Skip to main content

December 1, 2021

UNC-Chapel Hill Employee Forum

Zoom Remote Meeting Only:  Connection Details Available from matt_banks@unc.edu

NOTE:  This is a draft agenda and is subject to change without notice.

I. Call to Order & Opening Remarks: Chair Katie Musgrove (9:15 a.m. – 9:20 a.m.)

  • Welcome to Guests & Members of the Press
  • Declaration of Candidates for Parliamentarian Position

II. Roundtable with Provost Bob Blouin (9:20 a.m. – 9:40 a.m.)

III. Special Presentations (9:40 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.)

  • Candace Reynolds and Suzie Baker, Operational Excellence Transformation Managers, with an update on the Future of Work Design Team Project

IV. Human Resources Update (10:00 a.m. – 10:20 a.m.)

  • Vice Chancellor for Human Resources and Equal Opportunity and Compliance Becci Menghini and Associate Vice Chancellor for Human Resources Linc Butler

V. Consent Agenda (10:20 a.m. – 10:40 a.m.)

VI. Old Business (10:40 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.)

  • Appointment of Parliamentarian to Replace Outgoing Delegate Kevin Robinson

VII.  New Business (11:00 a.m. – 11:20 a.m.)

  • Mental Health Summit Debrief

VIII. Announcements/Questions (11:20-11:30 p.m.)

  • Vice Chancellor Representatives Meeting- December 9, 2021 at 10:00 AM (Zoom)

IX. Adjournment

 

Please note that this meeting will be recorded, including all comments made in the ‘Chat’ feature.

MINUTES

December 1, 2021, Employee Forum meeting minutes

Delegates Attending: L. E. Alexander, Vanessa Blake, Jessy Bongiovanni, Randall Borror, Sharron Bouquin, David Bragg, Rich Brandenburg, Alicia Brandt, Shane Brogan, Tiffany Carver, Michael Case, Jen DeNeal, Elizabeth DuBose, Phil Edwards, Shayla Evans-Hollingsworth, Jaci Field, Stephanie Forman, Adrianne Gibilisco, Chrissie Greenberg, Leah Hefner, Jessi Hill, Shayna Hill, Keith Hines, James Holman, Brigitte Ironside, Kira Jones, Mary King, Anthony Lindsey, Evan Marsh, Amber Meads, Arlene Medder, Mandy Melton, Manisha Mittal, Katie Musgrove, Ayla Ocasio, Joseph Ormond, Sara Pettaway, Laura Pratt, Kevin Robinson, Kelly Scurlock-Cross, Theresa Silsby, Janice Singletary, Robert Smith III, Jake Stallard, Janet Steele, Sarah Wackerhagen, Tracy Wetherby Williams, Alice Whiteside, Tracey Wiley, Jacob Womack

Excused Absences: Andrew Brennick

Chair Katie Musgrove called the meeting to order at 9:16 a.m., inviting candidates for the soon-to-be-vacant Parliamentarian position to declare for that role. She then welcomed Provost Bob Blouin for the Forum’s customary roundtable discussion.  Blouin wished all assembled well and hoped that all had enjoyed their Thanksgiving holiday. He expressed his gratitude to all who helped the University get through the semester.

Blouin said that yesterday the weekly collaborative team meeting to discuss COVID-19 developments in the region and the world was held. He noted that the nation is around 59% fully vaccinated and 70% partially vaccinated. North Carolina is approximately 57% fully vaccinated and 61% partially vaccinated, with an uptick in cases. Orange County is in a slightly different situation, with 71% fully vaccinated and 77% partially vaccinated, with a 1.8% positivity rate versus the state’s 8.3% rate.

Blouin was pleased that faculty and student numbers show 95% fully vaccinated and staff numbers are approaching 89%, both terrific. He thanked all for their work keeping the campus open and observing campus protocols. He noted the many medical and religious accommodations that have been requested in the wake of the federal vaccine mandate. He thanked Vice Chancellor for Human Resources and Equal Opportunity and Compliance Becci Menghini and the entire Office of Human Resources (OHR) team for their work. Blouin said that the advent of the Omicron variant could not come at a worse time for campus, given the coming break and the short window in January to adjust.

He was encouraged about preliminary reports about the contagiousness and severity of the illness, thus far. He thanked all for their support of the University’s recent mental health summit, which was successful in bringing together thoughts and ideas on this subject. He said that the Chancellor is listening and is committed to doing something to accommodate this simultaneously national and very personal crisis. He hoped that all could work together to minimize stress and improve mental health in the campus community.

The Chair asked if there was an update on the vaccine mandate and its rollout. Menghini noted the deadline date has shifted several times, with the current deadline January 18th. She estimated that campus compliance with the vaccine is slightly higher than the numbers the Provost cited. She said that numbers should increase due to the original mandate deadline in the second week of December.

Menghini said that the University has opened medical and religious exemptions, receiving relatively few of the former and several hundreds of the latter. The religious exemption paperwork asks that people provide both a strongly held religious belief and the reason that belief interferes with compliance.  Some submissions did not meet both elements and these people have received communication from OHR asking for resubmission. Resubmission documents should outline petitioners’ strongly held religious belief or a strongly held belief against the vaccine, and the connection between the two. Menghini said these communications are going out now. Employees will have the opportunity to resubmit if necessary. If they fail to resubmit their exemptions will be denied.

Applications will be evaluated by a committee to determine if they include both elements and do not place an undue burden upon the institution. For example, if most of a unit’s employees are unvaccinated and seeking exemption, the committee will need to determine the unit’s ability to maintain business activities if this exemption is granted. More communication will go out soon.

Responding to questions about discipline related to the vaccine mandate, Menghini said that the University continues to seek guidance from the System Office and the Federal Government. Early suggestions from the federal mandate and OSHA guidance suggests a four-part disciplinary process. The System also wishes that the University lead with counseling on this topic addressing hesitancy reasons. The University does not yet have firm details on the disciplinary process, but more conversations will occur with these parties in the next couple of weeks.

Menghini said that UNC-Chapel Hill is likely far ahead of System peers in compliance with the mandate. She said that those seeking medical or religious exemptions and have appropriate documentation will receive more details in the coming weeks. Blouin added that one is not considered vaccinated until two weeks after their second shot. He also encouraged all to obtain the third, booster shot to increase self-protection. Boosters should be taken six months after a second shot of the vaccine.

The Chair asked about progress on the University’s position searches. Blouin said that all the deans’ searches are proceeding as one would expect. He understood that the Vice Provost for Admissions search will soon announce their choice. He had kept his distance from the Provost search committee but understood that search will end soon as well. Blouin has offered to stay on board to facilitate a smooth transition in whatever way desired by the new Provost.

The Chair said that she and the Forum would miss Blouin’s updates and candid remarks during these roundtables. Phil Edwards asked if there had been conversations to acclimate all these new people joining leadership positions to campus. Blouin said that experience will likely be the first teacher to those assuming these positions. He asked that people be a bit patient with these leaders in these new positions. He did not think that the University would have a perfect solution to systematic onboarding of all recruited. Learning these jobs involves talking with people to learn how the organization works and how leaders can maximally use the talent on hand.

The Chair welcomed Candace Reynolds and Susie Baker, Operational Excellence Transformation managers, to give an update on the Future of Work team. Reynolds said that the executive sponsors of the project set out three reasons for the team’s work. First, the University wants to ensure a world-class on campus experience for its students. Secondly, the University wants to create an exceptional employee experience to retain and attract top talent. The team will seek to use the tension between these two goals in a way to grant employee flexibility while continuing to meet the University’s mission for its students.

Reynolds said that the priority in these talks will be the on-campus experience for students. However, the team will try to meet both goals simultaneously. A third priority is to identify opportunities to save and consolidate resources. As things have changed, the team will want to reevaluate how the University works and uses resources, to consolidate things when possible. The team will look at how campus space might be used differently given recent trends to work remotely. She offered that these benefits would be realized only later in the process. One must determine needs before making longer-term decisions about space.

The team will work to establish guard rails for flexible working arrangement decisions to provide consistency for employees and supervisors moving forward. Reynolds said that the team will work to provide consistency in experience from office to office. In addition, the team will want to provide a framework for conversations and decisions for both teams and individuals, Reynolds said. Faculty and the School of Medicine are out of scope for the project. Reynolds described the team composition, with the group featuring members from as diverse a perspective as possible.

Reynolds said that the playbook to guide these decisions is due to be completed by the end of the fall semester. The team also expects provision of resources to support a successful implementation. The goal is to provide schools and units with guidance by January 2022.

Reynolds took a moment to speak for Operational Excellence representatives. She said that employees in this area work to create a very interactive and collaborative process, through a workshop experience rather than lecture-style discussion. Reynolds said that the team believes that the next step is creation of a playbook to guide supervisors and employees, establishing a consistent process for making flexible work decisions. She noted that some units have participated in the flexible work pilot while others have not. The team will attempt to provide consistency for both groups.

Reynolds said that the playbook contains two parts: a decision-making framework and a set of resources to help successful implementation. Currently, the team does not have these resources given the timeline of decisions but hopes to point users to other units soon.  The decision-making framework will address work location options as either onsite, hybrid or remote. The framework will use job categories or job codes to inform its decisions, with help from the Office of Human Resources. Eventually, the team will establish a list of job categories based on the work these do and will assign work locations based on this list. The guardrails essentially define a list of options for each role, with an exception process also in place. The team will provide a list of factors that govern work location decisions. Employees providing an in-person service cannot be fully remote, for example.

Employees who need on-site equipment would also be deemed to provide an in-person service. Other factors will address scheduling options. The overall package of options provides the core of the playbook and the core of the decision-making framework. Reynolds said that these options would be “super-prescriptive” other than at the beginning and should guide campus conversations.

Reynolds said the second half of the playbook will deal with implementation resources, so the team will provide information on communication and collaboration with hybrid, remote, and on-site teams. She added that all remains a work in progress. Information security requirements and best practices for offsite work remain to be addressed, among other items.

Reynolds recalled the flexible work location pilot that began in July and ran through the end of December, which has recently been extended to March 2022. The goal is to turn the framework over to schools and units in preparation for exemption applications occurring in January. The consideration process will resemble the pilot program with vice chancellors presenting their plans for approval. January through March is the current timeline for these conversations, via a rolling review process.

The Chair raised a question as to why the pilot was only extended to the spring semester. She had heard employees express frustration that they could not plan for the spring. Reynolds said that the spring is a date at which the University could begin making its decisions on unit proposals. She said that dates are still tentative depending on when approval is granted. She anticipated that March would be the last part of the pilot, but she noted the anxiety around this process.

Laura Pratt asked Reynolds to share information the team was using from the survey about work preferences. Reynolds said that the survey had received a 59% response rate, with results compiled by Institutional Research. She did not know where this data would be posted yet. She noted a general sentiment in favor of workplace flexibility. Pratt asked if Reynolds had any other takeaways regarding the survey. Reynolds said that the sentiment in favor work flexibility had come through loud and clear. However, the University will share the specifics about the survey results as they become available.

Tracy Wiley asked when this information would be released to departments. Reynolds said that hopefully the information would be released to everyone around January. However, the team does not have a formal proposal to share yet. The Chair added that the team hopes to address broader issues related to the future of work.

Jacob Womack asked if someone is monitoring ongoing resource usage in this process. He also asked if job titles will be considered school by school given the variance between schools. Reynolds said that the first question is not within the team’s scope of work. To the second question, Reynolds said that the process will follow the pilot in which Vice Chancellors submit applications to be decided on a case-by-case basis.

The Chair thanked Reynolds and Baker for their remarks. She then welcomed Vice Chancellor Becci Menghini to present the Forum’s customary Human Resources update. Menghini updated the Forum regarding the budget situation, noting that the Governor had signed a budget with a 2.5% salary increase for the next two years. Employees also receive a $1,000 bonus in year one with $500 added for those making under $75,000 a year.

There are budgetary implementation questions still to be worked through. Menghini anticipated that the salary increases would go into effect in January, retroactive to July 2021. All will depend on the official guidance the System Office will issue. She said that the hiring freeze and temporary suspension would also go away. Additionally, the Board of Governors will take up some additional policymaking related to internal hires, moving to a range penetration model as opposed to using existing salary to determine new salary after a search. The System Office will provide a draft guidance to administrators for comment before the Board decides.

Regarding the upcoming winter break holiday, Menghini said that employees wanting to take off the full duration would have to use two days’ personal leave. If employees wish to work these two days and their supervisor approves, those employees will not be required to take those two days off. Associate Vice Chancellor Linc Butler added that employees will need to coordinate with their supervisors to do work with the understanding that the University will be closed those days.

Menghini said in response to a chat question that the 2.5% raise will be based on June 30 salary, applied retroactively to July 1. She could not speak authoritatively without guidance from the System Office on this subject, however. She noted that questions related to additional expenditures also await System guidance.

Keith Hines asked about the holiday given for New Year’s Day, 2022. Butler replied that Friday, December 31st would be that day off under this year’s calendar. The optional workday/closed day will take place Thursday, December 30th.

Kira Jones asked about the winter break and the use of sick leave to cover vacation days last year. She asked if this was still an option. Menghini said that the COVID leave has not been extended. [It later emerged that the interchangeability of leave is valid through December 31st.]

Jones then asked how employees who chose to change positions but stay at UNC would be affected by the budget. She asked how the Forum could advocate for people caught in this situation. Menghini said that raises will still be based on an employee’s June 30 salary, even if the employee switched jobs to a higher-paying position later in the year. The employee is paid as if the budget were approved that June 30th. Butler stressed that this interpretation requires actual guidance from the System Office. Jones thanked Menghini and Butler for the clarification. Butler noted that in general, System Office employees push to make guidance provided as employee friendly as possible.

The Chair asked about the situation in which an employee was hired from another State agency or unit. Menghini thought that these employees would still be eligible for these increases. She was hesitant to speculate on whom would be responsible for the six months’ retroactive payment, the prior or the current department of the employee, as legislative guidance on these questions changes from year to year.

Jacob Womack asked how the guidance will affect retiring employees. Menghini said that there has been a less favorable outlook for these employees but that all depends on guidance from the Office of State Human Resources (OSHR) and the System Office.

Senior Work/Life Manager Jessica Pyjas noted that the Jingle Bell Jog will take place Friday at noon, with individual joggers checking in at 11:30 a.m. Those interested can also participate remotely. The Chair said that Forum delegates will participate with Phil Edwards set to don the Blood Drop costume for the day.

Pyjas said that Wellness Wednesday webinars are now offered every other week, with 32 participants in November. The Office of State Human Resources will host a webinar and cooking demonstration on December 2nd. The following week there will be a managing personal finance webinar. All these events and more can be found on the Human Resources online calendar. Employees can participate in a holiday challenge to control weight gain until December 21st. Discounts this month include parking options and T-Mobile subscriptions.

Kira Jones asked if Pyjas’ office is working on anything wellness related to address issues of stress discussed at the mental health summit. Pyjas said that her work promotes the ongoing meditation sessions offered through the School of Medicine. She is working on planning the University’s wellness and appreciation event on March 18th, 2022, Employee Appreciation Day. Pyjas said that event will feature fitness demonstrations which can also impact one’s mental health. She was open to suggestions as to doing more. Butler said that local leaders work with Pyjas to carry out these tasks as well.

The Chair asked if Menghini, Butler, and Pyjas could remain for the debriefing session related to the mental health summit. She felt very thankful to have been invited to participate in this summit. She thought that the current high turnover of staff demonstrated that employees also care very much about this question.

Menghini said that these challenges are real, and every layer of the institution is feeling them. She said that resignations and retirement tend to increase around in winter but noted other reasons behind this increase. She acknowledged these numbers are increasing and said that OHR is working to manage them.

[Do you want this paragraph?] Menghini said that institutions of higher learning and employers typically have stayed out of the direct delivery of services. She noted the level of implied support granted employees through the provision of benefits and days off. However, in higher education, the challenge is that the institution is responsible for some direct delivery of services to students.

The University is conversing with the System Office regarding an online real-time counseling tool for employees. Menghini noted complaints about the Employee Assistance Program that its mental health services function only as a matchmaking service with providers. She did note also that there are a limited number of mental health professionals available in the workforce to meet this growing need.

Menghini acknowledged the additional needs for flexibility in the workspace and the assurance that supervisors would grant employees leave to take a mental health day when needed. She also noted the impact of these concerns upon her staff in the Office of Human Resources, which is often tasked with these improvements. She said that OHR does not have the people or money to roll out more mental well-being initiatives, with Pyjas alone serving ably in a one-person show. Menghini said that her division wants to work with the Forum but cannot be held responsible to implement every idea arrived at.

The Chair noted staff commentary on the mental health summit. She said that the biggest point made was the need to provide adequate staffing to mitigate the burnout people feel from being overworked and doing multiple jobs. People feel as if they are simply surviving through the pandemic as colleagues depart the workforce.

Shayna Hill asked if the essential hire form will go away any time soon. Menghini thought that it would be modified significantly so that filling vacant positions with funding attached will not require the process. New positions will still require the process affirming that a department has funding to support the position. The University is trying to connect OHR and Finance elements in a way to prevent budgetary errors made previously when creating or reclassifying positions.

The Chair asked if the essential hire form is a UNC-Chapel Hill driven initiative or mandated by State level. Menghini said that the System requirement under the temporary suspension was that for all positions, all Human Resources actions required approval at the Chancellor level. The essential actions form was the mechanism chosen to meet this requirement. This will remain a campus requirement governing when the University adds a new employee who will draw from the State Benefits pool. Managers must accept that every time an employee is added the employee benefits pool will adjust. Managers will need to track the total FTS as pulling from the overall benefits pool. She said that the form is a campus expectation to meet a System-wide responsibility.

Hill thanked Menghini for this information. She asked about the consequence of adding to the time needed for job reclassifications. Hill said that almost two years in this intensely stressful pandemic environment had led departments to deal with many vacancies. She said that this situation can seem an utter nightmare to those waiting for reclassification with the time added for the essential hire form process to complete.

Menghini granted that the essential action review adds more time to reclassification. Still, the Chancellor’s Office, the Finance Office, and she personally reviews these forms every week without fail to ensure that the forms see a one-week turnaround. She granted the problem but said that the University could not continue hiring people without ensuring that funds are available. She would rather have these conversations at the front end rather than be forced to hold a layoff and budget cut discussion later. Hill said that managers have sought these reclassifications for a long period of time.

Menghini clarified that as people leave the University reevaluates their positions. She did not want to keep people in positions that are under classified. Elizabeth DuBose recalled her own example as a person whose supervisor and manager left, leaving her responsible to support an entire department for research in a department in the School of Medicine. She said that she is doing what she is not supposed to be doing for the sake of the department without appropriate pay or even training. She is asked to also carry out research coordinator and manager roles, which is driving her “literally…mental health crazy.” She said that it should not be her job to push to have her job reclassified. She saw her situation as an emergency that should have been addressed previously. She said that besides her, no one would know how to support the five research projects in her unit. DuBose asked what shortcut exists for people in this situation?

Menghini said that previous budgetary issues have interfered with the University’s ability to address these concerns. She said that the University is coming out of that but is also trying to maintain parts of the suspension that allowed decisionmakers to line up resources with people. Previously, no tools were in place to pay attention to how resources were aligned in this way. She regretted not having positive answers to this and other topics, but because of current rules, the University has clinical trials unable to occur without staff to run them in many places across campus.

Currently, the University is unable to fill positions as quickly as desired to fulfill these roles. She said that the entire process requires study, not just the one-week approval process. The full complement of these questions reduces the desirability of the University in the local labor market, which creates added challenges. The recent spate of raises will help in this respect, but many other industries are able to move more quickly to provide employee support than the University has. She thought that DuBose’s local HR official needs to take a more aggressive role to move her situation forward.

DuBose said that the money to improve her situation is sitting in departmental accounts right now. Menghini said that the budgetary rules have applied to all funding sources. She offered to take this discussion offline to work further. She said that OHR officials want to provide affirmative answers to requests, but big hurdles remain. She asked listeners to work with OHR to find a path forward, with the understanding that answers will not always be positive.

Evan Marsh asked if temporary increases would move faster through the process now that the budgetary situation is resolved. Menghini expected that one-time adjustments would not be part of essential actions moving forward.

Phil Edwards asked about the sheer numbers of staff employees who showed up for the mental health summit as opposed to faculty and students. He saw this occur frequently at campus-wide events, combined with a disconnect between these numbers and the focus of featured speakers. He thought that this disconnect hurts staff employee morale. It was noted that Menghini was not a driving planner of the summit but had responded to questions beforehand. The summit was originally student-focused in response to recent suicides by students.

Menghini noted that the Chancellor did announce the addition of an extra mental health day for students in the spring. She said that there was conversation about providing staff and faculty benefits for this day. Prospects are that this will be a “no meetings scheduled” day, with more advanced planning this time. The University is trying to find other ways to create a bit of a break for staff without the legal ability to provide an extra day off. Menghini added that there are other areas in which Administration can be thoughtful in recognizing the role of staff.

Kevin Robinson noted that staff everywhere on campus are struggling. He said that as an advisory body to the Chancellor, the Forum has a responsibility to advocate on behalf of all staff. He asked what the Forum can do to help OHR employees ease that burden and to communicate these needs to the Chancellor. Menghini said that the Forum should continue its efforts as its advocacy is working. She thought that the Chancellor is keenly aware of these challenges and has conveyed them to the Board of Governors. She said that a lack of manpower and funds prevents the implementation of many good ideas. She invited discussion on these issues to ensure a collective effort.

Menghini asked all to be as kind as possible given that everyone is doing their best and wants to do well. Shayna Hill noted that the list of new processes required to be learned during the pandemic is exhaustively long. She said that rolling out multiple new platforms in a global pandemic seems unsustainable. She asked that the University acknowledge this point, that technology introduced this way places a burden predominantly on staff. Faculty do not understand that things cannot happen in 24-48 hours. She said that faculty are not understanding that things now can take two to three weeks combined with another new process extending their wait time another two weeks. She understood the value of kindness but added that there should be an understanding of the level of burden of these new processes on staff. She said that this is a reason senior employees are leaving now with less than full retirement, to avoid this new administrative burden.

Menghini said that there have been high-level discussions about reducing this administrative burden. She noted that a good chunk of work is compliance-related and cannot be avoided. She said that there are other initiatives that the University could possibly slow down.

The Chair thanked all for their participation in this discussion. She moved on to the installation of the new Parliamentarian to replace outgoing delegate Kevin Robinson. Jacob Womack was the only candidate to express an interest in this position. She thanked Phil Edwards for offering to work with Womack to learn this new role. Edwards praised Robinson for laying an excellent foundation for the position that did not exist before. The Chair expressed love and support for Robinson as he moves on from the University.

The November minutes were not prepared in time for discussion. The Chair then asked for committee updates. She noted that plans are to publish an edition of InTouch following the December 8th Blood Drive. Anyone with stories for the newsletter should contact either her or Shane Brogan.

There was no update from the Book Club, beyond its next meeting occurring in January. Jacob Womack said that the Community Service committee hoped to distribute boxes for drop-offs for the UNC Health Children’s Hospital toy drive. He said that employees also will have the chance to donate virtually via Amazon. He thought that the committee would do a mental health initiative in the spring.

Jen DeNeal reported that the Blood Drive planning committee was very excited for next week’s drive. She said that appointment slots are almost filled, although walk-in spaces are still available. The drive will take place from 7:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. December 8th, in Fetzer Gym. Volunteers are still needed and can sign up via carolinablooddrive@unc.edu. DeNeal was excited that the drive will partner with CBS 17 this year.

Arlene Medder reported that the Community Garden will have an article in InTouch about donations as well as upcoming plans.

Adrianne Gibilisco said that the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion committee was pleased with the Chair’s presentation to the UNC System Staff Assembly on the Forum’s alternative holidays resolution. Individual campuses will take this resolution back depending on the current landscape of their setup for alternative holidays.

The Chair reported that sadly, DEI chair Antonio Squire will soon leave the University for a leadership position at an institution of higher learning in Georgia.

L.E. Alexander said that the Education and Career Development committee received a healthy number of applications for the Professional Development Grant program.

There was no report from the Membership & Assignments committee. Stephanie Forman said that there was also no report from Personnel Issues. There was also no report from the Recognition & Awards committee.

Shayna Hill reported from the UNC System Staff Assembly that the 20% rule was indeed changed. In a promotional situation, internal candidates should now be considered on the same band as other candidates, rather than based on their original pay level. She said that the Assembly will move forward on the alternative holiday resolution. She noted timing issues related to the approval of this resolution.

The Chair asked for any further updates. Lacking any, the Forum adjourned by mutual consent at 11:34 a.m.

Respectfully submitted,

Matt Banks, Recording Secretary

Follow this blog

Get every new post delivered right to your inbox.