OU Employees Giving Up Thousands To Escape Growing Work Pressures

By
Tim Sharp

Dateline
Updated Tue, Sep 17, 2013 3:11 pm

“I was either going to retire or I was going to prison for killing my boss or I was going to be in a padded cell.”

Bonnie Dinsmoor was an administrative associate in the Department of Health Sciences as her last job at Ohio University. 

She had been with the institution for 28 years - just two years shy of the “magic-30” where insurance benefits and compensation would make retirement much more doable.

But she couldn’t make it.

“It was just very stressful,” she said.

“I was having migraine headaches and TMJ and since I’ve retired I’ve had only one headache and my blood pressure has come down.”

Work pressures have existed since work was invented but what makes Ohio University classified and low-level administrative staffers' situations different is their willingness in recent years to forfeit thousands of dollars in retirement compensation and benefits just to get out.

“They treat you like you’re a second-class citizen,” Dinsmoor said. 

“I didn’t claim overtime. I went to work early, stayed over. Anything they asked I would do but they just didn’t really care about your feelings.”

Dinsmoor is not alone.

Others, currently working and retired have similar stories but are afraid of retribution if their names are known.

Susan – not her real name – is also an administrative associate who’s planning to retire before the end of the year.  

Cutbacks in staff over the years and increasingly burdensome workloads have also forced her into retirement before the 30-year mark. 

She has accumulated weeks of vacation but because there is no one to perform urgent tasks, she is unable to take the time off.

“I feel guilty every time I take a sick day because there's no one here,” she said.

Both Dinsmoor and Susan say their financial losses will be between $2,000 and $4,000 each year in compensation and benefits, but they say that they’ll take the losses to save their health and mental well-being.

The anger and frustration is running deeper than some had thought. 

Bonnie Behm-Geddes, Chair of the Classified Senate, agreed to conduct an informal survey of her members at the request of WOUB.org. 

What she found surprised her.

“It is coming back that there is a problem,” she said. 

While her survey didn’t ask in-depth questions as to why employees are so stressed, she said some of the problem may be cultural and some may be caused by faculty being promoted into managerial positions without the necessary training or experience.

Some supervisors are fond of reminding their employees they’re “easily replaced.” 

Why would someone say something like that?

“They’re trying to, let’s say, put an employee in their place; maybe they've given their opinion on something and their supervisors didn't want to hear it,” Behm-Geddes said.

The workload for those in the trenches has increased dramatically in recent years. 

Staff reductions and scores of vacancies push the day-to-day operations of the individual departments onto the lowest-paid and now least-appreciated employees.

“One person told me that you have to do something really extraordinary to get acknowledgement or respect from your areas," Behm-Geddes said.

"I hated to hear that - I mean it's hard in our busy jobs in doing more than we did a year ago. How do you become extraordinary?” she asked.

While the classified employees seem to be bearing most of the added weight of this load shift, lower level administrators are also seeing more work and less appreciation.

Josh Bodnar, Chair of the Administrative Senate holds out hope for a salary fix in “Comp 2014” that seeks to address pay disparities but he agrees the deeper problems are seen in a lack of respect and appreciation for the long-term employees grinding it out every day.

“I can see that and I think some goes back to eroded respect that’s been here for some time.”

Ohio University’s Communications and Marketing Department was asked to provide someone from the administration to comment about the lack of respect and recognition of classified and lower-level administrative staff.

We received an email asking: “What exactly do you mean by lack of respect and recognition?”

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