by Mike Perricone
High marks for job satisfaction, low marks for communication: an employee survey says Fermilab is doing well in some important areas but needs work in others.
"We can do better at communicating what we are doing, and at paying attention to the people who work here," said Fermilab Director Michael Witherell, discussing the results at the all-hands meetings of December 13-16.
"It is worth noting that these issues are common in large organizations," the director continued, "and not all problems can be resolved completely. At the same time, we can do better."
The employee opinion survey was conducted last June, after it was formulated by Chris Parker and Scott Young of Northern Illinois University. Nearly 1,000 of Fermilab's 2,100 employees completed the questionnaires, a response rate of 45 percent. The Lab Services Section coordinated the distribution and collection of the surveys at several locations throughout the site.
Witherell described some results as "remarkable."
"The statement, `Overall, I am proud of this Laboratory,' received agreement by 80 percent of the people who work here," he said. "And 72 percent agreed that ŽOverall, I am satisfied with my job.' Many organizations would give a lot to have their employees feel this way about the entire institution and about their role in it. I think this is the best message that came out of this survey. There's something that is very good about this Lab, and we want to make sure it stays that way."
Witherell said members of the Directorate had met with all the Lab's division and section heads to discuss the results, focusing on the lowest-rated items. They discussed which issues could be improved by specific action, which needed study to develop an appropriate response, and which did not yield a clear picture because of conflicting patterns of response.
"We also briefly discussed highest rated items, because we don't want to change things that we're doing well," Witherell said.
The most prominent problem area came in the category of "Procedural Justice." Employees were unclear about the processes and standards used in judging performance and determining salary, and felt they were unfair. Witherell said the Lab was already taking corrective steps.
"We are encouraging supervisors to do a better job of informing the people they supervise about how the salary and promotion process works," the director explained.
As part of the action plan, Director of Lab Services Kay Van Vreede is working with division and section heads to assemble focus groups in the six different job categories of the survey (administrative, computer science, engineers, scientists, technicians, crafts and skills).
"We need to ask more questions," Van Vreede said, "to learn their thoughts and their opinions on what some of the responses mean. We'll include that information in deciding the next steps we'll take."
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