Tools for coping during tough times
Resources and tips to help Berkeley staff and managers weather the budget storm
| 5 August 2009
BERKELEY — Furloughs are now a certainty for campus employees during the new academic year, but not much else is in these days of budget cutting, downsizing, and decision-making on campus. Faculty and staff await details on how Berkeley will implement the furloughs mandated by UC's Office of the President and approved last month by the UC Regents, but that program, even when fully implemented on all 10 UC campuses, will ameliorate only about one-quarter of the University of California's $813 million state-funding gap. Increases in student fees will cover about another quarter. What's left must be slashed from campus units, and for many, at Berkeley and across the system, that means staff layoffs sometime in 2009-10.
And waiting for that particular shoe to drop can be stressful, even grueling for employees.
As managers grapple with difficult decisions and staff await news about cuts and layoffs, employees can find themselves feeling helpless and unsettled, says Craig Mielcarski, director of CARE Services, the faculty and staff assistance and referral program offered through University Health Services. And yet, he says, we all still have work to do every day to help our units accomplish their goals.
"You can't deny that people are feeling anxious and worried," he says. Although the number of CARE Services clients hasn't increased since the budget cuts have become an overriding concern, Mielcarski says that more people are in crisis: about 1 in 5 clients had severe complaints before, and now it's grown to about 3 in 5, he says.
Mielcarski recommends that people focus on the areas of life where they do have control: getting adequate sleep, and staying healthy through exercise and a well-balanced diet.
It's also crucial for managers and employees to communicate during times of uncertainty, he notes. For managers that means discussing expectations, work assignments, and plans — even when the future is still blurry.
Control units now know the percentage they will be required to cut from their budget, says Mielcarski. "Wherever possible, management should try to communicate that information to staff, even if they don't know how many jobs will be lost." He advocates that managers tell their staff what they know about possible consequences of the budget deficit promptly rather than "wait for all the answers to be crystal clear." Getting information as it unfolds — even if important details have yet to be nailed down — will help "people navigate this time better," Mielcarski says.
director of CARE Services
Similarly, staff need to talk with their managers during transitional times. With the campus operating under a hiring freeze, many staff have had to take on extra work to pick up slack from vacant positions. An increased workload is also a source of anxiety, says Mielcarski, noting a common staff concern: "If there are further reductions, how am I going to do all of this work?"
He recommends that employees ask their managers to help them prioritize tasks. "A lot of workers tend to put their heads down and wait to see what happens during times like this. It's more helpful to be proactive and try to identify what we should focus on and do differently," he says.
It's normal to feel ungrounded during times of intense change, says Mielcarski. "Change is hard, and any significant change begins with loss," followed by grief, he says. Initially, "we don't want to acknowledge or even imagine what things will look like" after changes are implemented. "Once we start to break through denial and accept the fact that the budget is this bad and there are going to be reorganizations and layoffs, most people feel let down," says Mielcarski. "You have to go through a grief process and let go before you can move forward."
Being assigned to work with different people or in different units, getting moved to a new location on the organizational chart, and taking on new responsibilities can elicit feelings of grief and deflation, says Mielcarski. "The key is to continue to move through those feelings and not get stuck."
Transitions are also a good time to call on support systems, says Mielcarski, who as a counselor sees that people tend to isolate themselves when they're feeling down. He notes that when we are not doing well, many of us don't want to bother or burden the people and groups we normally rely on for support. "But if you're feeling stuck, that's the time to pay extra attention to the people in your life who already give you good support," he says.
If you do feel stuck, Mielcarski suggests contacting CARE Services by phone at 643-7754 or via e-mail. Appointments are available Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (including lunch hours.) Some after-work appointments are also available. CARE Services will also roll out a new schedule of courses for the fall in the coming days. On tap are classes on managing finances and debt, as well as how to cope with stress and change.
"Human beings are extremely resilient," Mielcarski says, and that fact can be overlooked during hard times. "We're resilient as individuals and as communities" that have had the strength to navigate tough times, he says. "If we tap into that narrative, it reinforces itself and helps us support each other through the unknowns and the challenges."