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Town Hall covers workplace climate, Values and Culture Survey results

Monday, June 25, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Workplace climate and resources for reporting wrongdoing were among the topics covered during a Town Hall with Penn State leaders Monday (June 25). The town hall focused on the recently released results of the University’s 2017 Values and Culture Survey.

Nick Jones, executive vice president and provost; David Gray, senior vice president for finance and business; and Tim Balliett, University ethics officer, shared information and answered a range of questions from the community. The town hall was held in the Biobehavioral Health Building at University Park, and also was livestreamed for community members at every Penn State campus. In the coming days, a recording of the meeting will be shared at LiveEvents.psu.edu, for the benefit of those who were unable to attend or watch live. 

The Values and Culture Survey is an ongoing initiative to gauge the climate at Penn State and focus on the well-being and safety of the University community. In 2013, Penn State launched its first Values and Culture Survey, which was sent to all students, faculty and staff, and in October 2017, conducted a second survey again administered by a third-party vendor to examine progress the University has made. 

“Across higher education, Penn State is the first institution of our size to conduct a comprehensive survey on these topics, and it is our intention to use this knowledge to continuously improve and create a positive, safe and encouraging environment for all faculty, staff and students,” Gray said. “Our latest results show significant progress in many critical areas, but also identify areas where there is still work to be done. Each member of our Penn State community can play an important role as we continue to build on this progress.” 

As part of the meeting, Balliett shared key findings from the survey results indicating that individuals’ connections with Penn State remain strong; awareness of the Penn State Values has grown; recognition of resources and support for reporting wrongdoing has increased; and that there is greater willingness among community members to report misconduct.

“As we continue to raise awareness of resources and to better explain the process of reporting misconduct, we are encouraged that faculty and staff awareness of ethics and compliance resources has roughly doubled since 2013 and rates of reporting misconduct have risen across the board,” Balliett said.

In the past five years, the University has taken significant steps to make reporting easier, educate people about resources and to protect employees against retaliation. A universal hotline number was instituted in recent years and University employees and students can report issues and/or ask questions via phone at 1-800-560-1637 or online.

Other key initiatives also include simplifying and standardizing the process for investigation and review of complaints, and repeated communications on how and when to report wrongdoing. In addition, the Office of Ethics and Compliance and Human Resources have worked directly with colleges, campuses and units to address specific challenges.

Audience questions during the Town Hall ranged from what to do if employees are bullied at work to whether reports made to the Penn State Hotline can be truly anonymous.  

Gray reiterated that all employees are held to the code of responsible conduct, and that the University does not tolerate bullying, harassment or other behavior that runs contrary to the Penn State Values.  

“We understand it can be uncomfortable to come forward with allegations of wrongdoing and want to let employees know they will have our support if they decide to do so,” Jones said. “There are a variety of reporting resources available to you, and when a report of misconduct is made, we do and will investigate.”

Staff and faculty members who are uncomfortable talking to their direct supervisor about an issue shouldmake a report directly to their unit’s HR Strategic Partner, the Labor and Employee Relations office or call the Penn State Hotline, 24/7. All reports made to the hotline can be anonymous, as an independent third party, EthicsPoint, administers the hotline on behalf of the University. A summary of reporting resources is available at reporting.psu.edu.

More than one individual asked about the process that the university follows after a report of wrongdoing is received, and shared the perception that reports seem to go unaddressed or that results of individual investigations are not widely shared. Balliett said Penn State has a team of individuals dedicated to thoroughly investigating all reports of misconduct that are brought to its attention.

“The University in most cases cannot divulge specific information about personnel matters, however people who report misconduct are confidentially informed, via a third-party company, about the high-level outcome of an investigation, including whether action was taken,” Jones said. “The outcomes are not always clear or obvious, but if an investigation has a finding, it’s our practice to take appropriate action in that instance. It’s done discreetly and confidentially, but I assure you we investigate every call and hotline report we get. Moving forward, Penn State will strengthen further its communications efforts in this area.”  

While there are many positive indications from the survey, efforts are underway to address issues of real and perceived retaliation through education and the implementation of an anti-retaliation program similar to those in large for-profit organizations, according to Gray.

“If there’s one thing to underscore it is that everyone has an important role to play in improving the strength and fabric of our University community, and as leaders we’re committed to facing challenges and making changes,” Gray said. “After the first survey in 2013, we began work to address retaliation with a pilot program in Finance and Business called the Taking Action Initiative to try to promote robust, respectful and civil communication and trust at all levels of our unit. We hope to apply lessons learned from this pilot to other areas of the University.”

“We will protect you against retaliation, which in itself is a form of misconduct. We need you to know that as leaders, we will have your back if you feel like you’ve been retaliated against for making a report,” Jones said. “If you feel like you’re being retaliated against, please make a report. Retaliation in any form, including social retaliation, which can include damaged reputation, being ignored or excluded, is not something Penn State tolerates, and is against University policy.”

In addition to the pilot program in Finance and Business, Human Resources, in partnership with the Office of Ethics and Compliance, provides certified training and seminars for current supervisors throughout the year. Additional training and communications for current supervisors also are the subject of active conversation among University leadership.

“Our challenges continue to evolve over time, and today we are much more aware and sensitive, and we’ve made some good progress, but much work remains in this space. It’s important for those in our community to be willing to speak up,” Jones said. “It’s easy to look the other way when we see wrongdoing, but it is everybody’s responsibility to make a report if we see something. We take adherence to our core institutional values very seriously, and by calling out people for their behavior and making misconduct reports, we’re fulfilling this community value.”

In the coming year, the Office of Ethics and Compliance will be sharing unit-level recommendations and results, in a way that individual respondents will remain anonymous, from the 2017 Values and Culture Survey with all colleges, units and campuses.

“Penn State has the highest commitment to ethical standards, and you will be supported in your efforts to report misconduct. We depend on your reports to assist in making University leaders aware of issues, and in reporting you can have a major impact on creating a positive environment for others in our campus community,” said Jones. “In the coming days and weeks, you will see more information on initiatives we plan to put in place across the University to continue to educate and raise awareness, encourage reporting, reduce negative behaviors, hold individuals accountable, and promote an encouraging and safe campus environment.” 

For additional information about the Values and Culture Survey, read a full report of the survey results, executive summaryfull data tables and a summary of survey methodology. You can read more about planned next steps here. Additional questions about the survey can be directed to Penn State's Office of Ethics and Compliance at 814-867-5088 or [email protected].

Since 2015, Penn State Town Hall meetings have provided opportunities for members of the Penn State community to receive updates on University initiatives, hear from administrative leaders about key issues, ask questions and provide feedback.

To view the Town Hall in its entirety, the session will soon be archived and available to watch at LiveEvents.psu.edu. There, you can also view archived recordings of past Penn State Town Hall events.