Workplace morale slow to recover

Workplace survey

The results of the 2012 workplace survey for Yale employees released this month show that worker morale has not fully rebounded from its decline during the financial downturn, according to Michael Peel, vice president for human resources and administration.

The biennial survey, to which 77 percent of staff members responded, found that the percentage of employees who said they were satisfied with their jobs increased to 83 percent from the last survey conducted in 2010, but staff members gave less positive ratings to questions about levels of morale and opportunities for career development within their units. Peel said the University aims to use the results of the latest workplace survey to assess issues important to staff members so administrators can improve working conditions within individual departments.

“I was pleasantly surprised at how the scores [in the] Commitment, Leadership and Rewards [categories] improved from 2010,” Peel said in a Tuesday email to the News. He added that the scores for these categories had declined in previous surveys because of the financial downturn.

In the 2012 survey, Peel said, respondents were asked to give each of 54 statements about Yale’s workplace environment a rating from 1 to 5, depending on how strongly they agreed or disagreed with the statement. Ratings of 4 and 5 were considered favorable, while 3 was considered neutral and 1 and 2 were considered unfavorable, he said.

Fifty percent of survey respondents rated the statement “The overall morale in my unit is high” either a 4 or 5, while the other 50 percent gave neutral or negative responses. Peel said he hopes to see the average favorable score for morale rise above 50 percent, adding that the score is an average for nearly 300 Yale units, some of which reported close to 100 percent favorable responses and some of which scored “very low” or somewhere in between.

University President Richard Levin said the overall survey responses were considerably more positive than the results of the 2010 workplace survey, which was administered when Yale was “in the middle of cutting budgets and laying people off” due to the recession.

Staff members interviewed agreed that a disparity in morale level is present between units. One residential college staff member, who asked to remain anonymous because she had been instructed to direct all reporters to the Office of Public Affairs and Communications, said morale among employees often depends on the amount of funding a unit receives.

A dining hall worker who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution said morale can vary between dining hall workers in each residential college because of differences in management. A recent change in management has caused morale in at least two residential colleges to decline, the worker said.

“You used to see me smiling,” the worker said. “I’m not smiling now.”

Most workers interviewed reported high job satisfaction, adding that they feel appreciated and respected in their workplace, but that they know of certain units within Yale where workers are less content.

The survey results indicate that neutral or low morale is “not a University-wide problem,” Peel said, and must therefore be approached on a department-by-department basis.

Peel said he has been disappointed that managers in some departments did not effectively use the results of the 2010 workplace survey to improve their departments.

“The fact that when asked, only 42 percent said the workplace survey ‘was followed up on’ means that managers in a number of University departments either didn’t review their survey results with their departmental teams [or] didn’t create plans to improve their work cultures,” Peel said.

He added that he hopes to have a much more favorable rating for this question in the next workplace survey in 2014.

Staff are least positive about their career development prospects, with only 31 percent of respondents affirming their job had a development plan. Staff interviewed were split on the subject — while some indicated they had no trouble receiving promotions, others did not agree.

“[Career development at the University] absolutely sucks: It’s really hard to move up at Yale,” said the residential college staff member, adding that a large pool of overqualified applicants and the use of personal connections to get jobs have made the hiring process more complicated.

In response to the relatively lower responses concerning career development, Levin said the University is partway through a plan to roll out a series of annual activities and opportunities for staff to learn about developing their own careers.

“By the end of this calendar year, a very large fraction of our employees will have had the opportunity to engage in career planning sessions,” he added.

Seventy-eight percent of respondents indicated that they would recommend Yale as a good place to work.

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