In mid-March, a snowstorm hit the Northeast and in the Central New York area (where I live) about two feet of snow fell. Ithaca College cancelled on Tuesday, March 14th, and Wednesday, March 15th. In addition to the cancellations, Ithaca College had been closed on Monday, March 13th, for our Spring Break Holiday (a benefit of an IC employee).
During these three days, I debated if I should do work. Spring Break is normally the time I catch up and get ahead. After Spring Break, my days are busy with programs, assessments, meetings, and students with about 1000 questions. I really needed that time to get work done but there was another part of me screaming, “Enjoy this time with your children! Bake! Play in the snow! Forget about work!”
What added to the stress was that between Thursday, March 16th, and Sunday, March 19th, I attended a conference located at a hotel that provided limited internet service. I again debated about completing work. Since I could only get internet in the room and the conference had us booked from 8am-10pm each day, I debated if I should stay up late to complete work. I started to think about what was most important. At that point, I stared at my To-Do list and identified if anything had a deadline before Monday. I managed to complete the items that had a deadline of Monday or Tuesday but when I got back to work on Monday, March 20th, the emails, meetings, and additional list of tasks that I needed to complete overwhelmed me. I started to regret not doing work on those off days.
Work/life balance was always something I knew I could improve. I felt that I already committed so much time to my work life and wanted to invest more time into my personal life. The snow days gave me the opportunity to take a break from work without guilt and enjoy quality time with my family. However, when I was back at work, my inbox would not go down and I could not find the time to complete the work. I felt extremely stressed. I knew some nights would require taking work home. That was not something I wanted to do!
The snowstorm made me further realize how valuable the time with my children is. I had to realize there would always be work to do; however, my children will not always be this young. My priority is my family. I learned that if I did not want to take work home, I needed to manage my time better at work. To better complete work, I blocked off time on my calendar. I told myself that it was okay to close the door and be productive for 30 minutes. From this, I have been able to catch up and feel less overwhelmed.
However, my questions to all of you are: when the college is closed, do you still work? How often do you take work home? Do you check emails at night, in the morning, and on the weekends? From where does the expectation come to work at home? If you do not bring work home, do you feel guilty?
After opening up to my co-workers about this, they told me they, too, did work when the college closed. They did not take the break. So honestly, from where does the expectation come to work constantly? I understand I am on salary and I will work extra hours without compensation. Such is the nature of the job. However, it should not be the norm to work when the college is closed! It should not be the norm to check emails all hours of the night! Receiving an email from a co-worker at 2am should not be normal!
As a cohort and a union, we need to support each other with working only during business hours. We should respect that we all have lives outside of higher education. In addition, it is okay to shut off the email, take a break from work and enjoy the little moments of life.