Maintaining an Engaged Workforce Amid Covid-19 at the UT System

Category: Features

by Brian Dickens

Higher education institutions have taken unprecedented actions during the last several weeks in response to the COVID-19 crisis. From shifting to online classes to social distancing to remote work and telecommuting, people across the country have followed ever-evolving guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), federal, state and local government. The University of Tennessee System is no exception. During the past couple of weeks, the University of Tennessee has moved more than 9,300 classes online and migrated more than 90 percent of approximately 12,500 faculty and staff to an alternative work schedule or telecommuting.

At times like this, it is critically important that human resources provides essential services, resources and support to our faculty, staff and students across the state of Tennessee and beyond. This support comes in the form of providing guidance and resources in response to the recently enacted Families First Coronavirus Response Act and providing additional leave provisions and financial support to employees and higher education institutions in response through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act Education Stabilization Fund, which was established in response to unprecedented unemployment rates and claims impacting every industry in the world.

We are providing multiple opportunities for employee engagement and learning through various technological mediums, including our online learning portal through K@TE. As of April 2, 2020, 1,851 employees have registered for online COVID-19 related trainings, and 1,456 have successfully completed those trainings for a 79 percent completion rate. Employees are also supported with resources and strategies to navigate their newly implemented work-from-home model, and we are finding creative ways to encourage an intentional focus on the mental and physical health and wellness of our One UT family through an increased daily and weekly communication and information sharing campaign.

In March we published an online employee resource to help employees manage COVID-19 Related Leave. We have also shared additional benefits-related resources from TN Telehealth and Employee Assistant Program at Please help us to better serve the needs of our employees by providing any feedback or additional suggestions that may be useful to you as UT employees at These resources mentioned above are continually being refreshed and updated daily as more information becomes available.

With an emphasis on appreciative inquiry, President Randy Boyd has instituted a “Lemonade Campaign” in which faculty, staff and students are encouraged to share good news stories of turning lemons into lemonade despite the challenges presented by COVID-19 ( We are excited that the One UT culture is one of optimism and endless possibilities as we imagine the future for the UT System.

For additional support, contact your campus, center or institute HR Office.

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