Sandra Liefhebber, head of HR:

Human Resources in times of corona

“How NIOZ personnel dealt with COVID-19 was not only adaptive, but above all respectful and felt as a joint responsibility”

“When I joined NIOZ as the head of the Human Resources department in September 2020, it was a relatively quiet period, in terms of the COVID-19 situation”, Sandra Liefhebber recalls.

“Staff were allowed to access the building based on a system of sign-in sheets. Clear protocols were drafted and most of it seemed to be pretty clear to everyone. At that time, the canteen was still open for the staff that needed to be in the buildings. In my first weeks, this gave me some feeling of the vibrating community of NIOZ. Groups, however, were limited and, of course, everyone had to socially distance. I was quite impressed how adaptive and disciplined people at the institute had taken the whole pandemic situation so far. Everybody had a very constructive and proactive attitude towards the corona measures. Before the facemasks became the norm in Dutch public spaces, our lab-leaders discussed how to introduce them in their workspaces, simply because one-and-a-half meter distance could not be maintained in daily lab-life.” Everybody was very keen on keeping the workplace free of COVID-19, mainly steering on symptoms and on a better-safe-than-sorry base, before testing was widely introduced. You could even say that 2020 was a year like any other, in some respects. For example, NIOZ had more than ninety job vacancies. Principal Investigators (PIs) and postdocs even managed to supervise around 100 student internships. Because we needed the limited physical workspace for our own staff, the students were taken care of in cyberspace. How NIOZ personnel dealt with the COVID-19 situation was not only adaptive, but above all respectful and felt as a joint responsibility”, Liefhebber says.

Corona rules in the NIOZ building in Yerseke

“Everybody was very constructive and proactive”

Broader well-being Liefhebber also noticed the typical nature of the NIOZ community. “At an institute like ours, we have a lot of PhDs and young postdoctoral researchers. For these predominantly young and international employees, working and living in a foreign country during lockdown can at times become pretty desolate. The lockdown measures were not easy for anybody, but imagine living in one of the housing accommodations - ‘De Potvis’ on Texel or ‘De Keete’ in Yerseke -, far away from your friends and family and with very little opportunity to go out and meet people, except online. For the group of parents with young families, creating daily working routines was difficult. When schools and day-care were closed, balancing work and private duties required a lot of flexibility, also on the part of their team members. For an HRM team, taking care of personnel is always part of the job. But during the pandemic, the well-being of all staff is the first and foremost concern. I felt this concern was broadly shared throughout NIOZ. There was a lot of support working toward solutions and a lot of creativity to keep daily life bearable. For instance, the NIOZ facilitated ‘breathing’ spaces outside the institute, where PIs and their PhDs or postdocs could meet in a safe and legitimate manner, once the canteen was closed. Also a lot of the PIs made time for walks to meet and discuss with, and take care of, their PhDs.”

Instructions in the NIOZ building on Texel

“During the pandemic, the well-being of all staff is the first and foremost concern”
“There was a lot of support working toward solutions and a lot of creativity to keep daily life bearable”

Mailbox-routine When she became a member of the NIOZ corona team, Liefhebber adopted a daily routine for the newly created mailbox “This mailbox was mainly taken care of by the manager of the institute, Peter Smit and myself. It was definitely not a mailbox to be skipped on a regular working day. So many corona-related questions found their way into this out-of-the-ordinary mailbox, day after day. Questions about expeditions, access to labs, new protocols for following the new rules. Questions that needed to be discussed and sometimes discussed again before decisions were taken. Despite the corona measures, not all expeditions at sea had to be cancelled. With a minimum of staff, necessary expeditions could go ahead, while respecting the official government rules. But by the end of 2020, everything was closed one hundred percent for the ‘Christmas lockdown’, and we all had a feeling that it would be long before things would be back to normal.”

Deserted canteen, normally the meeting point of all NIOZ colleagues on Texel