Chapter Chatter - June 26, 2014


In this Chatter, we discuss these items:

  • Engagement
  • Interim Performance Evaluations
  • Peer Review Recommendations
  • OCC Office Space

Engaged? Or not…

"Engagement" has been intensifying as an OCC-mandated campaign. Management and employees have spent countless hours on the surveys and action plans required of every OCC unit.

NTEU questions the value and appropriateness of all of this. While the union is always in favor of employee engagement (indeed it is one of the main reasons we exist), it needs to be done right or it risks being ineffective, or worse. We have mounting evidence of a very dysfunctional engagement campaign.

No employee should be required to do anything other than his or her work. If management wishes to improve, they can solicit voluntary ideas or comments, as well as voluntary participation in team building events and similar activities. Regrettably, what we are seeing is ‘pressured’ engagement. It was bad enough that senior managers repeatedly implored employees to complete the optional survey last fall, in some cases offering small rewards for the most "engaged” team. Then engagement became compulsory. An engagement survey-related objective or objective measure was incorporated into most (if not all) 2014 performance plans, OCC-wide.

Employees were told: engage or else. In at least one case, an employee’s manager stated that the employee was going to be downgraded to a "1" if the employee did not attend, participate in, and contribute to the engagement survey meetings. We know the pressure is wide-spread, even though we do not yet have a catalog of the stated consequences. However, we know that the threat of a performance rating downgrade has not been limited to one employee.

We also know that countless managers below the senior management level feel the same type of pressure. While nobody is going to speak up against the mandate they were handed, first-line supervisors and other mid-level managers are quietly caught between a rock and a hard place. Like their subordinate employees, the clear message was: comply with engagement or else.

Compliance has been occurring. We are familiar with some situations where the manager and subordinate employees have complied with what they were instructed to do. Managers then have the added burden of entering the various action plans into an "action tracker." But we specifically know of plans either unrelated to, or somewhat disconnected with, the real concerns employees feel. For example, where "communication" was identified as a concern, an action plan increased the frequency of staff meetings. Addressing the frequency of meetings does not necessarily address the quality and substance of communication. And where "ethics" was identified as a concern, it appears that action plans tend to focus on ethics ‘rules’ or ‘training’, while ignoring the real concern: that is, ethics in a broader sense, including significant abhorrent behavior, even at senior levels in the agency.

In other words, we are seeing and hearing about superficial efforts to fulfill the mandate: efforts that are wasting time, imposing new burdens, and leading to greater alienation. It has even been suggested, with appropriate sarcasm, that the next engagement survey (this fall), should include the following question: "Did your compulsory participation in engagement study meetings make you feel more or less engaged in your job?"

Also, units that have "opportunities" to improve (i.e., low survey scores) may be bearing the brunt of the engagement initiative. That is, they may be spinning their "action" wheels more than units that scored relatively well on the survey, for real or artificial reasons. We need information on this even though comparative assessments will be difficult, since every unit was left to devise distinct action plans, supposedly reflecting its unique "opportunities" and strengths.

In the future, some managers and subordinate employees could indirectly game the surveys, to avoid negative consequences. Possible consequences could inhibit candid responses. Suppose, for example, that a unit's current-year action is to hold monthly staff meetings, to address some viewpoint that communication is lacking. If the next survey does not show improved scores, would the unit's next action plan be weekly staff meetings? Or daily? If survey scores do not improve, will senior management double down on everyone below? Or recognize that the whole engagement initiative may be dysfunctional and ought to be abandoned or totally reconsidered?

Is the hope that superficial engagement will improve morale in this agency? Will managers who show no improvement be subtly or overtly penalized? Will those penalties in some way be passed down to their staffs? Has anyone considered that negative scores may relate to senior managers -- two, three or more levels up an employee's command chain or outside the chain -- and not necessarily to the employee's local or first-line supervisor? Engagement is not a substitute for proper training of supervisors at any level.

NTEU remains largely outside the engagement initiative that was conceived at the top and implemented by the Executive Committee. We are unsure to what extent the Comptroller and his Chief of Staff are aware of the negative consequences of what has occurred so far. NTEU was not involved in the development of the initial survey nor the plans on how the survey results were disseminated, analyzed, and utilized. And based on that history, NTEU declined to take on the title of "engagement champion." Even after management was informed of that declination, management representatives initially stated that NTEU had agreed to be a "champion." The incorrect statement was then withdrawn; just another "oops, we didn't do it intentionally". Additionally, for engagement study meetings held subsequent to the survey, the agency failed to provide sufficient facilitators to aid in the action planning sessions, particularly for those units that had very low engagement scores.

We know that each unit, and indeed each employee, probably has a different perspective on what is occurring. We need as many stories and perspectives as possible, to get a better sense of how pressured engagement is impacting you, or if it's impacting you at all. In some cases, implementation of ‘action plans’ may involve changes in working conditions. Implementation of changes which may impact conditions of employment require prior notice and briefing to NTEU and an opportunity to bargain as required per the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

We need to know. Your feedback is important. Please call or email your chapter representatives.

How did your Interim Performance Meeting go for you?

By May 15th, employees should have had their 2014 mid-year performance evaluation (a/k/a the Interim Review). Per the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), “the interim review must be held for each employee as close as possible to the mid-point of the performance period, normally within 45 days of the mid-point.” Included with new provisions negotiated into the CBA, “…the employee will be informed if the Rating Official has identified a change in the employee’s performance that would result in a reduction in the employee’s summary or element rating from that assigned in the prior year.

NTEU would like to get some feedback from you to determine how many of you received a “4” in one or more Critical Job Elements (CJE) in the last rating period and were told at your interim that your performance is no longer at that “4” level and could be lowered at your next annual evaluation. Understand that the rating official is supposed to inform employees of any potential decline, regardless of the rating level (3 or 4). (Please be guided by the CBA, Article 8, Performance Evaluation.) Additionally, a lot can happen after the interim that can impact ratings; hence, an employee can still experience a reduced rating without having been informed of such at the interim. Conversely, your ratings could go up after the interim.

Your rating official should not use anything negative against you that occurred prior to your interim review that was not brought to your attention during your interim, unless it relates to a pattern that would not have impacted the rating at the time of the interim. If you ask your rating official about your performance in a particular CJE, your manager should be prepared to discuss your performance in that CJE. They do not get a pass, nor can they say that they refuse to discuss it with you. That is not acceptable! Remember – no surprises! Hence, we encourage you to memorialize the gist of your interim meeting/discussion in an e-mail to your manager to close the loop and to ensure that you and your manager are on the same page!

Again, we are looking for any feedback you can provide. Please address any feedback to your Chapter President.

Peer Review Recommendations

On May 28th, the Comptroller announced the recommendations, which were developed from the Peer Review Working Groups' original proposals and subsequent revisions after considerable feedback. We discussed briefly the recommendations at the Labor Management Forum (LMF) meetings on June 18th and 19th. Among the concerns we raised is that the management communications have been less than completely clear on how these changes will impact employees.

We received an additional, more in-depth briefing Wednesday, June 25th. The discussion was informative and focused primarily around the establishment of large bank risk teams and shared resources, examiner rotations, and the distinction between core and dedicated large bank team members. The latter refers to large bank team members who do or will work out of OCC facilities other than the bank itself.

The important takeaway from this meeting was that none of the details have been finalized, or for that matter in some cases even identified. And while the word may circulate that the agency is in an implementation phase, implementation on the 23 action items for process improvement cannot occur without those details and consultation (and if necessary, bargaining) with the NTEU.

NTEU is following this process very closely. Again, we would like to thank our four NTEU reps on the two Peer Review Working Groups for the their invaluable contributions and time dedicated to this process. Stay tuned for more information as it develops!

OCC Office Space

As a result of the Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations last summer, a working group was set up to review the future configuration of field offices. Essentially, management has recommended significant changes to what our Real Estate division calls the field office Workplace Branding. If you have not yet taken the OCC Space Survey, there are pictures in the survey illustrating the look of these proposals. As outlined in the Survey email, the following represents the basic tenets of the proposals being considered:

  1. A home office option will be available when we build out a new office for those employees who meet eligibility, legal, and telework requirements. Selecting this option would replace assigned workspace in OCC leased offices for those employees.
  2. The office will have a place to sit for all assigned staff. Individuals who routinely work from the office will have assigned space. The remaining staff will not have an assigned space, but will choose from several workspace options when in the office.
  3. Build outs will be based on projected staff. The number of workstations will be based on occupancy data for that office at a 75 percent confidence level. In other words, if a staff member wants to work in a workstation, there will be a 75 percent chance one will be available. Cubicles/workstations will be 49 square feet, but would not exceed 48” in height so as to allow outside light to reach all parts of the office. We anticipate space would range from 110 to 150 square feet per employee, down from approximately 190 square feet currently.
  4. Remaining open work and meeting spaces will be based on local preferences and from options presented by Workplace Services.
  5. Manager offices will be smaller than the current configuration, and ADC Analysts will work from assigned workstations.

If you received the OCC Space Survey email, please take the time to complete this important survey. Office space affects all LBS, field office, and MCBS staff. So, please fill out the survey. Surveys are a way to ensure that your wishes are recorded. The survey deadline is Monday, June 30th.

The working group has not issued any final recommendations. NTEU has serious concerns about the viability of the open concept and the elimination of assigned cubes for most examiners in the field offices. Hence, we are looking to the results of the survey to see how employees feel about it. (Please note this entire process will be "lease" driven and a process that will occur over several years.)

As always in these types of situations, we are advocates for what the employees want and need to get the job done and the agency mission accomplished. The agency used to refer to us as its most valuable assets. NTEU remains committed to that precept.