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Emphasis on Employees
NIH Says 'Quality Worklife Equals Quality Science'

By Carla Garnett
Photos by Ernie Branson

On the Front Page...
Downsize, reorganize and change. Three terms that can strike uncertainty and fear in the heart of even the most well-adjusted, productive workforce. In recent years, those terms -- no matter how gently expressed -- often have been perceived only one way by employees: "threat to job." Recognizing that, NIH has joined an effort led by HHS Secretary Donna Shalala and top departmental staff to take the bite out of those and other job-related issues that weigh heavily on workers. Amid a festive rally atmosphere, NIH took time to focus on its workforce, launching a week-long Quality of Worklife celebration May 12-16.

Continued...
"Today we celebrate our employees," Shalala announced, via a videotaped presentation with HHS Deputy Secretary Kevin Thurm, during the opening ceremony. "We celebrate teamwork and we celebrate tenacity. We look back at our past accomplishments and look forward to our future challenges. We renew our promise to the American people."

'Quality' planning committee members (from l) Julie Kotzin-Jacob, Shirley Villone, Joan Brogan and Rene Kimzey staff a display outside Masur Auditorium.

Acknowledging several HHS milestone achievements -- that the nation's welfare rolls are down and more folks are being moved successfully from welfare to work, that the number of teenage pregnancies has dropped, and that the impact of tobacco in the lives of children has been reduced -- Shalala said the department has "three simple, but powerful goals" in its Quality of Worklife Initiative: to improve employee satisfaction, to strengthen workplace learning, and to manage ongoing change and transition better.

"No employee can improve the health of the American people without first enjoying the benefits of a healthy worklife," she concluded.

Echoing those sentiments and reiterating the secretary's commitment to streamline department work without layoffs, Thurm said the magic words that had NIH'ers around Masur Auditorium smiling and nodding their heads in approval. "We will help you keep your job -- maybe not the same job, but a good job...This is the beginning -- not the end -- of a process that will make us better employees and a better department."

OD's Sheila Monroe (r) consults with a fellow NIH'er during the agency's recent Quality of Worklife kickoff.

NIH's individual strategy, which all HHS components were required to develop, was released several months in advance of the kickoff week and includes five major goals: To improve communication with employees, to strengthen family-friendly work programs, to provide Internet access for the entire workforce, to create a learning organization and transition-management activities, and to promote and evaluate the effectiveness of diversity management. Representatives from a cross-section of NIH formed the committee that designed the plan, which is themed, "Quality of Worklife Equals Quality of Science." Each ICD has or will soon further define its individual strategy for improving worklife.

Jeanine McKay (l) and Diane Sullivan demonstrate Employee Express capabilities for an interested onlooker.

NIH deputy director Dr. Ruth Kirschstein said all employees can take a personal interest in the strategy's goals. "This week is all about working together so we can enhance those programs and create new ones that will result in a more positive and productive work environment at NIH," she commented. "Employees must be open to new ways of getting work accomplished. Although change can be invigorating and exciting, it must be managed properly or it can lead to uncertainty, frustration, low employee morale and job dissatisfaction. Managing change requires consideration of the people who will be affected by it and an understanding of how they -- and not just the organization -- will benefit from it."

Information on employee security, violence in the workplace, and commuting issues is provided by the Division of Public Safety and NIH police officers Tart Dickerson (c) and Tom Hayden.

Pointing out results of a recent HHS employee survey in which about 700 of the approximately 4,000 respondents were NIH'ers, Kirschstein said indications are that employees here feel pretty good already about their work environment. According to survey data, most NIH'ers feel they had been treated fairly, had received encouragement from their supervisors to work creatively, and almost always had been able to balance work with family lives. "This is a real tribute to our family-friendly programs and these results confirm that NIH is a leader with respect to helping employees meet the demands of work and home," Kirschstein claimed. However, NIH will not become complacent because of the positive report card, she continued. Projects on which the agency intends to place long-term emphasis include its diversity initiative ("We must continue to demonstrate respect for the similarities and differences that employees bring to the workplace," Kirschstein said, "and we are committed to strengthening this area so that all employees are valued.") and the seemingly eternal, universal NIH employee woe -- parking. Privatization of on-campus parking areas, increased leasing of offsite lots and establishment of telecommuting facilities are among the options being explored to alleviate parking stress, Kirschstein said.

Employee Assistance Program staffers Jean Campenni and Dr. Mike Bowler.

In addition to greetings from Shalala, Thurm and Kirschstein, the kickoff included an awards ceremony honoring dozens of employees and groups who have already gotten into the spirit of the quality initiative by taking leadership roles in projects ranging from promoting employee health and fitness to improving library operations to maintaining a safe and attractive NIH campus. Staffed by employee consultants and volunteers, a number of displays offering details of special programs for workers -- on such topics as violence in the workplace, day care options, and employee counseling -- lined the Clinical Center's main corridor. Other activities including brown bag lunches and video lectures closed out the week's celebration.


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