Town Hall covers range of human resources-related topics

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Opportunities for employee growth, health care and benefits, changes taking place in the University’s Human Resources management system, and retaining and rewarding staff and faculty were among the topics covered during a Town Hall with Penn State leaders Wednesday afternoon that focused on human resources-related issues.

Susan Basso, vice president and chief human resources officer, and Nick Jones, provost and executive vice president, fielded a range of questions that faculty and staff had the opportunity to submit before or during the Town Hall. Basso said the Human Resources team members are always ready to listen to employees and hear their thoughts on what the University is doing.

“Part of the reason we’re going through the (human resources) transformation is we want to get better. We want to be really, really good at what we do, and we want our employees to feel really good about working at Penn State,” Basso said.

The University is in the process of rolling out Workday, a new payroll and human resources capital management system, a replacement for the Employee Self Service Information Center. The University also has made other recent changes, including transitioning to a new student information system, LionPATH.

Jones said while it may be cliché, change is the new normal, and the University is in the process of playing a little bit of catch-up.

“It may not seem like it every day, but we are very sensitive to the pace of change and trying to manage the roll out of these systems in a way that it doesn’t all come down on everybody at once,” Jones said.

Those changes were the focus of questions as were retaining talented employees, development opportunities, employee raises and benefits, and the outlook for health care plans in the future.

Basso said it was too early to predict exactly what the University’s health care options will be in 2018, but as soon as that information is available it will be shared with faculty and staff.

“Employees and their families are always first and foremost in the conversation. Making sure we can offer high quality accessible care at an affordable cost really is what is driving all of the conversations,” Basso said.

A number of groups are providing input and feedback on employee benefits, including the Faculty Senate Benefits Committee, the Joint Committee on Insurance and Benefits, a Health Care Advisory Committee to the president and the University Staff Advisory Council.

Jones said the administration is fortunate to have expert insight and guidance from some of the best thinkers that could be hoped for on the Health Care Advisory Committee.

“They’re helping us navigate through what is a very turbulent time period,” Jones said.

On the question of what types of raises employees can expect in the upcoming fiscal year, Jones said while much remains unsettled, including how much funding the University will receive from the state, the hope is for raises in the range of 1.5 percent to 2 percent.

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Parental leave was another topic that came up, and Basso said the University continues to review its policies on maternity and paternity leave, which are different for faculty and staff. Staff, she noted, can accrue time off, which faculty do not.

She said the University is going to roll out an optional short-term disability plan in 2018. Employees who opt to purchase the benefit would be assured an income even after they have used all of their sick time. She said it could be used for pregnancies as well.

Other topics included allowing staff to donate sick time along with vacation time, providing more flexibility to employee schedules and encouraging employees to take advantage of training and development opportunities.

Basso said once Human Resources has made the transition to Workday, HR will be working hard to look at workforce policies and offering more flexibility to employees. She also said that Human Resources plans to issue a formal statement on release time for staff that sets a positive tone for supervisors to allow employees to be released to do professional development activities.

In response to one question, Jones said 587 employees across the University opted to participate in the voluntary retirement program (VRP) Penn State offered Sept. 1, 2016. He said while there is no question the University will feel the impact of that, especially in June 2017 – when 75 percent of those who are participating will retire – the program also offers a unique chance for the University to strategically reinvest in the workforce.

“We now have an opportunity with the VRP over the next several years to really take a good hard look at our workforce and our workforce needs and make the investments we need to make, while being mindful of filling the critical duties that were vacated by the individuals who are leaving,” Jones said.

Basso and Jones encouraged faculty and staff to continue to offer ideas and feedback about those and other topics. Jones said he visits all Penn State locations at this time of year and is always impressed with how much he learns from those directly involved in running the University.

“We’re all in this together, and we want to support all of our staff and faculty as well our students, in helping them really be part of the exciting enterprise Penn State represents. We value your contributions to this institution immensely, and we wouldn’t be the institution we are without you,” he said. “We thank you for that, and we’re always open to your ideas and suggestions about how we could make things better.”

The Town Hall, held in the HUB-Robeson Center and available via livestream at all University locations, was cosponsored by Penn State Today and the University Staff Advisory Council. The meeting was one of a series of public sessions the administration has been holding to provide faculty and staff with information on University initiatives, answer questions and address concerns.

The session will be archived and available to watch online, with the address to be announced in Penn State Today. Also check Penn State Today for “Asked and Answered: An Ongoing Discussion,” a series of Q&A videos that addresses questions that there was not time to respond to during the Town Hall.

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Last Updated April 12, 2017