As the new academic year begins for almost all of us in housing and residence life, we are wrapping up the training and onboarding of new staff members. It seems that summers continue to feel shorter, leaving our batteries half charged as we embark on a new academic year. Our residents are arriving not knowing the work, time, and innovation that drove our summer operations, updates, and “let’s try this” decisions for the year. This age-old habit of pushing larger projects to the summer “when I’ll have time” is nothing new. But can we do better? Can we look at the length of training and onboarding periods for staff and organize them to better make room for rest? I think so. We’ve tried some things this summer at my institution that I want to share to get your minds thinking a little differently.
IDEA: Start your new staff 1-2 weeks earlier.
This year we started our new professional staff members nearly an entire month earlier at the start of June, rather than following the July holiday. While this allowed us to have some more measured “essentials” training prior to the skill-based and content heavier items, the cost was that we felt very rushed into preparing for that quick flip from closing back into training. Therefore I suggest perhaps only 2 weeks earlier versus 3-4 weeks to allow for a resting before that start.
IDEA: Don’t train on weekends.
We made a special intention to not have any training on the weekends – including RA training. Your student staff need that weekend to recharge prior to the intensity of opening. This can also be used as a time for folks to finish door decorations or bulletin boards without having to stay up during training, leaving folks tired for the essential pieces during the day.
IDEA: Give some Fridays and Mondays a rest too.
During our professional and graduate training schedules, we also worked to bookend the weekend with office time so that our teammates could take a longer weekend, or just catch up before and after a full week of content and being out of their community. I actually took a weekend trip in the middle of July! I couldn’t remember the last time I was home in the summer and it completely filled my cup up in the best ways.
IDEA: Plot out large projects throughout the year.
This summer I found many of my operational pieces needing significant overhauls with some new leadership members joining our team. Among all of the other typical summer processes occurring (planning for move-in, summer housing operations, etc.) this became a bit overwhelming to handle. My plan moving forward is to schedule out when to review processes in a more cyclical nature with different units both within my larger department, as well as any impacted campus partners. For example, reviewing our newly adjusted on-call structure in January for a May/June implementation allows for data to be collected in the fall, and adjustments to occur in the spring for a pilot in the summer.
We have certainly found some bumps in the above plans already this year, but I sincerely believe we’re on the right path to building “true resting spaces” throughout our summer months in housing. It seems that in a “traditional” summer, folks will take half of June or even the end of May off from work to recharge. However, many of us then feel that pinch when we return from being out, being incredibly behind on things and then sprinting the rest of the summer to make it all up. This can leave one feeling more empty than before the vacation because the work doesn’t stop accruing while one’s away. Whew!
I hope that this change in the status quo of onboarding cycles, along with the incorporation of returners, may allow for some breathing room (at least) not only for the in-hall members, but also those in mid-level roles, too.