Organisation - June 9, 2010

Thermometer at the ready

Text:
Joris Tielens

All employees will be asked to fill in the employee monitor again this month. What has been done with the results of the last survey carried out in 2008?

Employees going at work
'The employee monitor is a survey thermometer which appraises the situation once in two years', says Barbara Veltron, internal communications adviser of the taskforce which supervised the survey. 'It is a means by which improvements can be made together. The results in each group enable directors and joint representative advisory bodies to work things out with employees. After all, the organization stands to benefit from well motivated and committed employees, since its goals can only be achieved in this way.' Based on the results of the last survey, each sciences group has set up supervisory teams which have taken steps (see the list with measures taken) together with the management and the joint representative advisory bodies. Henk van den Bergh, chairman of the Employee Monitor central taskforce and HRM head of the Social Sciences Group, says that administrative problems have been tackled in most cases. The new administrative systems have to be more efficient than the previous ones. Managers are not the only ones who make the decisions, says Van den Bergh. 'Those on the work floor are now asked for their opinions beforehand.'
That the appreciation for managers and the executive board in the last survey had turned out to be low does not surprise Van den Bergh. 'It's a normal phenomenon in organizations: the more distant the boss is, the more negative he is being judged.' To improve that, managers are given better support since 2008. This should raise leadership quality, so that people will have more confidence in their bosses, says Van den Bergh.
The executive board tries to get closer to employees by visiting them more often. Veltrop: 'Personal communication from board members is the best way to bridge this distance. Employees also want to be heard and seen.'

Work pressure
Employees interviewed say they are not really aware of the steps being taken on the work floor. 'I think that I fill the same things into the monitor every time, these being high work pressure and administrative red tape, but nothing seems to have changed', says Dr. Frans Griepink, who works at Plant Research International. 'But I'll fill those in again soon, because I still hope that something will be done about them.'
Others can hardly recall the survey. 'I think I have filled in something like that once', says Dr. André Aarnink of Livestock Research. 'The work pressure issue has ever been brought up in our cluster. But is that because of that monitor? I don't know.' Similarly, work pressure is discussed with employees during work meetings at the Systems and Control Group of Wageningen University, says Associate Professor Dr. Karel Keesman. 'But many people try to find a solution to the high work pressure themselves. As far as bureaucracy is concerned, I don't get the impression that anything has been changed. Much more is done digitally nowadays, for example in education, but that takes up even more time than before.'
Maria Pereira, office manager at the Forum library, is pleased that the monitor results of 2008 have been discussed within the management team of the library. The work pressure has become better as a result, Pereira says. However, the library has to deal with a lot of administrative nitty-gritty, and this remains problematic. 'The electronic ordering system is everyone's biggest agony. It takes up much more time than before.'

Falling absenteeism
How has work stress actually affected people within Wageningen UR? Almost three hundred people called at the corporate social work department last year, a third of whom had to do with work stress', reveals corporate social worker Rene Hoevenaren. The number of people with stress-related problems has grown in the last few years. Workshops on dealing with work stress have also attracted more participants. However, absenteeism caused by work stress (people with burn-out or stress-related problems) has instead gone down. Hoevenaren concludes that employees bring up their problems earlier, and this prevents them from getting worse. 'Employees and managers are more aware that they can do something about work stress and that it is beneficial to raise the matter in time.'
Veltrop of the supervisory group for the monitor concludes that it is important to use the employee monitor regularly to find out how employees feel about their work situation. 'If more people fill in the list, issues will be more visible, and there will be more impetus to take action together.'
The feel of 2008

You, the employee, feel a strong commitment to Wageningen UR, and you are satisfied with your immediate supervisor. But you are also too busy and often bogged down by administrative nitty-gritty. As the distance between you and your managers gets bigger, your appreciation for them goes down, especially when it concerns the executive board. This picture has emerged from the results of the employee survey of 2008.
Some measures taken

What have the supervisory teams done after the last employee monitor? What steps are taken to reduce work pressure, limit the extent of administrative red tape, and reduce the distance between management and employees?
The manager brings up work pressure as a standard topic during performance evaluations.
When work stress is too high, the corporate social work department offers stress management courses.
At the Environmental Sciences Group, more room has been created for talent by setting up traineeships for young researchers, and by employing several graduates for a short period to carry out a research proposal.
The Social Sciences Group pays special attention to efficiency when new administrative systems are introduced.
Managers at all levels get better access to management information. A procedure is set up for managers, and they are supported by teambuilding and other activities to instill a group culture.
To increase the visibility of the executive board, regular breakfast and lunch meetings are organized. Intranet features a weekly executive board newsletter and board members speak to employees regularly during working visits within the organization.
NB
The final reports on the previous employee monitor can be found at Intranet/people/welzijn&gezondheid/medewerkermonitor.  

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