150 Employees Attend First Town Hall Meeting on New HR Staff Plan

October 16, 2008 — The University Staff Plan "is a different approach. It's a lot more employee oriented," said Susan Carkeek, vice president and chief human resources officer, to almost 150 University of Virginia employees in Jordan Hall Auditorium Oct. 14. She made this presentation at the first of three town hall-style meetings about the new plan, which goes into effect Jan. 1.

Eligible classified employees and most administrative and professional faculty have the option until Dec. 31 of switching to University staff.

After Carkeek gave highlights of the new plan, she took questions and comments from the audience for more than an hour. They discussed the role of market-based salary data in compensation, the process for pay increases and other job changes, and differences and similarities between the two staff systems.

The questions and answers that followed Carkeek's talk will be posted on the HR Restructuring Web site.

Carkeek reassured employees that the University would avoid layoffs, as it has in the past when complying with state budget reductions, the current cut being 7 percent. Instead of laying off employees, unfilled positions will be left vacant.

U.Va. has weathered the downside of budget cycles before and will do so again, she said.

The next town hall meeting will be 3 to 4:30 p.m. Nov. 5 in Newcomb Hall Ballroom. The third will be 3 to 4:30 p.m. Dec. 3, in the Darden Abbott Center Auditorium. In addition, an information table will be set up at the Nov. 13 Resource Fair in Newcomb Hall.

Restructuring Background

The restructuring agreement with the state in areas including finance, procurement and human resources "provides the University with increased flexibility and tools to manage through this crisis and ease the impact of reductions in the state budget," Carkeek said.

Restructuring legislation prompted HR to work on a new human resources system, customizing it to U.Va. From that starting point, nearly 300 employees on task forces built the new University Staff HR Plan, with thousands participating in the process in the past two years through focus groups, a career path expo, a Universitywide survey, peer advisers and reviews of draft recommendations, Carkeek said. Human Resources received more than 2,000 comments when the proposed plan was published online for employee feedback.

New University Staff Plan

What makes the new plan different from the current one?

"It’s by connecting three big things — innovative programs in performance management, career development and compensation — with those critical employment-related policies that have made us a stable employer, core policies we've come to rely on, like layoff, severance and the grievance procedure," she said.

Carkeek explained how components of the plan came about based on employee concerns and input, plus employee task force research of best practices in human resources from other higher education institutions.

Through focus groups and a spring 2007 survey that drew a high response rate of 49 percent, employees expressed frustration with job advancement and several other parts of the classified staff system. Whereas the classified system focuses on the position, the new plan focuses on the person, what they bring to the job and what career path that person wants to follow, she said.

Plan Highlights

People asked for a more refined and realistic rating scale in performance evaluation. The new system has a five-point scale rather than the state's three-point system. Evaluations will be based on the employee's career goals and how they fit with the University's goals. Under the new system, better evaluation tools and the employee's customized career development should make the process more relevant to the employee and more interactive between supervisor and employees.

Employee concerns about the pay bands and the lack of advancement opportunities in the classified system led the task forces to create 75 career paths focused on employee development.

Market-based Job Data

Instead of pay bands, the salary ranges for University Staff jobs are based on relevant market data. "We are putting out information about market-based ranges of jobs," Carkeek said. That information was included in the packets sent home to each eligible employee, with a side-by-side comparison of the employee's current job to the equivalent University Staff job.

"This is the first time we are offering this data to employees. We want to be transparent in our compensation practices," she said. It will take more time to match all U.Va. jobs to comparable ones, however. Some positions have not been matched yet.

The market range does not automatically affect an individual's salary, but the information will be taken into consideration in employee review and development. Employees may request a market review if they question the market range into which their job falls.

In response to a question from the audience, Carkeek explained the market data comes from statewide, regional and national data. Some local salary surveys may also be used.

Pay-for-Performance

In the pre-plan survey, answered by 2,700 employees, 90 percent of them favored a pay-for-performance model of compensation.

"This had the highest level of interest," Carkeek said.

In response to an audience question about where the money for performance pay increases will come from, Carkeek said restructuring gives the University more autonomy in managing its finances.

"The U.Va. Board of Visitors is willing to invest in merit-based pay," she said. "The Board is engaged and supportive now."

In the current budget crisis, however, Gov. Timothy Kaine suspended 2 percent salary increases that were to come, and the U.Va. Board of Visitors opted to postpone its decision on providing funds for salary increases for faculty and staff.

At the October Board of Visitors meeting, the Finance Committee expressed agreement with Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Leonard W. Sandridge's statement that future faculty supplements would also include University staff. The administration will review and bring a multi-year plan to the committee next June with the budget. The plan may not include a supplement next year, depending on the budget, Carkeek said.

New Benefits

"Circumstances are particularly tough for certain segments of our employees," Carkeek said. The University will offer two new benefits in the new Staff Plan to provide some help to them.

A $300 supplemental benefit credit for those employees who earn less than $40,000 a year will be applied to the cost of voluntary deductions.

For those who work part time, 20 to 31 hours per week, the University will pick up 50 percent of the employer cost. Currently, part-timers who want health insurance have to pay the entire contribution.

Draft Leave Program

Carkeek also explained the draft leave program that is posted for employee comment until Nov. 21.

About half of U.Va. employees are frustrated with accruing large balances of leave hours and then losing them at the end of the year she said. The average annual leave use comes to about two weeks a year, plus a few more days of sick/family/personal leave, she said, referring to a table in the online leave proposal.

The proposed leave policy, which would not go into effect until 2010, would simplify leave, combining annual, sick and family/personal time into one bank of leave. The accrual rate would increase every three years instead of five years. The leave proposal would offer an annual payout benefit, or "sell-back provision," depending on a maximum number of hours carried over and hours left over, rather than just the classified system's cash-out at termination. Holidays will remain separate from leave.

"Two-thirds of employers have consolidated leave banks," Carkeek said.

Resources

"This new University Staff plan has wonderful features, but we recognize it is not for everyone," Carkeek said. "Consider your options carefully and make the decision that is best for you.

"No one," she added, "will be forced to switch."

Carkeek listed the next steps to take, and the resources available to help employees decide whether or not to make the change.
 
• Eligible employees — classified staff and most of those who are administrative and professional faculty — should be receiving at their home addresses the side-by-side comparisons of their jobs as classified staff or A&P faculty and University staff.

• The enrollment period lasts until Dec. 31, 2008. Carkeek said there also will be an enrollment period next year.

• University staff hired after July 1, 2006, are automatically enrolled in the new plan.

• Supervisors are going through the first of a series of training sessions.

• Supervisors, HR staff in departments and units and other volunteers are being trained as peer advisers to help employees.

• Central HR offers help by e-mail, by phone, on its Web site and via face-to-face walk-in meetings.

— By Anne Bromley