Hourly staff feel unrecognized, underpaid

There are 16 thank you notes pinned to the bulletin board in Jaclyn Dentino’s office.

The cards come from her supervisor, students, and from a school that attended Emerson Stage’s production of James and The Giant Peach.

Dentino, the assistant to the general manager for Emerson Stage, said she feels recognized by others within her department—but she doesn’t feel recognized by senior administration.

“I don’t think they’d recognize me on the street, honestly,” Dentino said.

Dentino is one of 106 non-exempt—or hourly—employees who responded to the Emerson360: Community Climate Survey. Conducted by the consulting firm ModernThink, it reports the percentage of positive responses to survey questions from college employees.

Dentino and the other 175 hourly employees are eligible for overtime but gain vacation time at a slower rate.

The college also employs 434 salaried, or exempt, employees, 349 of which responded to the 2017 climate survey.

Of hourly staff surveyed in the 2017 Climate Survey, 50 percent responded positively when asked if they were recognized for their contributions, and 41 percent responded positively when asked if the college’s recognition programs mattered to them.

Positive responses to the question of recognition for contributions fell roughly 19 percent from the 2017 to 2014 Climate Survey. The second response, which deals with recognition programs, fell roughly eight percent from 2014.

In 2017, 30 percent of non-exempt staff responded positively when asked if they were compensated fairly for their work, about a nine percent drop from 2014.

A document produced by ModernThink and provided to the Beacon by Director of Diversity and Inclusive Excellence Robert Amelio defined responses ranging from 0 to 44 percent as poor, and responses ranging from 55 percent to 64 percent as fair to mediocre.

Dentino said part of the issue is compensation.

Dentino received a Master’s in Sciences from Boston University. She said she completed her graduate work three years ago but can only afford interest payments on her loans.

Neither she nor other college employees in the union have received merit-based pay raises for the duration of union negotiations, which have lasted at least 20 months, but she said they will receive the raises retroactively once negotiations are complete.

After the 2014 survey, the college decided to organize a committee on staff recognition, Amelio said. Amelio chairs the Appreciation and Recognition Committee, which developed a new recognition program to address low numbers in staff responses to related questions.

“We put a proposal together, we did a lot of research,” Amelio said.

He said the reason results regarding staff recognition were low is because the new programs were released in August, just three months before the survey was conducted in November.

“Not a lot of people even knew [the recognition program] existed yet,” he said.

Salaried staff responses to questions about recognition for contributions and recognition awards programs increased between 2014 and 2017. Of those surveyed in 2017, 47 percent responded positively when asked if they were compensated fairly for their work, a 10 percent increase from the 2014 survey.

Amelio said there are three branches to the new staff recognition program: a monetary award any staff member can qualify for, an electronic thank you note program, and specific programs internal to college divisions. Divisions include offices headed by a vice president like academic affairs or institutional advancement.

“I feel like a lot of staff members are like, ‘Great, but you can pay us for the work we’re already doing,’” Dentino said, referring to recognition programs.

Production coordinator and layout designer Liliana Ballesteros is an hourly employee. She said promotions are also an element of recognition.

“In the past, I’ve gotten promotions,” Ballesteros said. “I think that’s a form of recognition.”

Instructional Technologist Korina S. Figueroa said she and her team in the Instructional Technology Group were some of the first staff members to receive the college’s monetary award, the Emerson Award of Excellence.

“I really appreciated winning the award,” Figueroa said in an interview.

She estimated the award was for $500. The amount was divided equally among her seven-person team, which would translate to $71.42 per person.

Figueroa, a salaried employee, said satisfaction with recognition programs will vary with how much someone is paid.

“A lot of the satisfaction numbers are going to be different depending on what someone makes,” she said.

She also said the recognition programs will improve with time.

According to the award’s page on the college’s website, electronic thank you notes can be sent by any member of the Emerson community to a staff member. When the note goes out, a copy of it is sent to the recipient’s supervisor.

Despite the cards on Dentino’s board, she’s never received one of the electronic thank you notes.

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