Staff Survey Yields Suite of Actions for Improving Workplace

Calling employee pay a "pressing issue" after nearly four years without a state-funded increase, a University of Virginia employee committee charged with following up on a 2011 staff survey asked the University administration to seek additional salary support from University resources.

The final report of the Staff Survey Advisory Committee, falls short of recommending a University-funded, across-the-board salary increase, instead seeking local funds to address some salary issues, similar to the recent strategic increases for the lowest-paid employees.

The report also called for looking into ways to loosen restrictions on mid-year salary increases for classified staff, such as so-called "in-band adjustments," and suggests looking into making better use of reward and recognition programs.

In addition, the report suggests that University Human Resources expand its communications about the total value of U.Va.'s benefits package, including the costs of benefits such as health insurance, the education subsidy and employee discounts.

After combing through about 3,000 survey responses and 850 pages of comments, the committee, made up of 18 classified and University staff from across Grounds, identified the top four action items for improvements in the areas of pay, promotional opportunities and performance evaluation, known as "the three Ps." It forwarded its recommendations to President Teresa A. Sullivan.

In the area of promotion, the report notes that when the University switched to a new University Staff HR Plan in 2006, it created a new structure of career paths. The committee recommends that more work be done on that system to consolidate job titles and market ranges for salaries. The career path project should also provide more opportunities for promotions-in-place, as well as networking across Grounds, the report recommends.

The report concludes that a performance evaluation system introduced in 2009, Lead@UVa, needs more work, describing it as too time-consuming and complicated. It doesn't seem to have promoted career development or more appreciation from supervisors, the report says, while the employee goal-writing process should be simplified and better aligned with organizational goals.

The committee also recommends more supervisor training to develop consistency in managing staff. Requirements could include completing basic training on supervision and HR systems, and possibly a manager certification program, the report says.

"Realistically, it is not possible for the University's administration to implement every proposed solution or recommendation," the report concludes. "Whichever recommendations are implemented, the committee feels it will be a multi-year effort, and that metrics should be created to allow success to be measured over time.

"The committee remains committed to joining together with the administration to continue to make U.Va. a great place to work."

Susan Carkeek, vice president and chief human resources officer, said, "I appreciate the hard work on the part of the committee members over the last year, and the thoughtfulness of their recommendations. There was a lot to consider, and while we can't do it all in the first year, we will work to identify resources to move forward as many initiatives as we can, as well as planning to incorporate more into our work in future years."

With the input of hundreds of employees, the U.Va. Center for Survey Research developed and administered the survey of Academic Division employees in 2011 at Sullivan's request in her first year of office. The results were discussed at a town hall meeting last year.

As the committee members reviewed the survey results, several recurring themes emerged, according to its committee's report. "Woven throughout was the idea of pay for performance, optimizing the use of technology and the connection between individual employee success and organizational success," the report says.

Committee member Harland Harris, associate director of major events, said serving on the committee was "a great experience."

"The opportunity to collaborate with staff colleagues from across Grounds and provide input on the development of the survey, the analysis of the results, along with the committee's work toward developing recommendations to address areas of concern identified in the survey, has been very rewarding," he said.

— by Anne Bromley