Volume 13, Number 12 February 24, 2006

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Employee survey creates opportunity to build a better work environment

Associate Vice-President Human Resources Barb Daigle
Associate Vice-President Human Resources Barb Daigle

The results of last year's Employee Opinion Survey are in, showing 68% of  University employees feel they get a real sense of achievement from their work but also some areas where there is room for improvement.  The challenge now, according to Barb Daigle, associate vice-president of human resources, is to convert those results into an action plan to “close the gaps between the current work environment and where we want to be”.

Creating the kind of work environment defined in Renewing the Dream, one of the U of S strategic directions documents, is a shared responsibility,” said Daigle, “just as leadership is a shared responsibility.”  All employees are encouraged to review and respond to the results because “the most important thing now is to move to action, but HR (Human Resources) can't do that alone.  We have to find the solutions together and we need everyone to help generate and implement those solutions.”

Released in mid-February, the results of the first-ever survey reflect the responses of some 1,122 people who answered questions last spring about three key areas - equality and diversity, employee development and engagement, and alignment with University values.  The identity of respondents is confidential and “keeping that confidentiality is key to building an environment of trust for future surveys,” Daigle said.  Respondents were asked to identify their work unit with small units grouped together to avoid identifying individuals.  Employees also had the chance to self-identify by gender, minority group, Aboriginal people, people with disabilities, age and length of employment.

“We haven't made any effort yet to analyze the results,” Daigle said.  “We're simply giving people back what they gave us” and that included some surprises.  For Daigle, one was the lack of significant reaction to the value statements that employees were asked to comment on as they relate to their work units.  The nine value statements in the survey were drawn from various University documents and the survey was “the first time people would have seen these value statements explicitly addressed.

The need for consensus on values will be critical to evaluating the results and working on action plans, she said.  “It would be a very positive outcome if, in the next survey, those who 'agree' or 'strongly agree' with the value statement, 'We confront problems and issues openly and directly' exceed the 42 per cent who agreed or strongly agreed in this survey.”

Daigle stressed the process was not designed “to only focus on the positive” but to identify areas of concern or gaps.  She pointed to the 63 per cent who believe a more diverse workforce would benefit the University, “but when we hear from the targeted groups (women, visible minorities, Aboriginal people and persons with disabilities), their views are not necessarily reflected in the views of the general population.  There's a disconnect there.”  Then there are the 24 per cent of respondents who are not entirely sure what is expected of them at work, a number “I expected to be somewhat higher as I know role and job confusion occurs in varying degrees across the campus and leads to workplace conflict.

The survey results have already been conveyed to various leadership groups.  The role of HR now “is to broadly share the results and seek feedback, help our leaders at all levels understand the responses, work with units to develop actions to address the gaps, and to decide how HR's resources can be put to the best use.  HR can provide some central resources and support for addressing some of the gaps, but we have to work together with everyone in the community to really make a difference.  I'm hoping lots of people will get involved and provide their reaction and suggestions at feedback sessions, or by emailing or calling us.”

A significant benefit of gathering survey information is that it creates a benchmark to measure future progress.  Having made a commitment to keep the University community informed about developments, Daigle has also committed to doing an annual survey with the next one scheduled for May 2006.

Employees have the opportunity to speak to the results, and to help prioritize areas where action is needed through a series of open forums organized by HRD.  One objective of these forums is “to ask what each individual is prepared to do to improve the workplace,” said Daigle.  “Forums are scheduled for March 16 and April 13, at noon both days in Convocation Hall, and others will be added if there is a need.  We will also offer sessions in work units where we had enough responses to ensure confidentiality.”

“There are no quick fixes,” she said.  “Some issues aren't all that easy to address.  Making the necessary changes in the workplace feels like about a 10 year time line, but the biggest mistake we can make is to give up after a couple of years.  We've all seen surveys that just sort of disappear, and I don't want this to be one of them.”

Complete results of the 2005 Employee Opinion Survey can be found at www.usask.ca/hrd/survey

For more information, contact communications.office@usask.ca

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