Campus’s conflict resolution office releases biennial report

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UC Berkeley’s Staff Ombuds Office, an independent department that provides conflict resolution services to campus employees, released its biennial report Thursday.

The report details the makeup of employee complaints, discusses reasons behind frequent complaints and proposes solutions for common problems.

The ombuds report noted that work-style conflicts doubled from 24 to 48 percent of reported concerns from the 2012-13 to 2013-14 period, which the office believes is due to “an increase in employees’ concerns about organizational change, new management, and challenges of working within new teams.” Respect and civility remain the most reported employee concerns.

Complaints regarding job-role clarity also approximately doubled from 20 to 39 percent over the same period. The office noted that employees who reported issues about their job role had often not received revised or current job descriptions, which prompted disagreements over appropriate responsibilities.

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The report appears on the heels of UC Berkeley’s initiation of the Operational Excellence program. The program works to generate revenue and cut campus costs through streamlining staff, resources and services.

Operational Excellence began in 2009 with UC Berkeley’s hiring of the consulting firm Bain & Company. The program reported cumulative savings of $72.6 million at the end of fiscal year 2013.
But since its inception, the program has been controversial due to staff layoffs and relocation.

The UC Berkeley Faculty Association, which has been critical of Operational Excellence and its Campus Shared Services program, noted that the report did not clearly distinguish between general staff concerns and those related to Operational Excellence.

“Not only has this office not tried to separate out complaints related to work changes resulting from (Operational Excellence) or CSS, its analysts have not attempted to interview staff who did not submit complaints to this office during this period, but may be dealing with problems relating to these programs, including the many who have quit, retired early, transferred jobs or just given up since CSS was established due to such problems,” said Christine Rosen, associate professor at the Haas School of Business and vice chair of the UC Berkeley Faculty Association on the association’s behalf.

The Campus Shared Services program works within Operational Excellence to consolidate administrative services, among other streamlining efforts. It moved nonsupervisory employees who reported that more than half of their work was “shareable” into one location off campus. The relocation of campus staff into a West Berkeley office is ongoing.

According to the report, it was “not surprising” that 21 percent of cases or 112 employees reported concerns about organizational changes, given staff restructuring as a result of Campus Shared Services.

“We did think this would make staff jobs more stressful and less satisfying and this could be one manifestation of that but it’s hard to tell from this kind of data,” said Leslie Salzinger, an associate professor of gender and women’s studies who serves as secretary of the association.

Still, the number of unique campus employees served by the ombuds office has remained relatively unchanged compared to the years before Operational Excellence’s implementation. The office saw 525 employees from 2008 to 2010, a shade under the 535 who consulted with the office from 2012 to 2014.

The ombuds office was established at UC Berkeley in 1984. Sara Thacker, director of the office, said in an email that she hoped the report “will spark conversation and creative problem solving,” on campus.

Contact Philip Cerles at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @PhilipCerles_DC.