Participants have plenty to say about Shaping the Workplace


The first of the Shaping the Workplace workshops this morning drew more than 100 people, who were broken up into five groups to explore the different areas Human Resources is trying to address.


Two other Shaping the Workplace engagement sessions are schedule for the Pittsburgh campus, on Jan. 17 and 22. These are both full, but you can get on a waiting list.

Other sessions are being planned for the regional campuses.

If you can’t attend a session, you can still comment online at, which is accessible through the Pitt portal.

David DeJong, vice chancellor for Human Resources, once again outlined the framework of the project to address salary and compensation, benefits, work-life balance, performance review and talent development, and climate, culture and work environment

The compensation issues, DeJong said, is already being worked on, including benchmarking against similar jobs outside the University and realigning job classifications.

Other areas HR is specifically looking at are flexibility in work arrangements, intergenerational differences in benefit priorities, and performance reviews. A working group has already been formed to overhaul the current reviews.

Participants were encouraged to give their opinions to a couple questions in each of the areas being studied, and they didn’t hold back (at least not in the one group I followed).

Salary and compensation

When asked what is currently working with compensation, most of the responses focused on what was not working.

Even one positive — giving bigger raises to people who were under a certain salary level — was offset by someone saying that money might take away from people who deserved merit raises.

Other comments:

  • “Not all Admin 2s have the same responsibility. Some work off the charts and others sleep at their desk, but we all get the same raises.”
  • One supervisor said that when she wants to hire someone, she’s discouraged from giving them above the midpoint in the salary range, which often means she doesn’t get the person she wants.
  • There’s a discrepancy between pay grade and what the job description is asking for in experience and education.
  • “It’s disheartening that to do financially better at Pitt, it benefits you to leave the University and then come back. If I’d have left in 2005 after getting an MBA and then came back, I’d be offered more than I make now. People who have stayed here are at a disadvantage.”
  • Those who take advantage of Pitt’s education benefits and get a master’s degree should be recognized by getting more compensation.


Discrepancies between departments and the administration’s high regard for Pitt’s benefits package came up for attention in this group.

“HR might think their benefits are better than we think it is,” one man said. “When I try to hire, it’s difficult because the salary isn’t great and then the benefits are so-so.”

New employees are told that the amount they will be paid, often lower than outside the University, is offset by their children getting free tuition to go to Pitt, one woman said, but what if you don’t have or want children. And if you come to the University with a master’s degree, you may not have any use for the employee education benefits.

Another person said there needs to be a better definition of sick time and what it can be used for. “Sick time can only be used if you are dying, at least in my department. If I have a doctor’s appointment, I have to take a full day for a two-hour appointment.”

A few ideas did spring up:

  • Allow new employees, who have no sick or personal time, to purchase time off that they can pay back over time.
  • Create a sick day bank that employees can give to co-workers with serious illnesses.
  • Restore education benefits for employee’s children who don’t go to Pitt.
  • Create satellite, Pitt-related day care centers in outlying areas, that might be less expensive because they don’t have to deal with the high rents in Oakland.

Work-life balance

Overall, the staff members who spoke want more flexibility in their work hours, and they want their supervisors to all be on board with this.

“As a whole, the University could be less rigid about the 8:30 to 5 work day, one hour lunch,” one woman said. “Some people want to work earlier, some want to work later. We could actually have longer office hours (if we were more flexible).”

Another woman who said she supervises a department said, “I trust my staff, if someone needs to take time during day, I trust them to make that up. And in the end, that makes them much happier employees.”

It was quite apparent that there is a great discrepancy in how supervisors treat their employees. Several people suggested that new managers need to go through orientation to be aware of the University’s policies and then should get a re-orientation periodically.

“I should be able to take a lunch and not be yelled at about ‘why didn’t I get this done’,” said another woman, who also said there needs to be boundaries about her boss texting her at 11 p.m. about something she needs to deal with the next day or while she’s on vacation.

A separate issue raise was about fitness centers for staff and faculty, which one man said, “are dismal compared to the student centers.”

Talent development and evaluations

Again, participants thought managers should be trained on how to develop staff to move forward. But they also thought the University as a whole made it easy for people to get pigeon-holed.

One woman said that when she’s wanted to apply and transfer to another unit, she has put her information in the HR talent system and then never heard back from anyone. She thought that as a Pitt employee, her application should at least be acknowledged.

Others said it’s hard to move up job classification levels, even as they take on more responsibilities.

Other issues:

  • Evaluations also got some attention. One woman said in the 10 years she’s been in her current department, she’s never gotten an appraisal. Another said that annual appraisals are antiquated, and supervisors should be meeting with employees regularly to address issues as they arise.
  • A suggestion on ways staff members could make safe, anonymous evaluations of their supervisors was greet with enthusiasm. One man said that his manager is now evaluated by someone who’s rarely in the office.
  • Temp staff also need staff development, said one woman, “I’ve heard there have been people who’ve been temps for years.” And when they are hired full time they don’t get credit for the time as a temp. Mark Burdsall, assistant vice chancellor for HR, who was leading this discussion, said that if that’s the case HR wants to know about. He said they try to monitor the overuse of temp employees.

Work environment

In defining what inclusion means, one woman said, “Everyone has a voice, and everyone is respected, and everyone is heard and feels safe and can express themselves in a non-hostile environment.”

There needs to be an open level of communication for new staff and long-time employees about what they need to do their job, such as a standing desk or more private space, a woman in a supervisory role said.

Another person in a hiring position said he’d like to see more help from Human Relations to reach out to under-represented minorities when they’re looking to fill a position.

And not all disabilities are visible, one person said, and those with mental health issues might feel a stigma and be afraid to ask for an accommodation.

One adjunct professor raised the issue that adjuncts are not treated the same as other employees. They don’t have access to some buildings, get their IDs too late to do research for classes over the summer and have to deal with uneven pay.

Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at or 412-648-4294.


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