Work-life balance, student success are the priorities during winter session


Editor's note: On Nov. 2, university leaders announced that Gov. Kim Reynolds called for two additional paid holidays for state employees in recognition of their service during 2023. Iowa State will implement one of those holidays on Wednesday, Dec. 27.


Iowa State's fourth winter session (Monday, Dec. 18, through Friday, Jan. 12, 2024) fully occupies the four-week break between fall and spring semesters. Like its predecessors, winter session will be offered online, with courses selected for their usefulness to continuing undergraduates. Most students will not be in Ames, though they will have access to academic support and student services.

University human resources (UHR) leaders said a top priority during those four weeks is maintaining staff levels to support a successful winter session for enrolled students. They also noted that the lower activity level presents an opportunity for the university to reduce energy costs and employees to use accrued vacation hours and enjoy time away from their jobs.

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An FAQ for staffing during university breaks

UHR associate director Andrea Little, employee and labor relations, summarized winter break guidelines in an Oct. 6 memo to supervisors.

The compact winter session contains three university holidays, Dec. 25-26 and Jan. 1. Offices are closed and classes don't meet on those days.

If you're working

Units open during the winter break may implement break office hours (7:30 a.m.-4 p.m.) from Dec. 18 through Jan. 12, while still serving students and their other customers or clients. Units that provide operational services, critical maintenance or utilities services, or previously scheduled public service programs should continue to do so, Little said. Likewise, research programs that shouldn't be interrupted will continue their necessary operations.

It's expected that employees in units that are open will be "fully engaged" and performing their regular work responsibilities, she said.

Staffing guidance for university breaks provides more information.

If you're not working

Units should communicate with their building supervisor about building and office access, and they should share these decisions on their websites, door signs, voice messages, social media sites, etc. Little said supervisors are encouraged to support a work-life balance for their employees during the break period and accommodate vacation requests whenever possible. Employees may request unpaid leave, though they would be paid for any university holidays that fall during their unpaid leave period.

Senior leaders may approve requests to physically close offices the week of Dec. 25 for units that develop procedures to manage emergencies and incoming messages during their office closure. If employees use two vacation days (Dec. 28-29), with weekends and the three university holidays they could create a 10-day window away from work, Dec. 23 through Jan. 1.

Student employees may pick up more hours

The four-week winter break period is considered nonacademic so, if work is available for them, student employees may work more than the 20 hours/week cap they face during the academic semesters.

Semester break calendar

  • Friday, Dec. 15, fall semester ends
  • Friday-Saturday, Dec. 15-16, commencement ceremonies
  • Monday, Dec. 18, online winter session begins
  • Monday-Tuesday, Dec. 25-26, university holidays
  • Wednesday, Dec. 27, additional paid holiday for all state employees
  • Monday, Jan. 1, 2024, university holiday
  • Friday, Jan. 12, online winter session ends
  • Monday, Jan. 15, university holiday
  • Tuesday, Jan. 16, spring semester begins