A July survey intended to examine the morale of UC Berkeley employees midpandemic revealed a prevalent need for child care.
Although UC Berkeley’s human resources department usually sends out employee surveys once or twice a year, it decided to increase the frequency and pivot to gauging employee morale to cater to pandemic-era needs, according to Eugene Whitlock, UC Berkeley’s chief human resources officer.
Chancellor Carol Christ decided to address one of those needs — a lack of support for dependent caretakers — by forming a working group. Headed by Associate Vice Provost Sharon Inkelas, the group decided to survey campus employees to determine how many hours they spend caregiving, how caregiving affects their career development and whether they would use campus-implemented child care services.
As revealed in the survey results, a majority of employees spend at least nine more hours caregiving amid the pandemic than they would regularly. Although 69% of respondents believe caregiving will have some or little to no negative impact on their career development, more than half said they would use the services specified by the survey.
Inkelas said her group is already working on a central website to provide specific COVID-19 updates on dependent caretaking resources. Additionally, the group is preparing a web-based tool that will let employees and students with dependents find others with similar needs to share or co-op care.
“The big thing that we hope to be able to do is to expand access by students and employees to emergency backup care,” Inkelas said. “Backup care gives you hours of drop-in care at whatever centers might be open at the time or in-home care by providers. … It’s not perfect but it’s very established and it’s easy to imagine how it would scale up.”
According to Whitlock, another alternative that is being considered is extending on-campus summer camps into fall or creating programs similar to child care centers for those in the area.
Although UC Berkeley employees such as Miranda Dietz, a research and policy associate at the UC Berkeley Labor Center and a mother of two, are glad to see questions about child care on the survey, they would appreciate further acknowledgement to staff that the issue is being addressed.
“Right now, I don’t really need a morale boost,” Dietz said. “I need real action and support so that I can make sure that my kids are safe and that I can focus on my research.”
Aside from communicating that a majority of employees responded with “Ok, I suppose” or “Pretty good,” the survey showed that more than 60% agree or strongly agree that UC Berkeley is managing and communicating change around COVID-19 well.
Campus sociology lecturer Joanna Reed, however, believes that UC Berkeley could improve its communication regarding its expectations for distance learning, as lecturers are often given very little time to adapt to new requirements.
While more than 60% of employees agree or strongly agree that their well-being is important to their immediate supervisor and the campus as a whole, Reed believes that UC Berkeley could do more to demonstrate that importance, including reasonably negotiating union contracts.
“If the university were to seriously work on trying to negotiate with us in a fair and clear way, taking some of our demands for better job security for some of our members more seriously so we could arrive at an agreement there, that would go a long way in showing us that they actually do value our work,” Reed said.
Reed added that as a researcher, she appreciates the efforts of the survey and recognizes that, while change has yet to come, data collection is the first step in that direction.
Seeing that UC Berkeley is the only UC campus to conduct such morale surveys, Whitlock encouraged other campuses to do the same.
“As far as I know, nobody else has taken such a proactive stance to try to understand what their employees are experiencing and then to address it,” Whitlock said. “That’s something I think that we should be proud of.”