An open letter to the Governor of North Carolina and members of the North Carolina General Assembly:
My name is Ernie Patterson. I am the chair of the UNC-Chapel Hill Employee Forum, which represents the more than 7500 SPA and EPA-Non- Faculty employees who work at our University. I am writing to ask that as you begin the budget process, you remember that the people who serve the state of North Carolina as employees are the fibers and stitches in the coat of many colors that represents all the good that state government is doing for our citizens. Without hard work by its employees, state government would be unable to serve its purpose. When you sit down to consider our State’s budget for next year, place the employees who make it all possible high on your list of priorities. The Employee Forum at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill would like to draw your attention to several important ways that you can do so.
First, it is time for a fair and adequate pay raise for State employees. Since 2000, they have received less-than-adequate increases in compensation. Between 2000 and 2005, inflation reduced their take-home pay by at least 5%.
In its April meeting, the Employee Forum at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill passed a resolution asking for a minimum pay raise of $3,500 or 5%, whichever is greater. This increase will help employees pay for increased costs for transportation, heating and cooling, food, and other necessary living expenses. Given that State employees have lost buying power since 2000, the pay raise we request would not actually mean a significant increase in pay–it would only mean that employees would be able to recover some of the ground lost over the past five years.
It is time that each of us looks beyond partisan politics and acknowledges all the good that the people of North Carolina receive from the work done by their employees. It is time that employees are no longer considered last in the budget process, but at the beginning.
Second, the Forum has gone on record as supporting a “living wage” for all North Carolinians and would support legislation to increase the State’s minimum wage as a first step towards that goal.
Third, at the same time that we are aware of the ways in which the State has not addressed employee needs adequately in the past, we are mindful of what has been accomplished. In particular, we want to express appreciation for the work done by the North Carolina State Health plan to provide more options for health care. We know that the Plan’s staff has worked hard and done the best they can. However, these reforms cannot succeed without legislative support for their efforts. The new PPO plans still represent a significant cost for individuals who need to cover their families, especially if they earn at or below the average salary for State workers. We would like to see you pass legislation that will help those families by funding some of the cost of coverage, especially for children.
Fourth, as those of us who work for the State look to our future, all of us are entitled to know that our retirement system is adequately funded and that retirees can be assured of not sinking into poverty as they age. To do this will require a funding level that can guarantee regular cost-of-living raises as part of retiree compensation.
Finally, we would like to ask that you expand the opportunities for State employees to help others. One simple way to do this would be to increase to five the number of days allowed for community service and to allow the governor to authorize up to five more days in years when there is greater-than-normal need because of natural or man-made disasters.
Delegates of the Employee Forum, the staff we represent, and our colleagues in State jobs throughout North Carolina will be focusing a great deal of our attention on the activities of the Legislature this year. We look forward to knowing that we have your support, just as we have given you ours. If we can help you as you take all of these issues under consideration, please let us know.
The Employee Forum approved two resolutions at its April 5 meeting. The first, concerning salary increases for state employees, called for a flat $3500 raise or a 5% raise for all State Employees, whichever is greater. Delegates were optimistic that State Employees would receive a sizable wage this year, which they hoped would make up for shortfalls from previous years. There was some debate as to whether to recommend only a flat raise for all employees, but the argument for a mixed increase to benefit all compensation levels overcame a late challenge. The resolution is on-line at http://forum.unc.edu/resolutions/2006/res0601final.htm
The Forum also passed a resolution concerning flexible work time options. That resolution calls on the Chancellor and the Office of Human Resources to inform and include members of the Employee Forum at all stages of the telecommuting policy development and implementation process; strive to increase the awareness among managers and employees of the need for flex time work options; improve understanding among managers and employees on how to use flex time options effectively; provide training on this issue for supervisors and managers; to provide information sessions for employees; and to create a web site with helpful hints on creating and managing flexible work options.
It was noted that last year, the Chancellor and the State Legislature have advocated expansion of flexible work time and telework options to alleviate the impact of the recent gas price crisis. The text of the resolution is available at http://forum.unc.edu/resolutions/2006/res0602final.htm
Board of Trustees chair Nelson Schwab visited the Employee Forum at its April meeting, stating his appreciation for the efforts of staff employees and emphasizing the importance of communication. He said that understanding had greatly improved since the Forum Chair had assumed an informal role with the Board of Trustees Audit and Finance committee.
Schwab asked the Forum to prioritize the issues that it brought to the Board of Trustees. He said that the Board usually addresses only the broadest issues that strategically impact the entire University. Its various subcommittees and the University administration typically address narrower concerns. He said that the Forum must explain fully why it considers an issue to be its number one priority. He said Chair Ernie Patterson could be an advocate for coordinating issue with Carol Mason, the chair of the Audit and Finance committee.
Schwab looked forward to the new opportunities that will arise with Erskine Bowles’ appointment as UNC System President. He said that the Forum can play a crucial role in changing the perception of issues and bringing concerns to the forefront of decisionmakers’ thinking. Chairman Schwab also expressed his admiration for the manner in which the Forum conducted our deliberations on the pay resolution.
Visit the UNC-CH Human Resources web site for information on health insurance options:
There you’ll find information about:
· Six information sessions scheduled across campus during April and early May 2006
· Links to the State Health Plan’s Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) options online
· A comparison of PPO options and current health insurance plan.
This site will be updated and expanded. Keep checking back for additional information.
If you have questions regarding health insurance options, contact the State Health Plan’s customer service group at 800-422-4658.
If you have questions about the information sessions, contact your HR Generalist. To determine who your generalist is, go to: http://hr.unc.edu/departments/hrfinfo/hrf-lists .
The North Carolina State Health Plan announced that a new Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) will be available as a health insurance choice for state employees effective October 1, 2006.
Features of the State Health Plan’s new PPO include:
· Network availability in all 100 North Carolina counties
· No deductibles or co-insurance for physician visits; only co-pays
· Reduced premiums for dependent coverage
· A new Employee-Spouse tier, in addition to existing tiers
For additional information follow these links:
The Office of State Personnel OSP announced that salary range maximums for all SPA classifications (excluding banded classifications) were increased by 5 percent effective April 1, 2006. The increase in the salary range maximums is a result of a labor market analysis by OSP, which revealed that the pay range maximums trailed the equivalent labor market by as much as 5 percent.
Departments who have employees currently being paid at the maximum of the range now have the flexibility to award increases up to the new maximum if they so choose. Increases may be processed using the in-range salary adjustment program. It is the department’s responsibility to ensure that the funding is available for any increases, and that all of the normal eligibility requirements for increases are met. As always, it is also the department’s responsibility to maintain internal pay equity when making compensation decisions.
The new salary schedule is available at
For information on in-range salary adjustments, please visit the following website:
Working from home is not just for stay-at-home parents and independent contractors any more. With the advent of the computer age and the wealth of hi-tech gadgets that help us stay connected and informed, more and more people are going to work riding on a stream of electrons and a mouse rather than a tank of gas and four tires.
Telecommuting, or teleworking, appears to be the wave of the future for tech-savvy employers. Some companies have already caught that wave. At IBM, around 40 to 50 percent of its U.S. employees work every day out of “non-traditional” offices that include their homes, according to Todd Martin of IBM’s Corporate Communications Department. In fact, teleworking has helped the company earn an award from the Environmental Protection Agency (for the second consecutive year) for being one of the Top 20 Best Workplaces for Commuters.
The question in some peoples’ minds is to what extent UNC-Chapel Hill is willing and able to join the ranks of those twenty best. While the University has been recognized for its attempts to reduce the use of single-occupancy vehicles by promoting mass transit options, it remains very institutionally cautious about the use of no-transit options such as teleworking. Consider this:
- The campus prides itself on being a tech-savvy campus and is publicly committed to “the strategic use of technology” in its effort to become the leading public university in this country ( http://its.unc.edu/ ).
- Yet some of the flexible work options made possible by the technological age are not being utilized very often. The Chancellor’s Task Force for a Better Workplace reported that 66% of the staff who responded to a survey identified greater availability of work-at-home options as one of the more important ways that the work environment at UNC could be improved. (See the Report of the Task Force at http://hr.unc.edu/specialprograms/betterworkplace/taskforce.pdf .)
- The Office of State Personnel, Chancellor James Moeser, Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Robert Shelton, and Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration Nancy Suttenfield have stated their support for flexible work schedules, specifically including teleworking options.
- Yet according to the Chancellor’s Task Force Report, many supervisors at UNC are reluctant to allow employees to telecommute.
“I was only allowed to telework once last fall after Hurricane Katrina hit and the gas prices went sky high,” said Lee (a pseudonym), who is an employee in the School of Medicine. “Then my supervisor said I couldn’t do it any more. I’m not sure why.”
“Two of us got to telework for only two days last fall,” reported another employee we’ll call Gail, who works in an unnamed department. “Since a lot of what we do is through email, anyway, and we very seldom need to be on campus, it made sense to try it when Chancellor Moeser sent his memo last September encouraging employees to try to cut their fuel consumption and commuting costs by using alternatives like teleworking. It worked out really well in our case. Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to continue. Our supervisor said it would set a precedent.”
That precedent, however, has already been set for UNC as a whole. For two years, roughly 100 ITS employees enjoyed teleworking privileges while the ITS office space at 440 Franklin was being renovated. During those two years, this band of telecommuters worked from home under the provisions of a comprehensive, 30-page policy that it had taken a team of IT staff and administrators nearly a year to research and formulate. The final document, which all teleworking employees in ITS were required to sign, addressed important issues associated with teleworking such as how to do a job analysis for each position, work schedules, legal issues, equipment and home space requirements, and performance measurement.
On January 1st this year, these telecommuting pioneers joined the ranks of people like Lee and Gail when their regular teleworking privileges were terminated by the Vice Chancellor of Information Technology. As UNC tries to frame what many hope will be a visionary, pro-active, and equally comprehensive teleworking policy for the entire University, some of the issues at stake in the construction of such a policy, as well as the successes and failures of the ITS pioneers, are worth examining.
Creating a Viable Teleworking Policy
“I initiated the formulation of a teleworking policy because I believe in it, especially for a technologically-based organization,” said Joel Dunn, former Acting Assistant Vice Chancellor for Enterprise Applications in ITS, who initiated the development of the division’s teleworking policy.
“I had seen us lose good employees because we didn’t have a policy that would allow them to telecommute. When the renovation of our offices at 440 Franklin Street caused us to lose office space and we couldn’t find any swing space, I realized that it was time to get serious about teleworking.”
The point of formulating such a lengthy policy, he explained, was to provide a carefully considered, rational framework for deciding who can and cannot telecommute, and how they would do so—something that would go beyond informal, ad hoc say-so by managers.
“I wanted to get around any managerial bias that might exist against teleworking,” said Dunn, “and I wanted to make implementation of the policy fair and consistent for all people in all positions that lend themselves to teleworking.”
“I also thought,” he admitted, “that our experience with developing and implementing a teleworking policy could be instructive for the rest of the University. Teleworking is the trend in employment practices—an ‘any time, any place’ workforce. It’s increasingly common in the private sector, and it’s actually mandated for some federal government positions. Sooner or later, if the University is going to remain competitive, it’s going to have to have a rational, effective teleworking policy that everyone can use.”
Dunn, who recently ended his 20-plus year career with the University to take a position in the RTP, said that the actual implementation of the policy in ITS, both its successes and its problems, “pretty much met my expectations.”
“I saw it as a chance to show how to manage teleworking so that it would be a boon to the department as well as to the employee. The best thing about it was that it helped people do a good job for the University and at the same time better meet their own life commitments. It was also more environmentally sound than asking everyone to commute in every day.”
Dunn’s opinions are echoed by many of the ITS employees who have lost their telecommuting privileges.
“It’s been very discouraging,” reported one ITS employee, who asked only to be identified as Isaac (not his real name). “We had thought that we were a positive example to the rest of the University for how teleworking should be done. We were kind of proud about being the standard-bearers for a work management idea that is very popular. But instead we got shut down. Morale and productivity are way down, and resumes, especially among younger employees, are just flying out of here.”
Other University employees are less upset with the reining-in at ITS. “I had trouble getting people when I needed help, sometimes,” said Gloria (not her real name). “You’d have to call around to try to find someone who could come and fix things for you, and meanwhile work in your office was at a standstill because of computer problems. I’m sorry that everyone is so unhappy, but I hope that not having so many telecommuters in ITS will help us get faster service when we need it.”
“There were problems,” admitted another employee in the IT field. “Some people abused the privilege.”
“If there were abuses,” said Isaac, “management could and should have taken care of those cases rather than penalizing all ITS employees for the poor judgment of a few.”
Building Collaboration Face-to-Face
Abuses do not appear to have been the main concern at ITS that led to the cancellation of regular teleworking privileges.
“I wasn’t employed by ITS when the teleworking policy there was created,” said John Gallagher, Associate Vice Chancellor for Financial Planning and Human Resources in ITS. “As I understand it, the policy was created because of the lack of office space at 440 Franklin Street during building renovations.
“But as of November last year, the building was back in full operation, we had plenty of workspace once again, and the policy wasn’t needed. So upper-level management made the decision to end the telecommuting policy in order to promote collaboration between our employees and provide improved service to our customers. In addition, after the renovation, ITS Franklin is now an excellent place to work.
“Having people back in the office together has some advantages that no amount of technology can make up for,” he continued.
“First we want to improve the level of service to our customers. You always have to make sure that your work arrangements don’t adversely impact your customers.
“Second, it helps build teamwork and collaboration between employees. There’s nothing like co-locating people to get them to communicate better and work more efficiently. There is just no substitute for face-to-face meetings. Even at the office watercooler, there’s an exchange of ideas and information that is valuable and that can’t occur when employees work in isolation from one another. Teamwork and collaboration are hard to build when everyone is working at home.”
Gallagher wouldn’t speculate about the future of teleworking at UNC. “It depends. There are a lot of unknowns. For instance, changes in technology and what it can do, changes in customers and what they need, and changes in the over-all way organizations do business. All of these will shape whatever lies in our future.”
One office that has some idea of what lies in our future is the Office of Human Resources.
To Support the University’s Mission and Enhance Productivity
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, gas shortages, and the sharp increase in gas prices last fall, Chancellor James Moeser issued a call for all University departments to curtail use of state vehicles in order to help the University cope with the fuel crisis. At the same time, he recognized the financial impact that this crisis was having on employees and urged them to use mass transit, as well as urging supervisors to allow flexible work schedules and telecommuting whenever possible.
As part of its response to the Chancellor’s message, the Office of Human Resources began drafting a more formal teleworking policy for the University, and on the afternoon of February 24th, Chris Chiron, Policy Administrator in HR, convened a focus group of University supervisors, including two Employee Forum members, to review the four-page document. The resulting policy will be sent to the Chancellor’s office for review and approval, which is expected later this spring.
“The purpose of the proposed teleworking policy,” said Chiron, “is to allow SPA employees to work at locations other than their offices. Enacting it will help ensure that the University remains competitive with other employers, create more flexibility in addressing employee work/life and commuting needs, and help meet the University’s environmental and budgetary challenges of the future.
“The focus group discussed the proposed policy in terms of its readability and clarity, noting questions supervisory and non-supervisory personnel might have about its implementation,” he said. “The heart of the discussion focused on the University’s obligation in funding and supplying communications and office resources while also meeting safety and data security requirements.
“Though teleworking can provide some advantages to employees and departments, a teleworking arrangement is not as simple as ‘I want to work from home.’ For example, the University is required to adhere to federal and state wage-hour policies, and managers have to be able to account for the work time of their employees. We’re also responsible for the safety of the work environment.
“There’s also the issue of cost to the department. If an employee is required to telecommute, there may be additional costs to the department. If it can’t afford those costs, teleworking is not a good option. Similarly, if an employee asks to telework but cannot afford the costs involved in such an arrangement, the department may not be able to accommodate a teleworking request.
“It’s important to remember that teleworking is a management option, not an employee entitlement. Its use is based on the work needs of the department or unit, the managerial style of the supervisor, the work style of the employee, the nature of the work to be done, and the financial and spatial resources of the department. Employees are encouraged to talk with their supervisors about the possible benefits of flexible work arrangements in their positions.”
Although no further focus groups are planned, Chiron said that employees are welcome to send their ideas about teleworking to him at Chiron@unc.edu (CB# 1045). After the teleworking policy has been approved by the Chancellor, Human Resources is planning to hold a series of informational sessions that will help supervisors and staff better understand the use of all types of flexible work arrangements, including teleworking.
“We attempt to make policies as University-friendly as possible,” he said, “given federal and state employment requirements. In fact, we encourage all department management throughout the University to look at all possible flexible work arrangements for its staff.
“In the end, however, in order for the teleworking arrangement to be viable, it must sustain or enhance employee, managerial, and work unit productivity and support the University’s mission.”
Teleworking as a “Green” Strategy
One of the University’s missions that teleworking can materially advance is its commitment to reducing its ecological impact. Adopting a teleworking policy that provides rational guidelines for the practice and then actively supporting its implementation would contribute to that mission.
“We did not participate in drafting the proposed UNC teleworking policy, nor were we invited to participate in the focus group that reviewed it in February,” said Susannah Lach, a research assistant in the Sustainability Office at UNC. “I wish we had been, though, because there are some very important perspectives and information we could have contributed to both the practical and the theoretical aspects of developing such a policy.
“Teleworking could be an important tool for UNC to use more often because it would make a positive impact on our transportation needs, our land use, and the quality of employees’ work experience. The first two of these relate directly to our campus’ commitment to helping Chapel Hill reduce carbon emissions in our area by 60% by the year 2050.
“As the town’s largest employer, UNC bears a huge responsibility to help its 11,000 employees and 27,000 students get to and from campus every day in an environmentally friendly way. Promoting various forms of mass transit is one option, and we’ve done very well in doing that. But for a variety of reasons, mass transit is not something that works for everyone, and it still produces carbon emissions. Teleworking is an option that produces no carbon emissions.
“There are also potential indirect environmental benefits of teleworking. If more of our workforce was based off-campus and required less office space for their everyday use, it would mean we would have to build fewer buildings, thus reducing energy consumption for heating and cooling, as well as helping us to preserve our greenspace.
“Finally, teleworking can be a smart option from the point of view of worker productivity. In addition to helping employees manage their work/life issues more easily, which improves morale, teleworking improves productivity by enabling more employees to work in an office with a window. Studies have shown that worker productivity improves in quantifiable ways in places where there is good natural lighting rather than artificial lighting (see http://www.energy.unr.edu/lighting/publications/Daylighting.pdf ).
“Natural sunlight is now recognized to be so important to employee health and productivity that the recent addition to Carrington Hall in the School of Nursing was specially designed to allow natural light in every office. In many offices on campus, however, there is only artificial lighting. It’s not like that in employees’ homes, where most rooms have at least one window. So teleworking could be a way to support worker productivity without a lot of cost to the University.
“We have to be willing to think futuristically in order to reduce UNC’s environmental footprint. For instance, in the future, we will not need as much classroom space as our increasing enrollments might suggest we will, because more and more classes will telemeet rather than meeting in buildings. The same thing can apply to those people at UNC whose positions would adapt well to telecommuting. But it will require a cultural shift—a change in the way we think about doing work.”
Making the Change
“I was one of the last people in my department to leave the office and start teleworking,” said Ruth, an employee of a company based in the RTP who works out of her home in Pittsboro. “I can’t believe now that I held out for so long. I’m much more productive than I was before—probably because I know that this is an employment benefit, not a right, and I want to be sure not to take advantage of it, so I work harder now than I ever did.
“Still, in some ways it’s easier now than it was before, too. I have more time and energy to spend on my work and my family, because I’m not spending as much time commuting. I get started working earlier every day, and often when my husband comes home for supper he finds me still at the computer. Sometimes that’s because I just get wrapped up in my work. Sometimes it’s because I’ve taken a break during the day and gone out to run a few errands or have lunch with a friend, so I work later to make up the time. Another advantage is that when I started telecommuting, I got an immediate raise because I wasn’t paying for gas and I didn’t need as many nice work clothes.
“There is a downside, though,” she admitted. “It can be challenging to be alone all the time, without the pleasant diversion of co-workers. So it’s important to find ways to stay connected with your management and with your team.
“Not everyone is cut out to be a telecommuter. For those who want to try it, I’ve learned a few things I can recommend.
- You need to have a clearly designated workspace. I’ve actually frosted the glass in my home office door so that I’m not distracted by looking into my personal space.
- You need to set your work hours as closely to normal office hours as possible.
- Even so, you need to able to be flexible with your time. You might need to participate in a teleconference at 9:00 p.m. one day, but need to attend a school play at 2:00 p.m. on another day.
- You need to be able to get your motivation from a job well done, not from the presence of your co-workers or supervisor.
- You need to physically move away from your home office at the end of the day. Turning off ‘work’ and focusing on family and friends is the most difficult part of working at home.
“I definitely think that teleworking is worth the effort, both for the employer and the employee. For the employer, it becomes a competitive advantage because the practice can help the company attract and retain critical talent, increase the productivity of its workforce, and foster employee loyalty. For the employees, it’s a huge morale booster and a priceless benefit to have the company put such obvious trust in them by allowing this kind of flexibility. It’s a win-win practice.”
LATE BREAKING NEWS:
The Employee Forum has just been informed that the Office of Human Resources is going to delay submission of a formal University-wide teleworking policy to the Chancellor’s office in order to expand the effort to create an effective policy. HR has asked the Forum to be actively involved in this new committee and its deliberations.
It is Forum policy (supported by the Administration) to encourage worktime participation on University committees by staff who are not Forum delegates as well as staff who are. If any SPA or EPA Non-faculty staff are interested in serving the University on the teleworking policy committee, please let us know by phoning our office at 962-2779 or by emailing Forum Chair Ernie Patterson (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Forum Assistant Matt Banks (email@example.com).
Staff who have ideas or comments they would like to contribute to the teleworking policy are also encouraged to contact us.