial planning?
The Compliance Office employs a multi-faceted and person-centered approach that supports ACC community members. Two full-time investigators conduct formal investigations and informal reviews to address employee and student complaints. Matters are resolved at the lowest level possible in order to minimize disruption to learning and work spaces. Individuals are connected with relevant resources and options to support effective solutions.
If something causes you concern, or you are unsure of what to do, when in doubt, report it right away. We are the Compliance Office and we are here to help!
Absher, L. M. (2021). The Traumatic Impact of COVID-19 on Children and Families: Current. Los Angeles, CA, and Durham, NC: National Center for Child Traumatic Stress.
Bergeron, P. (2020, June 15). Preventing Workplace Violence Inspired by COVID-19. Retrieved from https:shrm.org: https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/risk-management/pages/preventing-workplace-violence-inspired-by-covid-19.aspx
Meister, A. a. (2021, June 16). Harvard Business Review Leadership & Managing People. Retrieved from Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/2021/03/staying-mindful-when-youre-working-remotely