What you need to know about winter break

Winter break is coming, which means many Iowa State employees will take an extended stretch of time off. Go ahead, if possible -- university leaders encourage it.  

As they have every year since 2009, Iowa State administrators this fall approved a partial closure between the Christmas and New Year's Day holidays. The optional shutdown saves on energy costs while most students are away from campus and promotes a healthy work-life balance for employees.

This year, the shutdown period includes 10 days, Dec. 23-Jan.1. That includes three university holidays (Dec. 25, Dec. 26 and Jan. 1), two weekends (Dec. 23-24 and Dec. 30-31) and three regular workdays (Dec. 27-29).

How it works

Offices aren't required to close, and employees aren't required to take time off. Workers who choose not to work during the shutdown period can use vacation time or take unpaid leave. Employees who take unpaid leave will be paid for university holidays.

Many university facilities will be closed and locked during break, as they are on holidays. Building supervisors should have received an email from facilities planning and management (FPM) with a survey seeking information about closure plans. Responses were due Dec. 13. Last year, 46 campus buildings closed during the semester break, said Wendy Kisch, FPM's assistant director of facilities services. Sixteen of those 46 buildings set their temperature back to the minimum 65 degrees while closed, Kisch said.

Top university leaders determine workforce needs in the units they oversee and approve office closures or reductions in operating hours. Units or individual employees responsible for essential or ongoing work may be required to continue regular schedules. Examples of critical functions include public safety, snow removal and utility maintenance, as well as some research and customer-service jobs. In units closed during the break, supervisors may establish alternative work locations or projects for employees who elect to work.

Supervisors in closed units may need to establish how to handle incoming phone and email messages. For instance, messages could be routed to a single email and voicemail account to be checked by a designated employee. Also, consider communicating holiday hours on your department's website and in personal voicemail and email messages.

Employees with questions can contact their departmental human resources liaison or employee/labor relations staff with University Human Resources at hrshelp@iastate.edu or 294-4800.

Tips for buttoning up

During the 2016-17 winter break, reduced activity helped save more than $110,000 on electricity and steam costs, according to Jeff Witt, FPM director of utilities. But those savings depend in part on employees preparing their workplaces to use less power and stay safe. Here's a checklist to review before heading out for the holidays:

  • Shut down all computers, printers and other accessories. If possible, plug computers and printers into a power strip and then shut off the power strip.
  • Leave your office computer on if you need remote access from home, but turn off the monitor, printer, speakers and any other connected devices. A computer's sleep mode uses less energy than full power, but shutting it off completely protects data. A machine may be left on during break if it's providing access to a critical application.
  • Turn off and unplug copiers.
  • Shut off and unplug small appliances, such as coffee pots and microwaves.
  • Unplug chargers for electronic devices.
  • Make sure faucets in restrooms and break rooms are turned off and not dripping. If you notice a dripping faucet, contact the FPM service center at 294-5100.
  • If you can manually adjust the thermostat in your office, turn it down to 65 degrees.
  • Shut down unnecessary climate-controlled plant growth chambers.
  • Close fume hood sashes completely, if possible. Otherwise, open them only minimally.
  • Shut down cooling water systems to eliminate potential flooding issues.
  • Turn off your office lights and public lighting, such as hallways, restrooms and conference rooms.
  • Check windows to make sure they're tightly closed.

No snow surprises

FPM crews will work reduced hours during the partial shutdown. Snow removal will be limited from Dec. 23 through Jan. 1, which means parking lots and secondary buildings may not be plowed by 8 a.m. Staff also will not plow lots or sweep sidewalks for less than 2 inches of snow outside of regular business hours, weekdays from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.