Washington State University is launching a new pilot program next week aimed at reducing work-related fatigue and stress.
The centerpiece involves reducing meetings, including a recommendation that units across the WSU system avoid scheduling standing meetings on Fridays. Employees will also be encouraged to keep meetings less than 45 minutes in length to ensure employees aren’t spending hours in uninterrupted, back-to-back video calls.
“We recognize that for nearly two years, employees have had to deal with the transition to remote and hybrid working arrangements, and adapt to new systems while managing personal and professional challenges brought on by the global pandemic,” WSU President Kirk Schulz said. “It’s time to take a step back and look at ways we can mitigate potential staff shortages as well as address concerns around maintaining a work-life balance.”
Statistics compiled by WSU’s Information Technology Services help illustrate the issue.
From March 2020 through June 2021, the university’s Zoom account hosted more than 2.16 million online video conferencing meeting, totaling more than 93 million minutes — 177 years’ worth — of time spent in Zoom meetings. March 2021 saw the highest number of Zoom meetings at 193,994 during that time frame. Between July 2020 and June 2021, Wednesday stood as the most popular day for Zoom meetings with 333,271, followed closely by Tuesday at 332,914 systemwide.
The pilot program will run from Feb. 7 until July 31 and will be reviewed before the start of the next academic year.
Unrelenting virtual meeting schedules is another issue the pilot program aims to address. Virtual meetings eliminated the need for employees to walk between buildings for in-person meetings, often giving them very little or no time to take a breather. By asking departments to cap meetings to 45 minutes, the hope is that employees will regain vital time to move around, grab some water or get away from the computer screen.
The goal isn’t to eliminate all meetings on a particular day. Rather, the ambition is to have units and departments think more critically about their practices and try approaches that reduce employee’s anxiety or sense of never-ending work, said Theresa Elliot-Cheslek, vice president & chief human resource officer.
“When you consider that we launched Workday in the midst of the pandemic and then employees had to alter their work habit and learn another set of new things, many people felt overwhelmed,” Elliot-Cheslek said. “In hearing from our employees and consulting with our counterparts at other universities, university leadership opted to launch this program in the hopes of seeing some real improvements.”
During the pilot program, department heads and unit leads should also consider additional changes:
- Evaluate the purpose of existing meetings and look for ways to eliminate those meetings that could be replaced with another form of communication, including phone calls
- Create agendas for meetings and set time limits for presentations
- Implement no-camera or camera-optional meetings
- Communicate when payroll lock days are and limit events, meetings and additional tasks to administrative and fiscal support staff responsible for data, time and payroll entries at least one day before payroll lock days to reduce stress during busy times. Payroll lock dates are available on the payroll services website.
- Avoid sending emails, texts, and messages to employees during off hours or while on leave
- Support flexible and hybrid work schedules
University leadership is committed to the pilot program, including instituting no Friday standing meetings and will discuss recommendations with unit and department leaders across the system. Managers are asked to consider the recommendations of the pilot program and make changes to their approach to meetings as appropriate.