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Employee Wellness

Piloting a "Planned Pause"

Many companies, non-profits, and governmental agencies pause from time-to-time to accomplish a variety of goals that advance their mission. The activities undertaken typically include rest, reflection, assessment, innovation, professional development, and planning. These pauses may involve shutting down for a period of time, lowering the tempo, day- or week-long training programs, retreats, celebrations, and planning sessions.

In higher education, academic departments have traditionally had the flexibility to schedule work in ways that best suit the rhythms of teaching and research. Typically, non-academic units have less flexibility. During pandemic, when so much transformation has been required of all W&M employees, many have struggled to find space to rest, take stock, and plan. Faculty and staff report an unsustainable pace; students report a heavy workload. Given the pressures and higher tempo of the last six months, it is essential that we create time to attend to work we have set aside, take stock, and focus on the challenges and opportunities ahead.

Therefore, W&M will pilot the practice of "planned pause" in AY21, for non-academic units. Academic units are welcome to participate, should it suit them to do so. Cabinet members and deans will work within their divisions and schools to determine the right ways to implement this concept, flexibly, to ensure that employees wishing to participate may do so.

Drop down menu of resources, schedule, and a description of what Planned Pause is.
What will this look like?

The university has designated four, 2-week work periods for employees and units to slow down their pace at work in December, January, May or June. W&M is like a small city, with different operations running on different working calendars. This choice of periods creates needed flexibility that respects those different cycles.

  • This work time may be spent as best suits the unit: in rest, planning, and reengagement with the unit's highest mission priorities
  • Each participating unit will pick one of the four slow-down periods based upon their work requirements, and communicate that to their Cabinet member; other units are asked to support and respect these slow-down periods
  • Internal and external constituents, customers, and stakeholders will be notified which units are conducting a planned pause and therefore, will not be available for normal operations;
  • Please note that these designated periods are work periods – not designated as time off, though staff may take vacation separately as needed
  • We are approaching this idea as a pilot: after each cycle, we will learn from the experience of participating units and improve our process
Schedule for designated pause weeks
  • Law School Administration: Faculty and Academic Support and Journals will pause in May 2021
  • Economic Development: May/June (TBD)
  • Government Relations: May/June (TBD)
  • Law School Career Services: May 17 through May 28, 2021
  • Law Library: May 2021 (TBD)
  • Undergraduate Admission: May 24 through June 4, 2021
  • TBD
Automatic email reply format

Sample department email auto-reply: “From [date-date], I will be responding slower than usual to email as [unit name] engages in assessment of the fall and planning for the spring semester. We appreciate your understanding.”

Shifting gears for a defined period. At the beginning of a “planned pause,” employees are invited to shift gears individually and adjust pace at work in the ways they need to. Supervisors will be guided to provide leave approvals. Wellness programming will be available and units are encouraged to use these weeks to explore them. In the second week, units are expected to slow the pace together, assess, and plan as needed.

Guidance and Outcomes

Suggested activities will be published to ensure each unit can identify the most flexible approach. The desired outcomes for the Planned Pause are a refreshed community, prepared for 2021 and beyond.

Table of suggested rest, recharge and refocus activities for formatting purposes.

Activities  -->



- Designated vacation windows

- Permissive leave expectations

- Readings on burnout and recovery

- Presidential Directive to supervisors

- Reduced tempo for two weeks

- HR prepares leave use reports for Cabinet


- Self-reflection, accomplishments summary

- Unit Lessons Learned conversations



- Attend two well-being programs

- Learn one new well-being skill

- Host one unit-level well-being program

- Hold a Virtual Party or go on a Virtual Field Day


- Nominate peers for recognition

- Celebrate year's successes

- Recognize and appreciate individual efforts



- Nominate at least one thing to stop doing

- As a unit, determine what to stop doing, reset priorities and goals

- Identify business process improvements


- Sketch near term plans for the unit

- Create list of priorities

- Reflect on post-COVID-19 insights


- Re-organize work environment

- Create master calendar of deadlines

- Plant seeds for future action