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10 Questions: Dwaine B. Duckett,UC vice president for human resources

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Faculty and staff systemwide recently had the opportunity to take part in a webchat with Dwaine B. Duckett, UC vice president for human resources, about a number of issues on their minds: UC’s revised layoff policy, 2012 health insurance costs, career development programs and other concerns. The Oct. 24 live-streamed webchat was moderated by Penny Herbert, UC staff advisor to the regents, and Ravinder Singh, chair of the Council of UC Staff Assemblies. The following is a selection of key questions edited for publication.
 
The University of California is revising the staff layoff policy and, over the summer, invited employee feedback to the proposed revision. Why is UC revising the policy, and are employee comments being taken into consideration?
 
We have a long-term goal at UC of building a more performance-oriented culture. Performance is not accounted for enough in some of our policies. Performance should count. The revision provides that in determining the order of layoff, and when things like seniority and skill sets are equal, performance may be considered as a factor.
 
The revised policy, which is being finalized and should be out within the next couple of weeks, is going forward because the feedback we received was overwhelmingly positive that this is the right thing to do. However, some employees were concerned about fairness in how managers evaluate performance throughout the organization. Based on this feedback — from both employees and managers — we made a number of changes to the policy to clarify what we’re trying to accomplish. In addition, to do a better job of performance management, we will be offering more training for managers.
 
Isn’t the revised policy just a way to get more highly paid senior employees off the payroll more easily?
 
There’s nothing to this myth about targeting more experienced employees for layoffs. Some of our best and most skilled people are our most experienced — people who have been here for a long time. They have the intellectual capital that helps the university run. To target experienced employees would be counter to everything we’re trying to do in terms of being more performance-oriented and more efficient. The prospect of any group being affected disproportionately (by layoffs or any other policy) is something that we take very, very seriously. We are commited to making sure that all our employees are treated fairly.
 
The UC merit program states that staff employees are eligible to receive a salary increase (merit pool of 3 percent), based on performance. Why were staff who received promotions or wage adjustments after January 1, 2011, not eligible?
 
The staff merit program is being administered to reward the performance of those who have been with the organization for a period of years and may not have received a salary increase for some time. We make a distinction between these employees and others who have had recent salary increases such as promotions or market adjustments, which brings a person to the appropriate market rate for the job. Also excluded were those who just starting working at the university a few months ago and are already at the right pay rate.
 
We wanted to be careful to not allow, quite frankly, a "double-dip" — someone receiving an additional 3 percent on top of their already appropriate market-based pay. Things like promotions and market adjustments are still happening at the university and will continue to happen. But for the merit program, the emphasis is on acknowledging people who may have gone a long time without an increase.
 
Information about 2012 health insurance premiums has just been released, and rates have gone up again, although modestly. What is UC doing to try to control costs?
 
Although some rates are going to go up, the real perspective here is that 70 percent of our employees’ rates will go up less than $10 a month. In today’s economy, with what’s happening out there with health care in general, I think this is outstanding.
 
Keeping costs down has been an emphasis for us, and our vendors and partners have done a good job working with us to make that a reality. Any changes that we make with regards to our insurance programs we make very carefully, assuring that it’s the best outcome for the university and employees in terms of going forward with our mission and taking care of our people.
 
Contributions to the UC Retirement Program may be going up again when the UC regents decide next month whether to raise employee contributions to 6.5 percent of covered salary, effective July 1, 2013. UC would contribute 12 percent. Is a cap ultimately going to be made on these increases? What’s the long-term plan?
 
The long-term plan for UCRP is to make sure that it’s a healthy program and to fund it. Right now, we are not covering what is called the "normal cost" of the program. Currently, the normal cost is around 18 percent of payroll, and we need to work up to that level. Defined pension benefit programs are very expensive to maintain. If you look at similar programs, such as the California Public Employees' Retirement System (CalPERS), employees are paying anywhere between 8 and 12 percent, a lot higher than what we’re paying in today.
 
We had a 20-year holiday from employees making contributions, which, unfortunately, people got used to. The good news is that through the regents’ actions and recommendations by UC’s Post-Employment Benefits Task Force, the increases have been incremental, easing us into the habit of making contributions again.
 
What contributions will be in the future is something of an unknown. We meet with the regents to define what those contribution rates are going to be. But we’re moving toward having a plan that’s healthy and will provide the benefits promised when people are ready to retire. Quite frankly — let’s not lose perspective — this is an excellent benefit. Outside of UC, a great many people’s retirements were affected back in 2008 to the extent that they can’t realistically retire, let alone know what their retirement income is going to be — something our defined benefit program offers.
 
What is UC doing to provide career development opportunities for staff?
 
In the coming year, we’re rolling out an exciting new systemwide program for policy-covered employees to help them manage their careers and determine the steps they need to take to reach their development goals. We are also reviewing job classifications across the system to better define potential career paths for individuals — not so much in terms of a vertical path where you do this job first and advance to the next job — but to let people know about the broad array of jobs available in a wide variety of fields. If, for example, someone is working in human resources today but is particularly interested in working in research, this program can help them accomplish that.
 
In the past, UCOP was considering offering tuition waivers for dependents of staff and faculty as a tool for retaining the best workforce. What’s the status of this?
 
This is a benefit that a lot of people would like to see. For people with a couple of children that are about to go to college, it would be a great thing. But an overwhelming number of our employees don’t have college-age children. So the question becomes, where are we going to invest in supporting employees overall? That’s a hard question to answer. We recognize that a number of other universities do offer this type of benefit. Those universities, however, tend to be private and have a lot more flexibility in that regard, while we can’t lose track of the fact that we are a public university. We need to make sure that we don’t create an imbalance in using public funds for the benefit of our own people internally. We are embarking on an even more comprehensive study to look at what the possibilities and costs would be. This will be studied very carefully.
 
What is the university considering in terms of telecommuting? The technology gets more and more robust around this.
 
We have a pretty healthy telecommuting policy now, with telecommuting possibilities available for many jobs. Participation depends on people’s thinking around how work is done — supervisors’ comfort level in giving people work to be done offsite, and employees’ comfort level in working electronically offsite. This kind of flexibility has served many organizations very well, especially with the Internet, and now "cloud" computing enabling this type of work.
 
Why does UC almost always evaluate in a top-down manner — supervisors evaluating employees instead of something more comprehensive, like a 360-degree review?
 
There’s a lot of energy around that — the idea of looking at a dimension called "people management" has been incorporated into the performance review of senior management. Although we do not have a formal program for everyone, I have found that many senior managers want their managers to be evaluated in terms of how effectively they are managing people in the organization. This is trend that you’re going to see increase. At UC, it’s very important to make sure that we’re doing a good job of managing people. So I think you’ll see more people asked about how they feel about their leadership and management. There’s an acknowledgement here that getting results through people is a skill and one that should be highly valued in our system.
 
Why does UC policy allow departments and schools to recall employees after retirement? Doesn’t that undermine the goals of talent management and professional development of less senior staff?
 
This is a point of view I’ve heard expressed before. I have asked myself the question: Is it that hard to find other people to do this work? In some circumstances, the work is so specialized that the answer is yes. In cases when rehiring a retiree works out for the university, it’s a great tool. Yet, do I suspect that in some cases we automatically default to rehiring retirees as opposed to doing more effective talent and succession management? Yes, I do.
 
Making sure that we’re doing the right thing for the operation and our employees is our utmost concern. We are very careful to make sure that the rules around rehiring retirees — things like limiting appointment time and level — are followed. Hopefully, in the future we’ll be able to meet our needs for those very specialized skills while also doing an even better job of talent and succession management.
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