From November 2008 through January 2009, 23 focus groups gave a cross-section of Fermilab employees and users the opportunity to provide an in-depth look at the work environment at the laboratory. When we began this process, I committed to make public the results of the focus groups and the accompanying report. I hope you will take time to read and think about them. For anyone who cares about Fermilab, they make compelling reading.
A primary purpose of the focus groups was to examine workplace issues for women and members of minorities, but they also explored a wide range of issues affecting the working environment. To protect the privacy of the participants and encourage candid dialog, Fermilab engaged a consultant, The Perspectives Group, to design and carry out the focus-group process using a representative sample of the full range of Fermilab employees and users. All in all, 187 employees and users took part.
The focus groups gave us some good news. In the words of the Perspective Group’s report, “Based on the focus groups, there is no evidence of a recognizable systemic bias toward any minority group at Fermilab. Few minority participants believed that issues or concerns they have faced at Fermilab resulted from their minority status. The vast majority of participants indicated that they enjoy working at Fermilab and describe it as a respectful workplace.”
However, as you will see, the focus groups also identified real challenges and issues in the Fermilab workplace, ranging from specific questions about the fairness of flex-time policies and parental leave to all-encompassing issues of our common Fermilab culture. It is clear that the performance review program as it is currently implemented is not well understood and may need revision. A lack of common management standards and training leads to great variability in the way managers interpret and apply policies. Communication between managers and employees at all levels can be poor. Many graduate students feel lost in the system. Career paths are not always clear, and we lack a lab-wide mentoring program. These are some of the major themes that emerge.
I committed not only to make the focus-group results public but to act on them. Our next steps will be to take advantage of what we have learned to make Fermilab a better place to work. I encourage everyone to read the report and the working group summaries, and to discuss these in your workplace and with your supervisors. To make Fermilab a better place to work we must all engage.
Areas that we will be addressing over the next year include:
- Implementation of flex-time and other policies
- Performance reviews
- Human Resources
- Grad students
- Laboratory culture
Of course, we will also continue our focus on ensuring that Fermilab provides a
respectful and supportive work environment for women and members of
We will hold an all-hands meeting very soon to discuss these issues as a community.