September 2000


Lab, ombudsman plan to survey staff on ‘quality of work life’ issues

Steve Stow has a new task to go along with his ombudsman duties. Steve has been assigned to institute a “Quality of Work Life” program for the Lab. Staff input will figure highly in the process.

“Quality of Work Life” encompasses many aspects of working conditions at ORNL—from management communications to the condition of the facilities to cultural diversity to job satisfaction. Toward that end, Steve has proposed a couple of staff surveys, one soon and the other when the new management team has had time to become familiar with ORNL.

“The Leadership Team wants to conduct a survey after they’ve gotten a real feel for ORNL—probably in about a year. In the meantime, during the next few months, I’d like to survey staff members, asking them to prioritize specific initiatives to improve the quality of work life here,” Steve says.

Lab staff members got a preview of the surveys in July when the ORNL Committee for Women conducted a Web-based survey, through ORNL Today, on proposed child care facilities. The survey sought information ranging from demand for such a facility to the type of service one would offer.

Steve cautions that simply because something gets tagged with a “high priority” doesn’t necessarily mean it will happen. “Other factors will have to be weighed before decisions are made on where to place limited resources,” he says.

Over the next several months, employees will be asked to prioritize ideas in categories including “family friendly” ones such as child care, health-care initiatives such as an on-site fitness center, professional initiatives such as more training opportunities and sabbaticals, financial initiatives such as cafeteria-style election of investment options, vacation and timekeeping initiatives such as the ability to sell vacation back to the company, communications initiatives such as increased contact with managers and business travel initiatives such as increased flexibility in booking.

Later, a more comprehensive survey will be designed to understand a broader range of issues related to quality of work life. It will probably resemble the ethics surveys of past years or the communications surveys that preceded the ethics surveys.

But first, prioritizing the choices will be an important step in the process.

“There are simply too many good ideas around to be able to do them all,” Steve says. “The surveys will give us some targets. These initiatives will help us retain the staff we have but also recruit new staff, such as by providing more vacation time for new hires.

Steve says the initital surveys should commence soon; the more comprehensive survey probably won’t begin until possibly next spring or summer. It will be administered by a professional organization with a nationwide data base for comparison of ORNL against other, similar institutions.

“Conducting an employee survey at a time so near the transition would probably limit its effectiveness,” Steve says. “However, we can start planning now and we can start prioritizing with a series of internal surveys. This will not only allow everyone to have a say, but it will be the first time ORNL staff have actually been asked to provide their opinions on major initiatives in this fashion.”

Steve will continue his duties as ORNL’s ombudsman in the meantime. Call 576-7802 to express concerns or seek advice about workplace issues.—B.C.