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Personnel, labor relations merge, move to Depot campus

When the goal of streamlining personnel services was announced in the strategic plan, no one envisaged the demands that would be placed on those services by an early retirement package that would lure nearly 400 University employees.

As it happened, within weeks of the April 24 merger of the former departments of personnel and labor relations to form the new Department of Human Resources, and the move to the Depot campus, the focus was not only on improving services but also on handling hundreds of inquiries from faculty and staff debating whether to take early retirement.

As if that was not enough, human resources leaders were also involved in budget negotiations and State Employee Bargaining Agent Coalition (SEBAC) negotiations at the same time. "That was a very challenging period," says Virginia Miller, assistant vice chancellor for human resources.

Perhaps nothing demonstrates more clearly the department's commitment to improved customer service than the way those challenges were handled: the staff held evening office hours, and the office was open every weekend for two months from the beginning of June.

Immediately after the retirement incentive ended, it was time to process the paperwork and payroll authorizations for all graduate assistants and new faculty and staff.

Now that the pace has slowed a little, human resources staff are inviting University employees to visit them for a more sociable event - an open house scheduled for Sept. 25.

"We want people to know about the full availability of services we provide to applicants, employees and managers of the University," says Miller.

"We want to enable 'one-stop shopping'," Miller says. For example, comprehensive benefit information is now available in one place: an employee who wants to check who is listed as a beneficiary for health benefits, inquire about tuition reimbursement, and obtain documents for a maternity leave need only consult a single office - human resources.

Also, information on both classified and unclassified positions and reclassifications can be dealt with in one unit. Recruitment and advertising for positions are conducted by the employment management unit.

Employment management, benefits, labor relations, classification and compensation, career development, and recruitment and screeing all fall under the purview of human resources.

The new merged department also includes the employee directory and listing of emeritus faculty, previously maintained by the Office of Institutional Research, and academic searches, formerly managed in the chancellor's office.

The open house planned for September 25 from 3-5 p.m. is also an opportunity for University employees to visit the department's new location in Allyn Larrabee Brown Building at the Depot campus. "The parking is wonderful," Miller says, "and for those who prefer to ride the bus, there is a shuttle every 20 minutes from the Student Union."

Miller notes that the department is also accessible by e-mail. "We do a lot of business that way," she says. "Questions come by e-mail almost as often as by phone."

Miller says the department hopes soon to have kiosks at sites at the Storrs and regional campuses, where employees who do not normally have access to a computer will be able to check on personnel and job information.

Increased access is just one of the changes that are planned.

Human resources is working with University Relations to introduce an orientation for all new employees. The department also plans to expand training and staff development opportunities.

There are more widespread changes in the offing, too.

One of these is to develop more broad-based job descriptions, or bands, with prescribed levels of competency that have pay attached. "The chance to move within the band by developing competencies gives an individual more opportunity for mobility and defined career progress," says Miller. The approach is being piloted among staff of the library.

In addition to plans for the future, the department is still coping with the aftermath of the retirements. "Now we're handling the issues of replacement and reorganization," says Miller. "Managers and department heads were charged with taking a very critical look at the way work is being done and seeing if there are better ways to do it. With the loss of the 383 people who retired, we can't possibly continue business as usual in every venue. A lot of people did some very critical and very innovative thinking, and now the proposals are coming into the chancellor's office," she says.

But although the changes keep Miller and her staff busy, she says "it's very exciting. We will never be bored over here."

Elizabeth Omara-Otunnu