Patriots at Work: Creating a supportive place to work and learn

The pandemic has challenged all of us to do our jobs differently. Shifting student services to virtual platforms, rearranging offices and classrooms to meet distancing requirements, and procuring supplies to keep our campuses safe—it’s been a particularly busy year for Mason staff.

Without highly skilled staff members performing at their peak, students and faculty cannot perform at theirs. Mason staff carry out critical functions of the largest and most diverse public research university in Virginia.

The Staff Senate is the staff advisory body to the university with 28 senators representing more than 3,000 classified and non-student wage staff. Senators volunteer time beyond the work of their everyday jobs to improve the work-life experience at Mason. I have the privilege of serving as chair of Staff Senate.

Since its inception 20 years ago, the senate has gained strength in representing the interests of staff at all levels of the university. We ensure staff are included in important initiatives like the Campus Master Planning Committee, the Anti-Racism and Inclusive Excellence Task Force, and search committees for university leadership roles.

The COVID-19 era has made the work of the Staff Senate more crucial than ever.

While many faculty and staff continue to work remotely, others do not have the option of staying home. Staff working in public safety, health care, facilities management, and child care—just to name a few—are essential to on-site university operations. We could not open our campuses without them.

Though the university has adopted strict public health measures to keep us safe, reporting to campus still requires staff to accept a certain degree of risk. Working parents also must devise new child care arrangements (or deal with none) as the pandemic disrupts the systems we depend on for the care and education of our children.

In an organization as large as Mason, decisions at the department level often have the greatest impact on staff work-life. Supervisors can support their staff by offering maximum flexibility regarding a return to campus or continued teleworking.

At Mason, we pride ourselves on being innovative. We must work together to find ways to accomplish our mission in this new reality.

I invite you to share your experiences and feedback with the Staff Senate. In this regular column, I will highlight the experiences of staff at Mason, the work of the senate, and ideas on how we can continue making Mason a supportive and innovative place to work and learn.