'Town-Hall' Meetings Share Human Resources Survey Results/Survey Finds Strong Employee Loyalty, Frustrations with Compensation System

Oct. 1, 2007 -- According to results of a recently completed Human Resources survey presented last week at three town-hall style meetings, 88.5 percent of employees rate the University as an excellent, very good or good place to work and 79 percent would recommend the University to friends and family as a place to work. While two-thirds of the 2,704 employees who responded to the survey had a positive overall opinion of the current HR system, only 46.1 percent of staff rated the compensation system favorably, a rating that Susan Carkeek, vice president and chief human resources officer, called "pretty mediocre" during the first meeting on Sept. 26.

The survey was commissioned to incorporate employee input in the creation of a new human resources system, projected to roll out next summer or fall, said Carkeek. The survey found that employees are most dissatisfied with pay not reflecting performance and the current three-rating performance evaluation system. Improving the link between pay and performance is the improvement most desired by employees. In response, Carkeek said that in order for a performance-based pay system to work, "we need to base it on a strong performance evaluation system."

The 2005 passage of higher education restructuring legislation gave the University the autonomy to create its own human resources system. Restructuring is enabling U.Va. to retain a competitive edge by insuring that University departments and schools can depend on reliable revenue streams, competent management and a lack of overly burdening bureaucracy, said Leonard Sandridge, executive vice president and chief operating officer for the University, who opened the meeting for Carkeek. The restructuring process will take about another year to be fully implemented, said Sandridge.

Employees hired before July 1, 2006 will have a choice, at least once every two years, of retaining their status as state classified employees or becoming "University staff," beginning with a three-month enrollment period in the summer or fall of 2008, said Carkeek. (Those hired after July 1, 2006 are already University staff, and will remain so.)

Employees don't yet have information to help make that decision because the policies that will differentiate University staff from state classified staff have not yet been created, she said. By April, various task forces will develop recommended changes. Once the design of the new system is complete, UHR will educate staff about the policy differences to inform their decision-making.

Carkeek assured employees that retirement and health care benefits would not change under the new system and that those who are unsure whether to opt into the new system can remain as state classified employees and will have another chance to opt in at least once every two years. Employees who retain the classified staff designation will be able take new jobs within the University system without losing that status.

The new University employee system will likely continue to evolve after it is rolled out, Carkeek said, just as the state classified employee system has undergone changes over the years.

The survey was sent via email or paper questionnaires to all staff and their staff and faculty supervisors (5,662 employees) in May 2007. Administered by U.Va.’s Center for Survey Research, the survey yielded a 49 percent response rate, or 2704 replies. Those respondents also submitted more than 6,600 comments, which are available online at www.hrs.virginia.edu/restructuring/ (and fill over 400 pages if printed out). The survey questions were chosen based on both the input of employee focus groups convened in October 2006 and by considering what portions of the human resources system could be altered under the restructuring legislation, explained Carkeek.

Pay not reflecting performance was the greatest source of dissatisfaction. While 90 percent of employees agreed that they wanted to work where pay increases are based on performance (the highest consensus of any question in the survey), nearly half (45.5 percent) of respondents did not feel that their pay had increased in line with increased job responsibilities, and 57.6 percent thought the current system for determining staff pay was ineffective. Just over 71 percent felt they needed to change jobs in order to receive a "meaningful pay increase," and the open-ended comments revealed major concerns about the 10 percent and 15 percent maximum salary increases available when changing jobs, Carkeek said. She agreed that pay for a job should not be capped at a fixed percentage of an employee’s previous wage.

Two-thirds of employees (67 percent) felt University pay levels were not on par with similar jobs outside of the University, which Carkeek characterized as a clear desire by employees to have salaries that are more market-based than at present.

Less than half (45.6 percent) of respondents were satisfied with the current performance evaluation system. Many employees commented that the current three-point rating system — which labels each employee as an "extraordinary contributor," "contributor" or "below contributor" — is not a useful way to motivate employees toward excellence, said Carkeek.

Employees also found fault with skill-building and career advancement possibilities. While nearly 90 percent of staff said they knew what was expected in their job, only 48.8 percent thought the current performance planning and evaluation program helps them identify skills needed to be effective in their current job, and only 40.6 thought the system helped identify skills needed to advance.

Employees were extremely satisfied with the University's leave system, with more than 90.3 percent rating the state’s leave benefits as excellent, very good or good. "In general, this data tells us that you're pretty satisfied with the current leave system," said Carkeek.

The most common message in the survey’s open-ended comments, said Carkeek, reflected frustrations with parking issues, an area that UHR has no purview over. However, those comments were shared with Parking and Transportation, Carkeek said.

There were also many complaints about the old paper-based hiring process (the survey was sent out prior to the inception of Jobs@UVa) and poor customer service from UHR. In response to the latter, Carkeek said, “these are things that we can change. We can answer our phones, we can answer our emails. All of us in HR are committed to making dramatic improvements in the quality of customer service.  We fully intend to exceed our customers’ expectations.”    

During the open-mic portion of the first town hall program, two questioners from the audience of more than 100 gathered in Newcomb Hall suggested that employee evaluations should include ratings from peers or those served by an employee, in addition to his or her supervisor's opinion. Another employee expressed frustration with her full year of work being judged solely by her direct supervisor when she (the supervisor) was “having a bad day."

At the third town hall session, held in the Facilities Lunchroom, one attendee asked if managers would be given enough money in their budgets to be able to increase pay to more competitive market levels. Carkeek responded that public employees must understand that there will continue to be good years and bad years, and that salary costs are the largest share of the University’s budget. She noted that through restructuring, the University was better able to control its money and realize a better return on it, which may help ease some of the lean times.

While there were complaints and questions about all annual evaluations being done at the same time of year, Carkeek said there are pros and cons of any system of timing evaluations. An advantage of doing them all at the same time, Carkeek said, was that the supervisor evaluates “everybody in the same time frame and in the same mood.” She feared some of the consistency would be lost if the process was to be spread throughout the year.

With the survey results and employee comments in hand, an advisory committee, task forces and an executive steering committee will begin designing the new HR system.

"We're trying to do what we promised — a new HR system that meets your needs," Sandridge said in opening the town hall meetings. "It is my hope that we can achieve what I have said from the beginning is my own personal goal — that we be clearly a place of preference for employment in Central Virginia. There's no reason we can't do that. Candidly, unless we achieve that, we have not done the job for you, and for this University, that we ought to."