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121 University Services Building, Suite 51
Iowa City, IA 52242-1911
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At the University of Iowa, we strongly encourage all members of the university community to safeguard their own health by becoming fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and wearing a mask while on campus.

We understand that the decision whether to vaccinate or wear a mask is a highly personal one that each person must make for themselves and for a variety of reasons. Accordingly, we respect the right of university community members to decide what is best for them, their communities, and their families, and expect each member to be respectful of the personal health choices of others.

We recognize that employees hold strong and passionate opinions regarding vaccinations and mask-wearing. At times, we all may have trouble balancing deeply held personal beliefs with our need to respect the beliefs and choices of others within the workplace. Recognizing this difficulty, we thought it might be helpful to present some common scenarios and suggested responses.

We are confident that university employees want to treat each other with respect and dignity. We hope the following examples will help us all to do just that during a very difficult and uncertain time.

Scenario 1: Opposing Views

Two staff members on the same team are required to work together in close physical proximity to each other. They have diametrically opposed views on masking.

One believes masks are not needed, people who wear them are "sheep," and requirements or even requests to wear a mask are an assault on individual freedom. The other believes masks are an important tool for controlling the pandemic, ensuring personal safety, and are backed by science.

Neither one wants to work with the other. How could the supervisor manage the situation?

Response:

  1. First, acknowledge the challenge and frustration.
  2. Next, clarify the expectations of respecting choice and accommodating needs while working together.
  3. Then share resources and offer support.
  4. Follow-up with the individuals to acknowledge efforts they have made and modify as needed.

This could sound like:

“I understand this is a tough situation for everyone right now. Also, COVID isn’t going away any time soon, so it’s worth it for our team to solve this problem so we can effectively do our work. I’m not asking you to change your personal views or values. Nor are we in a position to ask others to change their views or values. Your values and views are your own.

When we are at work, though, we need to have clear expectations. While it may seem that the university guidelines of 'masks are strongly encouraged, but not required' leaves room for interpretation, what is clear is that the Board of Regents, State of Iowa prohibit the public universities from requiring masks on campus. Exceptions to this include riding Cambus and working in or visiting UI Health Care facilities.

I’m not asking you to personally agree with these guidelines, but I am asking you to show respect by practicing them while you are here in our department. In practice, 'strongly encouraging but not requiring' clearly looks like two things: respecting choice and accommodating needs to accomplish our work.

Respecting choice looks like:

  • Wearing a mask if you choose.
  • Having masks readily available in our workplace. Ours are located [here].
  • Choosing to offer a mask to a colleague when you meet and choosing to accept or decline.

Accommodating needs looks like:

  • Offering to use technology to meet virtually, rather than face-to-face.
  • Deciding with one another about the platform you’ll use to exchange work (email, shared drive, OneDrive, Microsoft Teams).
  • Respectfully 'agreeing to disagree' and then directing conversation back to the work at hand.
  • Considering many alternatives to getting the work completed.

If you want support in accommodating your needs, please let me know. If you have a health concern that you would like further support to accommodate, please let our HR rep know, or contact Faculty and Staff Disability Services.

Finally, I encourage you to review guidelines at on the university's coronavirus website and to let me know if you have questions or concerns. Thank you for your efforts to show respect and accommodation to one another as we work to achieve our shared mission.”

Scenario 2: Proposing Masks

A staff member has a meeting scheduled with a faculty member. The faculty member arrives without a mask and enters the small room that has been scheduled. The staff member has an immune compromised family member and is sensitive about mask wearing. What could the staff member do in this situation?

Response:

This could understandably be a nerve-wracking occurrence. If you're the staff member, you could perceive a power dynamic that makes you not want to bring up mask-wearing. It could also be that any kind of confrontation—even if gentle—makes you want to run and hide.

It’s also no surprise that some people have strong beliefs and reactions to things like mask-wearing. When you approach this situation, you want to reduce resistance and hostility. Consider this: Nobody really likes being told what to do, so when we are pushed into something it creates resistance and a desire to do the opposite…or engage in an argument.

A couple things are key in this situation: understanding and control.

Understanding: In situations we may perceive as confrontational, we tend to want to take the lead and try to influence the other person’s behavior. Instead, consider that the other person’s beliefs and actions are as valid as yours—even if they are different and you disagree with them. By listening to the other person, you create an opportunity to understand the roots of their beliefs and behaviors.

Control: It’s important to remember that as much as you want to control the situation, the other person wants to have some control, too. First, consider the possibility that the faculty member would put on a mask if they were aware of your situation and concerns. If you explain your situation and concerns, and then ask if they would be comfortable wearing a mask in the small space, they might be willing to do that. If the other person chooses to put on a mask because you spoke up, use the power of positive reinforcement. Saying “thank you for wearing a mask” increases the likelihood it’s repeated and shows appreciation for their effort.

If you discuss mask-wearing and the other person still elects to not wear one, you can consider other options that might work. For example, is there a larger room where you could meet so that you could feel safe, and the other person would not have to wear a mask? What about meeting virtually so neither of you need to wear a mask? This approach accommodates our desire for agency while steering toward favorable outcomes.

When you demonstrate understanding of others’ views and look for alternatives that don’t remove control and provide degrees of freedom, you increase the chances that all parties can participate in ways that work for them.

Source: The Catalyst: How to Change Anyone’s Mind by Jonah Berger

Scenario 3: Sharing Views and Letting Go

Staff members might find themselves exhausted from all the tension connected with mask-related social interactions as we return to work on campus. The weight of personal decisions on mask wearing are adding up.

What are some ways for people to indicate their own social boundaries and preferences, and learn about others' boundaries so they don't have guess in every situation?

Response:

Employees have many responsibilities, expectations, and full days, which can add to individual tensions. We do not have a mask mandate at the University of Iowa, and the choice to wear a mask on campus is a decision for each person to make and share as they choose. 

The folks at Crucial Learning provide a nice, two-step approach for these types of situations: 1) speak up and 2) let go.

Labeling mask-wearing preferences—for example, using badges or wrist bands—adds to storytelling (about others), and can create opposition. Rather than labeling another person’s personal decisions about masks, safety, and comfort level when with other people, consider speaking up to sharing personal preferences, and then letting go. 

Conversations may be awkward at first. Don’t over think it, have a ready phrase at hand, and then let the other person have their own reactions. Once your preference is shared, let it go.

Scenario 4: Encouraging Masks

While the university does strongly encourage face masks in all classroom settings and during in-person office hours, we are obligated to adhere to the guidelines implemented by the Board of Regents. Those guidelines prohibit the public universities from requiring masks on campus. (University policy and federal law continue to require masks on CAMBUS.)

Actions staff can take:

Be respectful and comforting. To encourage people, you can use phrases such as “I will be wearing a mask to this meeting for my own safety and everyone else’s. You are encouraged to wear a mask too if you want.”

Have masks readily available in private offices, meeting rooms, and classrooms. People are likely to mimic the behavior of others. If people see someone reach for a mask or wear a mask while in direct contact, they are more likely to do so themselves.

Actions staff shouldn’t take:

Don’t make people feel uncomfortable or embarrassed for their choices related to mask wearing. Shame is not a good motivator.