Fermi National Laboratory

Volume 23  |  Friday, February 25, 2000  |  Number 4
In This Issue  |  FermiNews Main Page


by Judy Jackson

She spent the first morning of her new job in employee orientation, where she learned, among other things, how to fill out a time sheet, where to go in case a tornado approached and that, if she ever had a suggestion, she should write it down and put it in the suggestion box.

On her lunch break, out of curiosity, she went to look for the suggestion box. She couldn't find it. The next day, she asked her supervisor where it was. The supervisor thought it was around somewhere, but she couldn't find it either. It seemed that the suggestion box, a venerable Fermilab institution, had vanished. No one could remember exactly when or whence it had disappeared, but it was definitely gone. Fermilab was a suggestion-free zone.

Was the vanishing suggestion box in this true story a symptom of the overall communication gap at the laboratory that some Fermilab employees identified in a 1999 workplace survey? Or did it simply move to make way for a Wilson Hall gala event, and never return to its rightful place? Whatever the case, the suggestion box is back. First it appeared as a converted wooden disk-holder with a slot in the top. Now it's a built-in fixture on the northwest atrium wall of Wilson Hall. (A recent suggestion: Label the Wilson Hall atrium with the points of the compass, in tasteful lettering, so that people can see which way is north. Response: Good idea. The letters for "North," "South," "East" and "West" have been ordered and are on their way.) The box has made a comeback.

The traditional physical suggestion box, for hard-copy suggestions, is now joined by an electronic version on the Fermilab Web site (http://www.fnal.gov/directorate/public_affairs/suggestion.html). Suggestions from both sources will go, not directly to the shredder, as some skeptics have suggested, but to the Office of Public Affairs for forwarding to appropriate members of the Fermilab community for response. A suggestion to add trees to Wilson Hall parking lots went to the Facilities Engineering Services Section, for example. (Response: Good idea, but Roads and Grounds staff is too small to allow for the increased maintenance in summer and the snowplowing complications in winter that trees would add.)

Unless the suggestor requests otherwise, suggestions and responses are posted both on the Free Speech Bulletin Board in the atrium, above the suggestion box, and on the Web. Both electronic and hard-copy suggestors can remain anonymous if they choose.

Any questions?

Of course, the now-you-see-it-now-you-don't suggestion box was never the only mechanism for the expression of questions or concerns. Question periods at Fermilab Director Mike Witherell's All Hands Meetings in December gave another opportunity for employees to speak up about what was on their minds. Often the responses required a bit of research. Some examples:

  • Question: We held an open house at Fermilab several years ago. Do we have plans for another?

  • Response: A labwide open house is a powerful community-relations tool, but it takes an enormous effort and costs a very significant amount of money. As useful as they are, Fermilab can't afford to hold open houses too often. However, the Users' Executive Committee and the Office of Public Affairs have teamed up to offer a series of open houses on a smaller scale, with weekend tours of a single experiment or area, led by Fermilab scientists. The first "pilot" tours, of CDF, on February 12, were in such demand that many more people called to sign up than the tours could accommodate. More Saturday tours are coming. After Collider Run II gets going, another labwide open house is a possibility.

  • Question: Would an "alternative work schedule" option work for Fermilab? What about offering the choice of four 10-hour workdays a week, or nine nine-hour days every two weeks, instead of the traditional schedule of five eight-hour days?

  • Response: A Fermilab employee committee studied alternative work schedules and how they function in other organizations. The committee recommended that Fermilab give them a try. However, the Directorate and division and section heads were not enthusiastic, mostly because they thought such schedules would not be fair. Because of the nature of the work at Fermilab, many employees would not be able to take advantage of alternative schedules. Managers thought it would be unjust to offer the option to some, but not to all.

  • Question: Will the holiday shutdown continue?

  • Response: No. There will be no enforced vacation during the Christmas-New Year holiday in 2000. Fermilab will remain open, in order to let people choose their vacation time to suit their own schedules.

    Didn't have a chance to ask your question? Not the suggestion-box type? Don't forget the option that so many others have used: sit right down and write FermiNews a letter. Your thoughts will reach readers at Fermilab and around the world.

  • last modified 2/25/2000   email Fermilab