University employment survey results spark questions

The results — released in November — from the University of Manitoba’s first employee experience survey have some union representatives asking what the university will do with them.

The survey was conducted in June 2011 as part of the Outstanding Workplace Initiative (OWI), a program that has existed for about a year.

“We want to learn what factors in the workplace are most important to employees and how they rate their experience with those elements,” said Rosalyn Howard, director of Learning and Development Services and leader of the OWI at the U of M.

Thirty per cent of university staff responded to the survey. Of those, 86 per cent said they were somewhat satisfied or very satisfied with their workplace experience.

Howard said most respondents indicated they are making an important contribution to society, have good pensions and benefits, and have appropriate flexibility in their work arrangements.

The results also show areas the university needs to improve on such as: cooperation among departments, leadership enhancement, professional and career development, and making sure all employees are treated respectfully.

Howard said they are currently framing university-wide plans to enhance leadership development initiatives, strengthen employees’ sense of inclusion and respect, and strengthen career and professional development.

Howard said the survey will be repeated every few years.

Cameron Morrill, president of the University of Manitoba’s Faculty Association (UMFA), said he thinks the survey is a good start but the university needs to do more with UMFA before useful improvements can come out of it.

Morrill said it is tough to tell if the percentage of people surveyed is representative of university employees. He said 30 per cent responding is not bad; but it was “disturbing” that only 1.5 per cent of part-time instructors participated.

Morrill said that UMFA has heard a lot about some of the areas that need improvement. He said the grievance work they do relates to equitable treatment of employees and leadership areas.

Another issue for faculty at the U of M is that they are underpaid relative to other medical and doctoral universities, he said.

“We think that the university can afford to pay us more. [ . . . ] I think the problem is the university has different priorities.”

Morrill said he thinks the university meeting with the unions is a good next step to make the U of M a better place to work.

Linda Guse, executive director of UMFA, said it is hard to know whether the survey will help improve the employee experience.

“It depends on what the next step is,” she said.

Matt McLean, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) 3909, said the survey results reflect what CUPE 3909 hears from their members.

According to McLean, the survey shows areas where part-time academics are less satisfied then the rest of the university population.

He said they feel less able to express themselves freely, have less access to learning and development resources, fewer opportunities for career advancement, and have “very little faith” in the university’s senior leadership.

McLean said the CUPE 3909 will begin talks with the university this semester and will bring up these issues at that time.

“The response we get from the university will show us how seriously they take the results of this survey,” he said.

Frank Wright, U of M chair of Canadian Auto Workers Union (CAW) Local 3007, wants to know how the university is going to address the areas that need improvement.

Wright said he believes the most important area to be worked on is respect in the workplace.

Wright said he does not think the survey alone will help the U of M improve working experience.

“You’ve got to have action with the words, right?” he said.

The University of British Columbia (UBC) performed their second workplace initiative survey in November. The first survey was done in 2009.

Alex Bayne, director of Human Resources Integrated Strategies at UBC, said UBC has made changes based on the 2009 survey results.

One area affected was the respectful work environment.

According to Bayne UBC has a respectful work environment statement and they “put resources behind [the statement] to support units that really wanted to work on being a respectful work environment.”

Bayne said UBC has worked so departments can access a fund to work with an external advisor to help ensure a respectful work environment and resolve disputes.

UBC has two programs centred around effective leadership and management practices. She said one is for academic leaders, like department heads, and focuses on how to lead people. The other is called “Managing at UBC” and has an online, workshop, and coaching component.