Making people ’feel good’ about working at Berkeley

Eugene Whitlock, UC Berkeley’s new head of human resources, said he sees Berkeley as a place that could lead the way not only in world-changing research, but also in defining the future of work.

Whitlock, who came to Berkeley from the San Mateo Community College District two months ago, outlined his plans for Berkeley’s employees at the monthly Campus Conversations event, where students, staff and faculty can ask questions of top campus leaders.

"When I look at the work we do here at UC Berkeley, and the work we can do, I think we have an opportunity to be a model, to set the example for what other workplaces do," he told the crowd gathered at Alumni House.

"If we get it right here at UC Berkeley, and other people pay attention to us as much as they always do, then maybe that will influence other organizations and how they think about the experience that their employees have," he added.

To that end, Whitlock said he planned to change the name of his department from Human Resources to People and Culture - a nod, he said, to the work he wants his team to focus on.

"We, as an employer, really need to think about the impact we can have on people’s lives," he said. "If we make you feel happy here, and make you feel satisfied here, how much is your life going to be improved when you go out and do things that are much more important than work?"

Whitlock pointed to campus employee surveys showing that 96% of employees are proud to be associated with Berkeley and moved by the public service mission of the school, and that 87% of employees feel they have a good work-life balance.

But, Whitlock noted, surveys also show that 23% of Berkeley employees don’t feel they can "be themselves" at work, especially women, people of color and lower-paid employees.

So, what must change? Whitlock mulled the issue during more than 45 minutes of questions from staff, faculty and students.

Whitlock said he hoped to expand training for managers, especially on issues like bullying or implicit bias, and improve retention and recruitment efforts, among other tasks.

He also called for a change to Berkeley’s management culture.

"I would say we are mission-centric," he said, pointing to public service, research and teaching. "When we make a lot of our decisions, (we ask) ‘How does that affect research’’ ‘How does that affect our teaching mission’’"

"We don’t ask very often, ‘How does this decision affect the people’’ How much, when we’re having meetings at the senior levels, does somebody say, ‘What are people going to think about that’ How is this going to make people feel?’"

"How we act as leaders affects people’s lives, and I don’t know if that’s the narrative here," he said.

The next installment of Campus Conversations will be held Wednesday, Dec. 18 with Chancellor Carol Christ.

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