Fermi National Laboratory

Volume 22  |  Friday, May 14, 1999  |  Number 10
In This Issue  |  FermiNews Main Page

How’s Work?

Thanks to NIU researchers, Fermilab will soon have data on how employees rate their workplace.

by Sharon Butler

Last fall, Northern Illinois University graduate student Scott Young and his advisor, Chris Parker, in the Industrial/Organizational Psychology Program, approached Fermilab about the possibility of doing what they called a "climate survey"—a study of the attitudes of employees and how those attitudes affect group cohesion, job satisfaction, and productivity. While the researchers were interested in data on small work groups, the information in aggregate would give Fermilab management a sense of how employees, as a whole, feel about their work environment.

The idea intrigued Associate Director Bruce Chrisman. No employee opinion survey had ever been conducted at Fermilab; management had only anecdotal information. The timing seemed appropriate, since the results of the study would be ready not too long after the new director, Michael Witherell, took office. And finally, such surveys typically cost a minimum of $20,000. Fermilab would have to pay only about $1,000 (to cover the cost of printing the survey).

Director John Peoples backed the idea, seeing it as a chance to strengthen a growing relationship with NIU, which recently launched a Ph.D. program in physics.

Now, the research team is ready to get started.

On May 20 and 25, at nine locations around the Lab, NIU researchers will be on hand to administer the surveys, which take only about 20 minutes to fill out. Watch for an all-employee mailing with details of the times and places.

Parker is hoping for full participation. "The more people who fill out the survey," he said, "the better for Scott’s dissertation." But Parker also emphasized that the survey is a chance for employees to give feedback to management on how to improve Fermilab’s work environment.

The questions address such issues as how employees view their managers, whether they feel that policies and procedures are fair, how challenging they find their work and how much freedom they have to do their jobs.

Parker emphasized that the survey will be absolutely confidential. Questionnaires are filled out anonymously. NIU researchers, not Fermilab staff, will collect, enter and analyze the data, sharing only aggregated information with the Laboratory. One sheet, which will be separated from the individual survey forms, asks employees to identify their supervisors, but that information is only for Young’s dissertation work, since he needs to delineate work groups.

According to Kay Van Vreede, head of Fermilab’s Laboratory Services Section, NIU expects to complete its analysis in about six weeks. Fermilab management will then review the aggregated results and share them with the Laboratory’s employees. Depending on what emerges from the survey, management will decide how to proceed and what steps to take to address any serious problems. The researchers will also provide comparison data aggregated from similar surveys conducted elsewhere, giving Fermilab a means of comparing itself with other organizations.

Until then, Van Vreede is eager to encourage participation. "The more people that complete the survey, the more meaningful data we’ll have," she said.

It’s a sentiment Lab scientists can well appreciate.

last modified 5/14/1999   email Fermilab