February 12, 2012

After Survey, Administrators Say C.U. Staff May Be Overburdened

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After analyzing the results of the 2011 Cornell-wide employee survey, University administrators said that they are concerned that cuts are overburdening staff with increased workloads.

According to the survey, which was conducted by the Division of Planning and Budget, 23.5 percent of the 5,647 employees who responded said they either disagreed or strongly disagreed that they were compensated fairly for the work they do. Additionally, 25.8 percent of employees said they were either disagreed or strongly disagreed that workloads are fairly distributed in their units.

Mary Opperman, vice president of human resources, said she was “pleasantly surprised by the number of staff that consider Cornell [to be] a good place to work.” Still, she added, she “remained concerned by the number of staff who were dealing with increased workloads and who are feeling that, since the economic downturn, it’s gotten more difficult for them.”

Tanya Grove, chair of the Employee Assembly, attributed concerns over increased workload to the economic downturn in 2008, which led administrators to cut personnel and non-personnel staff.

Over the 2009 to 2010 fiscal year, the University cut 672 staff positions — approximately nine percent of the total 7,000 non-academic workers at Cornell, The Sun reported in February 2011.

“If you cut down from a staff of 10 to a staff of five and you are doing the same amount of work, the rest of the staff has to figure how to do it,” Grove said. “I think that we are just not at a point yet where we can work it out to make staff feel that their job is manageable.”

Though Grove said that the level of dissatisfaction had not necessarily risen among staff, she acknowledged that concerns about workload, job security and other issues were known to exist campus-wide even before the survey was conducted.

“We were hearing all sorts of issues from budget cuts in certain departments to the high price of gasoline,” Grove said.

University cuts have also increased pressure on staff, she said.

“Over the past couple of years, due to the economic downturn, the University has had to make cuts … so all of us are doing more work, doing more things and trying to support [staff] more,” Grove said. “It is not necessarily that this one issue happened and created dissatisfaction. It is a series of dominoes that have fallen that have created more work [with] less time.”

The University originally planned to administer the survey in 2008, but postponed doing so because administrators feared that results would be skewed by the economic downturn, according to Opperman.

“We were just about ready to do this in 2008 when the economic crisis hit,” Opperman said. “We pulled back from it because that it would be a very difficult time for the staff to respond, as everything was up in the air and they wouldn’t know what the future is going to hold.”

The survey helped the administration recognize what areas are important to employees and need improvement, according to Opperman. Staff expressed issues around administrators making University policies clear, as well as having “more of a voice in things that affect them,” she said.

Employees were primarily concerned with issues of fair compensation, workload, recent organizational changes and opportunities for promotion.

For instance, according to the survey, 38 percent of staff said they have not noticed “positive changes” for their department due to recent organizational changes and 31.5 percent were dissatisfied with their opportunities for promotion within Cornell.

Opperman said that administrators know that University employees want to know that their workloads are fair. In addition, administrators recognize that employees want pathways for growth and development. Still, she said, it will take time for the University to respond to the survey.

“We are just beginning. This is a piece of information that we are very grateful for, but it takes time to respond in a manner befitting the manner they responded to the survey,” Opperman said. “The staff was very thoughtful in how they put this in and we need to be equally thoughtful in the way we respond, react and act.”

Grove praised both the Employee Assembly and Skorton for “taking our request seriously,” expressing hopes that the University will continue to conduct employee surveys in the future.

“The biggest thing that came out of it was that it had a huge response rate, which was amazing. A 70 percent [response rate] really shows that the employees care and want things to change,” she said.

Opperman echoed Grove, saying she saw the employee responses as a “very positive sign.” She also said it is not realistic to expect all employees to be satisfied with their workplace.

“Anytime someone is concerned we need to pay attention to it, but anyone who has been in a large, complex organization can realize that one never has 100 percent of one’s employees happy at all times,” she said. “If that is what you strive for then you run the risk of making the wrong decisions.”

Original Author: Manu Rathore