Staff Council looks to improve communication, increase collaboration

Strengthening ties across system a goal of new chair Frisk

Members of the University of Colorado Staff Council held their first meeting of the year Aug. 15 at 1800 Grant St. and discussed potential areas of emphasis to address in the upcoming months. The group will hold its annual retreat in September and make a final determination of the year’s agenda then, but new council chair Deserae Frisk began the conversation by reiterating topics discussed at previous council sessions.

Frisk said the first issue to discuss is improved communication, especially important in relaying information to constituents. Staff council talked about improving their website, and using social media, CU Connections and other resources to reach out to staff as well as other councils and governance boards within the system.

“I would like to help increase our presence across the campuses to let people know that we are there and we are advocating for them within the system, and that they have a place to bring their issues and their voices,” Frisk said.

A second issue discussed was collaboration with other councils and governance groups. One way to better understand each other, Frisk said, is to share information about group procedures and best practices. Another suggested way is to build community through a systemwide shared project.

“I’d like to work toward building a collaborative effort for staff across the system, so they aren’t just tied to a campus but feel tied to CU at large,” Frisk said. One way to do that would be a joint service project that all governance groups would endorse and promote.

Some campuses allow leave time for community service, as prescribed by a Colorado statute, while others do not. Council previously has discussed ways to encourage administration to implement and enforce a systemwide policy that would allow employees time to participate in a service project.

A third issue considered was career readiness. Staff members would like to see a beefed-up development program to help current employees advance in current careers or train for other positions within the system.

Finally, council discussed guest speaker opportunities, including inviting people to staff council meetings to clarify topics of importance to constituents as issues unfold throughout the year.

Members of the council also received administrative updates from E. Jill Pollock, vice president for employee and information services.

She said the university is embarking on a multi-year financial education project, and asked council to recommend one or two people who might serve on an advisory group for the project. Financial information would be tailored to all employees and be delivered in a variety of ways, including through individual consultation, small group workshops, or online.

Pollock said CU will be one of the first universities in the country to provide this service and said this project is a great opportunity to build something useful for employees.

Pollock also discussed the Total Rewards Project for university staff, a group that encompasses officers and exempt employees. Phase 1 of the project, which has been completed, examined base compensation and comparable market information. The next two phases of the project are underway, Pollock said. One is determining how to evaluate top performers, and the second is to examine “variable” pay, which is akin to a bonus or incentive in private industry. Senior leaders, Pollock said, want to set special performance objectives and reward employees accordingly when goals are met.

In an effort to improve personal career development, new software that describes employee competencies is being tested and will be used to help standardize job descriptions. Pollock said the tool will make it easier for supervisors to discuss with employees which competencies need to be worked on and which are exemplary. The software, which uses specific words to describe skills, also will help employees understand the specific abilities needed in other positions they might be interested in.

Pollock also talked about issues involving the University of Colorado Health and Welfare Trust:

  • This year, the Trust has a 4 percent reserve. She said the target reserve is about 2 percent because the money should be used to serve employees who are enrolled in the trust health plans. In cases where the reserve is very large, refunds or premium holidays may be implemented, she said.
  • President Bruce D. Benson has appointed John McDowell, a faculty member from the Anschutz Medical Campus and former Chair of Faculty Council, as a faculty representative on the Trust to communicate employee interests. McDowell was one of two faculty members nominated for the position.
  • New in the health and wellness plan this year is a smoking cessation program that will kick off in October, in conjunction with Boulder’s ban on campus smoking (see story). Another addition to the base health plan is free supplies and medications for those with Type 2 Diabetes who strictly adhere to their prescribed management plan. A hearing aid benefit also has been added to the plan.

Bruce Neumann, chair of University Benefits Advisory Board (UBAB), talked about some broad issues concerning the Trust, including the way rates are set by medical providers. He said that although university employees pay lower premiums on average than those paid nationally, UBAB is concerned that provider rates might be unreasonably high.

Jeremy Hueth, Trust counsel, said that while medical institutions might set artificially high rates initially, the Trust is able to negotiate lower costs for services and always looks for ways to both decrease costs and increase benefits.

In another matter, council members discussed talking with system administration to ensure that staff council is given ample opportunity to interview prospective hires. Recently, Frisk said, because of short notice, she was the only person available to meet with a candidate. Members said that while they understood the need to hurry the hiring process in some cases, they also believe that staff council members should be involved in the process so that staff views can be conveyed to job candidates.



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