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The CSU Employee Climate Survey: What We’ve Learned

The CSU Employee Climate Survey: What We’ve Learned

By Shannon Archibeque-Engle

The Colorado State University Employee Climate Survey has one goal: to assess the current working environment and to inform strategic decisions and investments that allow employees to work in alignment with the land-grant mission.  In short, CSU thrives to be an environment where all feel welcomed, valued and affirmed to enable every employee to thrive.


The Assessment Group for Diversity Issues

The Assessment Group for Diversity Issues was formed in 2011. The committee of State Classified (SC) Personnel, Administrative Professionals (AP) and faculty members, supported by the Office of the Vice President for Diversity, immediately began work to develop a university-wide metric for assessing the climate of CSU. The group decided to rely upon three guideposts for the survey: a commitment to transparency (administration does not see the results before they are made available to all employees), protection of the anonymity of respondents, and a reliance on the university community to assist in interpreting the results.

The Survey of Work Experiences and Diversity Activities had been administered in 2002 and 2004, but the committee recognized a need for consistent and systematic oversight of the survey and recommended a permanent home within the Diversity office. Under the new model and with the three guiding principles in place, the first Employee Climate Survey was launched in the spring of 2012.


2012: The first Employee Climate Survey

The 2012 Employee Climate Survey established baseline measures to guide future surveys.  While making comparisons between the first two surveys of work experiences (2002 and 2004) and the 2012 survey is difficult, some comparison can be made on the topic of harassment.

In 2002, 27% of respondents reported “experiencing the discomfort of discrimination at CSU;” in 2004, 26% of respondents reported “having felt harassed while working at CSU.”  Of the respondents to the 2012 survey, 20% reported that they have “felt harassed while working at CSU.”

While it was noted that the percentage of respondents who reported harassment had declined, the indicator that 1 in 5 respondents report harassment was still a cause for concern and action.  These results were critical in informing management of the workplace climate, serving as a catalyst for administrative discussions and guiding some of the education programs that were developed by the Vice President for Diversity office.


2014: Trends begin to emerge

The majority of respondents self-reported positive responses in the 2014 administration of the Campus Climate Survey (2014 presentations), including commitment and satisfaction with their supervisor. Almost three-quarters (72%) of respondents strongly agreed or agreed with the statement, “Overall, I am satisfied with my supervisor;” however, a fifth of respondents strongly disagreed or disagreed with the statement “My supervisor treats all employees fairly.” Almost all respondents (95%) indicated they either strongly agreed or agreed with “I feel comfortable interacting with people from diverse backgrounds.” Minorities agreed with this item more than non-minority respondents. Two-thirds of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that “All employees should participate in diversity training.” Women and minority respondents agreed with this more when compared with men and non-minorities respectively.

While these results began to demonstrate encouraging trends to inform the Diversity office’s work, there were additional areas of concern. Over a fifth of respondents agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, “Women’s voices are not recognized as frequently as men’s during meetings” (women and minorities agreed with this statement more than men and non-minorities respectively). Twenty-nine percent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that “Employees sometimes make derogatory comments or jokes based on stereotypes” (minority respondents agreed with this more than non-minority respondents), while 29% agreed or strongly agreed to the statement “I fear I would experience negative job consequences if I were to raise the issue of inequitable treatment.” Over a fifth of people (22%) reported experiencing one or more incidents related to discrimination, harassment or retaliation.

In addition to the survey results, a theme that CSU values harmony over accountability emerged from the 2014 focus groups, which are used to supplement the quantitative data of the survey.  These findings led to discussions about mandatory supervisor training and resulted in the inclusion of more in-depth questions regarding the supervisor/supervisee experience in the 2016 survey.  The mandatory supervisor development program led by Talent Development began in the spring of 2017 as a result of this data.


2016: Expanding our knowledge across campus populations

Key findings of the 2016 Employee Climate Survey found consistent and significant differences across employee categories. These included the findings that faculty respondents had less favorable perceptions than AP respondents on all constructs tested; that AP respondents had significantly more favorable responses than SC respondents on all constructs except Work Overload and CSU Perceptions; and that SC respondents had significantly more favorable responses than faculty on the constructs of CSU Perceptions, Work Overload, and Time Demands & Expectations.

Over two-thirds of respondents, regardless of employment category, agreed that there are inequities and accountability differences among employment categories; however, SC respondents emerged as having particular feelings of disrespect and inequity based on their employment category and/or job type. Only 36% of SC respondents self-reported they were treated with the same respect as other employment categories, while 58% of AP and 62% of faculty reported they were treated with equal respect.

Among the focal areas, Executive Leadership and Accountability Standards emerged as having the least favorable perceptions among employees. For example, less than a quarter of respondents agreed CSU leadership is transparent in their decision-making and less than a third of employees agreed university leaders adequately address negative or inappropriate behavior in the workplace. These findings validated the need for consistent university-wide training of supervisors and led to the inclusion of the two Inclusive Excellence seminars provided by the Office of the Vice President for Diversity as part of the supervisor development program through Talent Development.


2018: The most extensive and segmented data yet

Based in part on a request from the Council of Deans, the 2018 survey was administered though separate links to each college and division within the University, allowing for segmented results to be shared through 23 department-specific presentations. This new approach empowered administrators to tackle specific areas of concern in their particular divisions.

In addition to the segmented data, the 2018 response rate nearly doubled from previous surveys, increasing from 26% in 2014 and 30% in 2016, to 58.5% (n= 4,058) in 2018. The increase in respondent numbers for 2018 provided richer data that better represented employees at CSU and allowed for more meaningful comparisons by subgroups.

The majority of the 2018 participants responded positively when asked about their Department/Unit Diversity Culture, Sense of Belonging, Perceptions of CSU, and Respect. On the other end of the spectrum, Leadership Accountability and Favoritism were two of the survey’s takeaways with relatively less positive overall results. Further, State Classified respondents, respondents from a minoritized race/ethnicity, transgender/non-binary/gender non-conforming respondents, and women respondents had less favorable responses on average.

Notably, 80% of 2018 respondents agreed with “CSU encourages discussions related to diversity” compared to 63% in 2016. In 2018, 71% of respondents agreed they would recommend their department/office as a place of employment compared to only 56% in 2016.


Looking forward

The Assessment Group for Diversity Issues is already working on plans for the next Employee Climate Survey. After the success of the 2018 survey, especially in terms of the segmented data for individual units, changes are necessary to ensure that the results are given enough space for intentional action and planning. The survey is moving from a two-year to a three-year cycle in order to measure the impact of intentional trainings and organizational changes that may result from the previous cycle’s data.

In the new cycle, the survey will be administered in 2021 with data analysis occurring in early 2022, followed by presentations to individual units with a goal to wrap up by the end of 2022. Departmental administrators will then be able to use the following year, 2023, to shape policy, introduce new trainings, and collaborate with the Vice President for Diversity on the results before the next survey is administered in 2024.

The Vice President for Diversity, along with the Assessment Group for Diversity Issues, encourages all CSU employees to engage with the Employee Climate Survey in a variety of ways, including viewing respective unit results, taking the survey, encouraging colleagues to complete the survey, and participating with their unit’s administrators on change recommendations.

The CSU Employee Climate Survey is made stronger by the participation of the entire employee community. Together, we can work to achieve the goal of being an environment where all feel welcomed, valued and affirmed and employees are able to do their best work and thrive.