Making York a better place to work

What qualities define a great workplace? For some people it’s an environment where everyone enjoys mutual respect. Others see it as a place where all employees are recognized for their contributions. On the other hand, many people view the ideal workplace as an environment where they “get their best thinking done”, “see their ideas bear fruit”, or where they can enjoy “great problem solving” opportunities.

Creating a better workplace at the University was an idea initiated by President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri following the labour disruption of 2009. Attention focused on how to create a better workplace at York University – one with more communication and engagement at all levels. To address this priority, York launched the Better Workplace Initiative (BWI), a pan-University, multi-year commitment to enhance workplace culture, improve employee satisfaction and deal with challenging policy issues (such as the pension plan) that emerged during Phase 1 of the consultation. This listening phase involved extensive talks with York’s unions and senior management over the last year, intended to identify the concerns that would inform an ongoing process that will gradually remake York’s work culture.

“We’ve learned a lot from this initial process,” says Rhonda Lenton (right), associate vice-president academic & vice-provost who, along with Sharon Hooper, assistant vice-president human resources, is guiding BWI. “Now the consultation needs to result in action. We’ve identified four major themes that the York community feels will make the University a better place to work.”

The first theme centres on the need for a more cohesive and effective management team. This includes the enthusiastic commitment of the president and vice-presidents, deans and front-line managers. Manager support would include such elements as workshops on effective management of collective agreements, opportunities for professional development and effective use of workplace technology.

Left: Sharon Hooper

Theme two involves improving labour relations. More effective dispute resolutions using third party mediation for all bargaining units, as well as timely resolution of YUSA grievances, are among the issues that need addressing.

Theme three deals with challenging policy issues: these include items such as a pension plan strategy and clarifying graduate student support.

Theme four tackles the issue of building a more engaged workplace, promoting York as an employer of choice, celebrating employee success through enhanced recognition and awards, and the creation of a plan that will attract and retain the best talent at York.

Lenton and Hooper do not deny that implementing the BWI action plan will be challenging. They emphasize that: “It is not a quick fix – it will take time. We are also operating within an environment of financial constraint. But this is part of the reality that all universities are facing at the moment. We need to look seriously at how to maximize scarce resources.”

Lenton points out that the Process Re-engineering & Service Enhancement (PRASE) initiative is also related to BWI. “At the end of the day, PRASE will help us by improving our processes which will, in turn, enhance our services to students, faculty and staff. It will also make administrative work, ultimately, more satisfying and effective for everyone. PRASE is also about including people in change and making them part of the process, which is consistent with the principles of the BWI that guides us in how best to have those discussions.”

Phase 2 of BWI launches this month with a second round of consultations to discuss the results from Phase 1 and agree on a concrete set of strategic initiatives to address the four major themes. “We heard from our employee groups about their concerns regarding communication, engagement, effective management and other workplace concerns,” says Lenton. “Now we want to be able to put plans in place to address those issues.”