A clearer communication chain would improve working conditions. Photo: Parker Townes.
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Policy moves from BOA and execs with input from staff are needed

You’ve probably heard by now how some Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) service centre employees have complained about a toxic work environment.

The solution to this problem is not too far out of reach. The SFUO has already done a governance review at the executive level this year. It needs to do something similar at the staff level.

After the federation laid off a lot of its staff to avoid bankruptcy, the organization should have looked at its current staffing levels, and the expectations on those staff. If the expectations are in line with what was decided when there were more staff in the past, they should be revised to reflect the actual number of people the SFUO employs in certain departments.

This is especially important as the SFUO plans to make more use of its staff in key roles like human resources, budgeting, and management as a result of its governance review motion.

In addition to revising responsibilities, the SFUO should have an external consultant look at how it sets deadlines and enforces discipline, as well as other elements of management, in addition to what it does now.

This should be in everyone’s best interests. The staff would obviously benefit, but so would the SFUO managers and executives, who could meet their objectives more easily. Students would benefit from a more efficient and effective student union.

How can the SFUO go about it? First of all, it can collect key information. By talking to staff and the employees’ union to make sure everyone’s clear on what goals can be set based on staffing levels, employees can have a more comfortable work environment.

The Board of Administration and executive can look at any relevant policy documents, whether in the constitution or internal documents like the executive work manual, and make sure they reflect the intention of setting fair and clear expectations for staff.

And after the election, the current team can make sure to keep incoming members close to the process to ensure that the progress continues next year.

And there’s more that can be done by the board on the policy side to prevent these problems from happening again.

As the SFUO has various people in leadership roles, like the president, vice-president finance, other executives, executive coordinator, and staff managers, the board can make sure the organization’s policies clearly say who is in charge of overseeing what, so that no one oversteps their boundaries.

By working with staff and executives, the board can also hammer out an internal communications policy. Staff complained that they could not get in contact with their own bosses, which clearly inhibits productivity. Again, setting clear rules about when managers need to respond, and creating extra opportunities for staff to get in contact with them will be critical.

There have also been other allegations about online behaviour. To solve this, the SFUO can put in place clear rules about what executives and staff can and can’t do on social media. This way, if there is a dispute, there are concrete criteria that can be used to solve the problem. It is important for the executives to remember that the executives, who are elected representatives of the student body, should have all students’ best interests in mind.

There’s a lot to do, but setting up clear rules and structures within the SFUO will go a long way towards improving the organization in general, as well as its work environment.