For many us, just coming to work, working for 8 hours, and getting home takes a significant amount of the daily energy store we have to do our jobs. We focus on our interactions with our co-workers and other associates and do not realize the number of people and skills required to keep our University going. With all the legislative budget reductions (cuts) over the past decade, everyone has to make do with less, and get more done than ever before.
However, no matter how focused each of us is on our own jobs and workspaces, all of us need to regularly take time to introduce ourselves to others working on campus and get to know something about them. Just like our closest co-workers, these others are an important part of what it takes for us to get our jobs done.
Current corporate thinking about what it takes for an organization to succeed has moved from the notion of individual groups competing with each other, to the idea that sharing ideas, skills, and information across different units within an organization helps it to best meet the challenges of an increasingly complex and competitive world. Universities must meet the same kinds of challenges. By using a model emphasizing collaboration between all units on campus–what Chancellor Moeser has called “co-governance”–our customers (our students and the people of North Carolina) can be better served.
So what can we each do to promote this attitude of sharing and communication? I ask each of you, as you travel about campus, to reach out, introduce yourselves to several new people each week, and take time to learn what they do for the University. Talk about your experiences and ideas–especially your ideas for making UNC a better place to work and a better place to learn. As these ideas develop, send them to the UNC Employee Forum or enter them on the Forum’s website – http://forum.unc.edu/issueform.htm so that we can share them with others. The better we understand the ways in which each person has an important role in keeping our university running, the better our understanding and appreciation of our own role will be.
I know from personal experience that one segment of the UNC community most of us never come in contact with any more are all the folks who maintain this place for us. With a significant amount of the “maintenance services” scheduled outside of the 8 to 5 hours that most of the rest of us work, we do not have the opportunity to meet and get to know each other. I think we need to change that. Each of us–whether we are program managers, administrative assistants, financial specialists, or maintenance workers–needs to come in early or work late occasionally to be able to meet and get to know each other. We can do this if we come in one hour early or stay one hour late once a month and make the effort to talk–even if it is just to say “thanks!”
The more we understand and come to appreciate all the different kinds of work that UNC employees do, the better off each of us will be.
The Employee Forum heard a presentation from Roberta Massey concerning the site visit of housekeepers to the University of New Mexico and the University of Texas at Austin, to evaluate the team cleaning system in place there. Massey had a mixed report on the visit, noting the new equipment and extensive training associated with OS1. Massey said that at least one line housekeeper was in favor of the system but others seemed reluctant to comment or strongly against it. Most of the site visit, she said, was spent in conversation with upper level managers.
Student Action with Workers (SAWW) representatives Mike Hachey and Shaquita Caldwell made a presentation on team cleaning harshly critical of the concept and its implementation at UNC. They particularly criticized the over-standardization, loss of employee autonomy, disrespect and job loss that they thought characterized the system at the Universities of New Mexico and Texas. Their report recommend that employees from the pilot program have the chance to address the Forum, that the Forum adopt a resolution seeking greater employee involvement in the team cleaning decision making process, and that the University explore other options such as adopting only a portion of the OS1 program. Housekeeping Training Director and Forum delegate Frederick Moore had said earlier in the meeting that the OS1 program is designed to be implemented as a whole and not piecemeal.
The University Ombuds Office is a place where all Carolina staff, faculty, and administrators are welcome to talk in confidence about any workplace dispute or concern. In the 10 months since it opened its doors, the Office has been contacted for help with approximately 180 cases on campus.
Of those, about one-third have called for ombuds Wayne Blair and Laurie Mesibov to help by letting them ventilate and do some private reality testing.
“They have pretty much helped me hang on,” said one employee, Lucy (not her real name), who agreed to talk to InTouch. She contacted the Ombuds Office when she began having serious conflicts with her supervisor.
“There were days when I thought I couldn’t stand it any more, and I wanted to quit. And there were other days when I was afraid I’d get fired if I didn’t just shut up, roll over, and play dead. But no matter how afraid I was, I just couldn’t pretend that the problems weren’t really problems.
“I needed someone who understood what UNC is like, who understood what was at stake for me, and who could listen to me with sympathy, but still give me good advice—even if it wasn’t necessarily what I really wanted to hear at the time.
“I think they did that for me. After all, I’m still here. I wouldn’t say that the issues were resolved, necessarily, but I didn’t ask the ombuds to get involved and help resolve them. What they did is, they helped me understand everything better for myself and decide what I wanted and needed to do. And things are better now. They helped me hang on long enough to get to ‘better.’”
The Ombuds Office is founded on the principles of confidentiality, impartiality, informality, and independence. Blair stressed that they do not make decisions for anyone. Instead, they help each visitor evaluate his or her situation, identify options, and think through the likely consequences of any next step. Then, if the person wants to go forward, as about two-thirds of their cases do, the ombuds will help plan an approach tailored to the particular situation.
“If the employee wants,” said Blair, “we can try to help resolve conflicts by helping initiate and facilitate conversations between the people who are involved.”
Another person who has used the Ombuds Office is Bob (again, not his real name). “I met with Wayne and Laurie twice on my own, and once with several co-workers,” he said. “I found them both to be excellent listeners. I did not ask them to take any action on my own behalf, although they were helpful in helping me arrive at my own action plan.
“When we met as a group, Wayne agreed to initiate a conversation with our director to share our collective concerns. The director appreciated our involvement with the Ombuds Office and even encouraged our continued involvement.
“Did it work? Well, our director has subsequently evolved into slightly less of a pain, and that has given us all some relief. But things are not quite fixed yet, so we are proposing another meeting with the Ombuds. Wayne’s willingness to request a meeting with our director was, after all, only a first step.
“My other communication with Wayne concerned a co-worker’s fears in relation to law and safety. On this issue, Wayne was quite forceful in regard to the manager in question. This is one case where the customary confidentiality was overridden by safety concerns.”
In fact, concerns about personal safety are the only reason that an employee’s need for confidentiality might not be honored when he or she has contacted the Ombud’s Office. Outside of that, nothing is more important than confidentiality, which is the cornerstone of their work.
“What we provide that other offices cannot,” said Blair, “is complete confidentiality and, with that, safety—a safe place where workplace issues can be discussed privately.”
Employees can use a pseudonym when they call, do not have to reveal their department, and can ask to speak exclusively with one of the ombuds. For instance, Blair noted, sometimes a caller does not want to speak to a man, so the situation is handled by Laurie Mesibov. Neither ombuds keeps specific records about visitors and their issues. Both work with the entire campus community—staff, faculty, and administrators—not just one segment of it.
Blair says many of the people who contact the Ombuds Office report having problems with their supervisors. (Some are supervisors seeking guidance in dealing with an employee.) In some situations, however, as the ombuds and the visitor discuss the situation, it becomes apparent that the problem is not as much with the supervisor, as with policies that the supervisor may have little or no control over.
“We can and often do ask other offices on campus for clarification on policies and practices,” Blair said. “Very often. At first, they would want to know who was asking, what the context was. But we’d always say that due to confidentiality issues, we couldn’t give them names, couldn’t tell them very much about the circumstances in question, and couldn’t even tell them which department the question was coming out of. They’ve learned not to ask, now.”
Not only does the Ombuds Office handle interpersonal issues with strict confidentiality, they can also help employees who have concerns about potentially illegal activities on campus and want to become confidential whistleblowers.
“We have had employees call to talk about financial mismanagement,” Blair admitted. “But being told about financial abuses at the University does not give us the right to violate the confidentiality of the person who gave us that information. We can’t pass along the information without the permission of the person who gave it to us.
“On the other hand, if the person wants the matter brought to the proper authorities, we can help make that happen,” said Blair. “We can even take steps to protect the identity of the whistleblower.
“For example, quite some time ago an employee at another organization had quietly watched his boss embezzle money for years. This man began to get nervous when the amounts being stolen got higher and higher. He was afraid that if the missing money were ever discovered by someone else, he might be blamed, and he began to lose sleep at night worrying about the situation. This employee contacted our office to try to figure out what to do.
“It took some thought, because the boss had become quite adept at changing accounts on the spur of the moment, but we eventually came up with a plan for how to direct the internal auditors to the right place in the books. The boss was caught. The whistleblower’s identity was never revealed, and of course the assistance our office had provided was never acknowledged publicly, either. But the internal audit office and the organization came out of it looking very good because they had caught the embezzler. As far as we were concerned, it was a win-win situation.”
It’s this kind of personal touch that makes the Ombuds Office’s work so valuable. There are other ways that employees can try to address workplace issues or lawbreaking at the University, but these other ways lack the individualized, interactive, human touch of an ombuds. And sometimes that human touch can make all the difference in getting a situation resolved.
“People tend to be conflict-averse,” Blair said. “They hate to be in unpleasant situations. But it’s human nature for people to have conflicts with each other from time to time.”
The job for him and Mesibov, he said, is to help people engage with the inevitable disagreements in productive ways. They do this by being a sounding board for employees with workplace problems, helping them get better information about University policies and procedures, initiating conversations to try to resolve situations off the record, mediating difficult conversations, and helping employees prepare to handle their own difficult conversations. And in worst-case scenarios, they can be the human link that helps bring wrong-doers to justice.
They also welcome having a chance to talk about other things with employees—for instance, how to deal with an employment transition like a resignation or promotion, or suggestions on how to improve the workplace at Carolina. They also enjoy having a chance to meet with groups of employees around campus to discuss how the Office functions and to field questions that members of the staff, faculty, or administration may have about the services they provide.
Blair and Mesibov are ready to meet employees at any time (their earliest appointment so far has been 6:00 a.m.) or at any place that the employee feels is safe and convenient. Consultations can be considered work time provided that the employee informs his or her supervisor of the appointment in advance.
In November 2005 UNC-CH began providing a Compliance Line for confidential reporting of ethics, regulatory or legal compliance concerns about financial, research, HIPAA or environment, health and safety issues. Compliance Line is not for emergency use or for personnel matters or student affairs issues. The University will evaluate its experience with the Compliance Line over time to determine its potential usefulness for additional topics.
Compliance Line is an additional or alternative option for employees –it is not intended to replace existing channels of communication ( for example, those described in this issue of In Touch ). The compliance reporting service is provided by EthicsPoint, a vendor based in Portland, Oregon . Reports can be filed anonymously, and all will be confidential and secure . Compliance Line information will not be maintained on campus systems.
For any questions about Compliance Line see the FAQ’s at http://www.unc.edu/depts/legal/faq.html or call the Office of University Counsel at 962-1219.
Compliance Line is available online at http://www.ethicspoint.com or toll free at 866.294.8688.
Visitors or callers can file or review a report or learn more about the company.
Ever have a problem at work and you don’t know what to do next? In addition to options such as the Ombudsperson, UNC-CH employees can contact Training & Development. T&D offers consulting, training and coaching. Consulting means programs designed for work groups, whereas individuals from across campus attend training together regardless of where they work. Coaching helps people focus on where they are today, where they want to go and what they need to get there. Coaching is present-focused and future-focused.
For an employee experiencing a problem at work, perhaps with a supervisor or a co-worker, coaching might be a good option, especially if discussing it with the involved parties proves too difficult. When they receive a coaching request, T&D asks some questions to help narrow the issues and then gets the employee to submit a coaching request form. Coaching helps the individual define the issues, see his or her own contribution to the problem and options for proceeding toward the goal (the ‘where they want to go’ mentioned above).
There are a number of training classes about communication, transformative conversations, interaction management and mediation, to name a few. Go to https://www-s3.ais.unc.edu/TrainDev/ to see the catalog and to register online for training classes. The T&D phone number is 962-2550.
For individuals, coaching and training can help provide the tools and focus needed to define issues and determine how to proceed. For work groups, consultation can provide the same.
UNC is participating in Recyclemania for the first time this year. It started in February 2001, with Miami University (Ohio) and Ohio University competing against each other. The two universities wanted a way to promote awareness and increase recycling rates at their schools. Each year, participation has increased, with this year being the highest at 91 schools (only 47 schools participated last year). Three universities participating are in the ACC, Duke, Boston College and Carolina.
In 2004, Recyclemania collaborated with the Environmental Protection Agency’s Waste Wise Program to improve the competition through technical support, a webpage and electronic reporting. It has also received the National Recycling Coalition’s Outstanding Recycling Award.
There are two types of competition this year, but UNC is competing in the per capita contest. Each university is competing to see who can recycle the most per capita. The goals are to have a friendly recycling competition, increase recycling on campus, raise awareness, reduce overall waste, and expand to other campuses.
Questions? Please visit http://www.recyclemaniacs.org/index.htm or http://www.fac.unc.edu/WasteReduction/recyclemanianewsletter.pdf
Editor’s note: The Recyclemania competition runs through April 8. Find out how you can get onboard.
For more information contact:
Amy Preble 962-1442
Jennifer Maxwell 962-5169
Alaina Rogers 843-9879