Higher Ed HR Pros Are Resilient, But We’re Also Human

Fall 2020
Andy Brantley

A Message From CUPA-HR’s President and CEO

A few weeks ago, I was talking with our national board chair, Susan Norton, vice president for human resources at Augusta University, about the extraordinary demands placed on higher ed HR leaders during the last several months. Everyone who knows Susan knows that her glass is always “half full” and never “half empty.” In keeping with this perspective, she commented that the challenges are helping us learn to be more resilient. Susan is absolutely right!

Almost every day in the life of a higher ed HR professional is an opportunity to build resilience. However, none of us anticipated just how resilient we’d need to be to shift our operations to virtual, to manage layoffs, to work with our leaders and managers to develop multiple return-to-campus scenarios, to help our colleagues manage workloads while homeschooling their children, to try to accommodate those with serious health conditions, and even help colleagues cope with the loss of family, friends and coworkers who passed away following battles with COVID-19.

These tremendous challenges are building our resilience, but they’re also causing many of us to experience elements of burnout. Since March, many HR leaders have had to work extraordinary hours and transition from already hectic schedules to nearly 24/7 schedules with little, if any, space for adjusting and regrouping before the next crisis emerged. So many unknowns have also required us to make the best decisions with the information available on a particular day — knowing that our environment could change the next day and require a different course of action.

I readily admit that leading CUPA-HR since March has also required extraordinary resilience and that there have been times that I felt some of the elements of burnout. Here are a few things that I’ve done to renew and restore my mental health:

  • I have deleted a lot of people from my Facebook and Twitter feeds. Life is too short to waste my time with toxic people who use their platforms to share their controversial opinions with no interest in dialog and learning from others. Sure, it’s their platform and their right to say what they want to say, but it’s also my right to release myself from their toxic personalities.
  • I am blocking time on my calendar every day for exercise. Some days, this is scheduled very early in the morning and sometimes during the afternoon. Regardless, it’s an important “appointment” on my calendar I choose not to miss!
  • I am being more intentional about staying connected with my family and friends. Even though our face-to-face interactions are more limited, I’m being more intentional regarding my ongoing outreach to them — and I’m also encouraging them to do so. My mother is even learning to navigate Zoom settings!
  • I am also being more intentional about expressing gratitude and appreciation for the incredible work of my colleagues. It’s so important that I let my CUPA-HR colleagues know how much I appreciate their work and all they’re accomplishing in this less-than-ideal, ever-changing environment!
  • I took a vacation and got away from email. I waited until August to take a week off, and I should have done so sooner. During my time away, I intentionally left my phone while I went for runs, walks and bike rides. I also tried to make sure my phone was out of arm’s reach to help me resist the urge to check email every day or multiple times per day.

Higher ed HR professionals are strong and resilient, but we’re also human. I encourage you to create a list of things you’re doing to support yourself, your family and your coworkers. I also hope you will take advantage of the incredible CUPA-HR community. Reach out to two or three of your CUPA-HR colleagues today to let them know how much you appreciate them and their friendship.


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