Yale Bulletin and Calendar

June 9, 2006|Volume 34, Number 30|Five-Week Issue















Jeff Hartley, third cook in University Commons, prepares meat for a meal at the Yale Dining Halls. As a result of changes introduced there through the Best Practices initiative, there has been a 60% drop in the number of grievances filed by union members in the University's dining halls.

Union, management working together to improve workplace culture through Best Practices initiative

When Yale managers and union representatives gathered around a table this spring to assess the success of a new initiative to improve workplace culture, they came to the same conclusion: Best Practices is already producing impressive results.

Grievances have dropped -- in some cases, dramatically -- and communication is on the rise, report those departments that have launched Best Practices projects.

Simply put, the Best Practices initiative aims to improve workplace productivity, staff morale and customer satisfaction by involving members of labor and management as partners working together to achieve these goals. The initiative grew out of contract negotiations three years ago. Formal implementation of the program began last fall when senior managers and union leaders were trained together and jointly developed a vision and goals for the initiative and a strategy for the 2005-2006 academic year.

To date, eight groups have launched pilot programs: Dining Services, the Animal Resources Center at the School of Medicine, the Department of Athletics, the Yale Center for British Art, Library Services, Yale University Health Services (YUHS), the Department of Internal Medicine's Dana 3 Clinic and the Yale Medical Group.

In Dining Services, one of the first departments to launch a Best Practices project, the program has helped create "a more stable workforce" while improving "customer and employee satisfaction," reported Mike Schoen, first cook in Berkeley College dining hall.

Dining Services has 450 employees who run 22 dining venues seven days a week, 15 hours per day. Staff members serve 2.4 million meals a year and cater 2,500 events.

Labor and management representatives in Dining Services launched their Best Practices project by forming a Joint Departmental Committee (JDC), which met regularly to address two major issues: reducing the backlog of grievances and decreasing the use of casual workers (those who work under 20 hours per week and receive no benefits). The team established procedures to help staff members communicate effectively and resolve conflicts before they escalate into formal complaints. In addition, they reorganized work schedules, thereby converting many casual positions to jobs with benefits.

As a result, grievances in Dining Services dropped by 60% in five months and use of casual labor was reduced by 50% in five residential college dining halls.

"Best Practices, for me, is about listening to the people who do the work," noted Schoen.

Every workplace has distinct challenges. At YUHS, for example, patients have to be matched with doctors and other practitioners in a way that respects privacy, minimizes waiting and responds to emergencies, noted Nancy Creel, associate director of administration services. Some patients need primary care, while others need specialists, she explained, and people who are new to Yale Health Services may need help navigating the system.

The Health Services JDC opted to focus on patient access to providers, beginning in four departments: dermatology, orthopedics, internal medicine and obstetrics/gynecology. Labor and management have been working together to create detailed flow charts tracking processes in these departments to analyze the patient access process and to improve the system.

In the Department of Athletics, where more than 200 employees coordinate multiple facilities at diverse sites, the focus has been on improving communications in order to insure that people aren't getting in each other's way, duplicating efforts or letting requests slip through the cracks, said Barbara Chesler, senior associate athletics director.

To improve communications and to address commonly asked questions, the Athletics JDC is currently creating an internal website for use by all its department employees.

The director of Yale's Best Practices initiative is Paula Wilson, who has worked for the University for 33 years. A former associate director at the Yale Cancer Center, and later administrator of the Section of Comparative Medicine and the Animal Resources Center at the School of Medicine, Wilson helped organize a JDC within the Animal Resources Center before being recruited as director of Best Practices in November 2005. She hopes to work with the unions and management to launch 20 to 30 new JDCs at departments across campus during the next few years.

"It is so gratifying to sit at the table and see people who used to mistrust each other now sharing information," she said of the meeting this spring. "You see people work together and treat each other with respect. Managers are listening to the workers on the front lines."

Wilson's sentiments are echoed by both Yale officials and union leaders alike.

President Richard C. Levin said that he is "truly encouraged by the progress so far and the attitude: wholehearted commitment to the process and deep engagement between the unions and management."

Levin added, "This is a long-term commitment at the highest levels of the University to change the way we work together and to demonstrate that, by working together on productivity and service improvements, we can bring about meaningful and lasting results."

Bob Proto, president of Local 35, noted: "We used to have a dysfunctional relationship. We are absolutely on track now to change our culture. We have to change the way we look at the work we do. As representatives of the workers, we should not be afraid to be open, to be flexible, to be measured. To become more efficient and effective is a win-win for both labor and management."

Laura Smith, president of Local 34, added, "Our members have embraced the concept of Best Practices and are fully committed to the process that will make it happen."

Further information about the Best Practices initiative is available at www.yale.edu/bestpractices.


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