Recommendations for New HR System Presented for Comment at Town Hall Meeting

May 22, 2008 -- More than 200 people packed into the Newcomb Hall Theatre on Thursday to hear draft policy recommendations for a new University human resources system that will govern "University staff," the designation that replaced "classified employees" on July 1, 2006.

Anyone hired after that date will automatically fall under the new HR system when it is formally implemented in January 2009. Classified staff and administrative and professional faculty will periodically have the option to join the new University staff system, but will never be transferred into the new system without electing to do so.

Susan Carkeek, vice president and chief human resources officer, presented the broad ideas for changes, which include a new employee performance evaluation system, new benefits, and a new market-based, pay-for-performance compensation system. The recommendations for the new HR system were drawn up this spring by almost 300 employees serving on 20 task forces.

The new human resources system is being created as part of the commonwealth's Higher Education Restructuring initiative, enacted by the General Assembly in 2005, which gives Virginia's public colleges and universities greater flexibility and internal control of each institution's administrative operations.

The proposed new benefits include an employer contribution to health insurance costs for part-time employees working 20 to 31 hours a week (those working 32 hours or more already get a full contribution), more flexibility to carry over accrued annual leave from year to year, the option to 'cash out' unused leave, and making certain retirement plan benefits portable.

Carkeek said that the new policy recommendations tried to address the aspects of the current system with which employees indicated they were most dissatisfied in response to a survey of 5,662 employees conducted in spring of 2007. Respondents asked for reduced costs for parking, gym memberships, tuition and other optional expenses.  Rather than try to prioritize which optional benefits should be improved and by how much, the recommendations propose that all employees who earn less than a certain salary threshold, such as $40,000, will receive a lump sum "Supplemental Benefit Credit," which will "ease the burden on our lowest-paid staff," Carkeek said.

The new system would leave in place many current general employment policies including those on progressive discipline, due process, the state’s “Standards of Conduct,” layoffs, and severance—"the core policies that have made U.Va. a stable and attractive employer," said Carkeek.  

The few recommended changes to general employment policy include offering mediation services to resolve workplace disputes in a more informal forum before initiating the grievance process. Also, work schedule flexibility (such as the option to work four 10-hour shifts per week or to telecommute at times) would be enhanced and codified.

The new system will be oriented around "career paths," rather than the current position classification system, which is based on the federal civil service system created in 1883 to prevent federal jobs from being handed out as political rewards, noted Carkeek.

Fifteen of the 20 task forces were assigned the job of charting typical career paths at the University, and 'storyboarding' the various stages of such careers, including what skills, educational credentials and work experience would be needed at each stage.

The task forces came up with 71 career paths, such as accounting, project management, and contract administration, grouped in various "career clusters," including information technology, operations, finance and facilities. A single career path will often encompass positions at many different departments. (For instance there are "level one" and "level two" accountants in departments all across the University.) The career paths will serve as "a guide for employees in terms of the skills that they need to progress in a career, and an idea of what skills the University values in those careers," explained Jim Traub, the project manager for the creation of the new system. Career paths mean "basing the system around people and where they're headed," he noted.

The career paths will guide the design of employee training and development programs, the posting of new jobs, performance planning and evaluation, and the new market- and performance-based compensation system.

The new employee performance evaluation system will take into account career development within a chosen career path, along with looking more broadly at goals and accomplishments and the characteristics that an employee brings to a job, such as strong teamwork. "We hope it gives more meaningful feedback to employees," said Carkeek. The current Employee Work Profile (EWP) "has become so bureaucratic that it's lost much of its meaning."

Classified staff will never be transferred into the new system without electing to do so, Carkeek pledged, but they will be given the option, at least once every two years, to opt in. The first such 90-day enrollment period is projected to be this fall, from Oct. 1 through Dec. 31. In the fall every employee will receive a comparison chart that will lay out one's individual position and where it fits within the classified staff system, along with where it would fit in the career paths of the new University staff system.  "Peer advisors" will be trained in the details of the two systems to answer questions of coworkers.

Those in the classified system can apply for positions listed in the new system, be hired for the new position and still opt to remain a classified employee. In that case, University Human Resources will have to reclassify the new position into the classified system.  Positions in the new system will offer market-based salaries, but those who opt to remain classified staff will be governed by the pay band regulations of the state's classified system.  Such issues, noted Carkeek, will create some confusion and complications, which will have to be resolved on a case by case basis.

The draft policy recommendations presented by Carkeek have been reviewed and approved by the project's advisory and executive steering committees, and will be presented to the Board of Visitors for approval at the June 2008 meeting (June 12-13).  The Board will also be asked to grant authority for approval of more detailed policies affecting University staff, consistent with the Board approved resolutions, be delegated to the president, the executive vice president and chief operating officer, and the executive vice president and provost.

Carkeek's presentation kicked off an open comment period that will extend through June 30.  Any material changes resulting from the open comment period will be brought back to the Board for approval.  

Employees may comment in two ways. They can read the proposals and fill out an online response form at www.hrs.virginia.edu/restructuring, or they can go to one of the following locations for a printed copy, which will include a response form:

    •    Alderman Library Reference Desk
    •    Facilities Management Lunch/Training Room (lower level, 575 Alderman Road)
    •    Newcomb Hall Information Desk
    •    Lobby opposite the Claude Moore Health Sciences Library
    •    University Human Resources Front Desk (Michie North, 914 Emmet Street)
    •    Parking and Transportation Reception Desk (1101 Millmont Street)
    •    Aquatic & Fitness Center Front Desk
    •    College at Wise Human Resources Office (Resource Center)

"We are building this from the ground up, based on the feedback we received from employees through the focus groups and the resulting survey, and from the task forces that worked so hard on this project since February," Carkeek said. "I hope that more folks will take the time to review these recommendations and give us their feedback. We want to design something that uniquely reflects the needs, issues and values of this University. U.Va. has reputation for providing a superior student experience, and we want to match that with a reputation as being a superior employer."

For more information, visit the University Human Resources Web site or e-mail HRrestructuring@virginia.edu.