Leadership Corner

Work Environment and Performance Office is working for all employees

April 5th, 2019 at 1:19PM
Protrait photo of Leslie Weldon. U.S and Forest Service glags in the background
Leslie Weldon, Senior Executive for Work
Environment and Performance, USDA
Forest Service

It is an exciting time for me, getting to lead the creation of an organizational unit critical to both employee wellbeing and successful delivery of the agency’s mission. Chief Christiansen first announced the creation of the Work Environment and Performance Office in September 2018. Since then, my staff and I have focused our time and energy identifying the important steps needed to improve and sustain a workplace culture where all employees feel safe, valued, respected and supported.

We are bringing various existing programs into the new office to enhance coordination, integration and delivery of programs in service to employees. Programs and staffs already integrated into WEPO include Conflict Management and Prevention, Mindfulness & Resiliency, all Special Emphasis Programs, Training & Employee Development, and Student Programs and Outreach. Efforts to fill out the structure of the organization are ongoing and include one more anticipated merger in June, when the Anti-harassment Program, currently managed by Human Resource Management, will join WEPO. I am impressed with the commitment and knowledge all of the staff members bring to their work.

Employees have asked for additional support and resources for those who experience harassment in the workplace. WEPO staff are working to create an Ombuds Program, a confidential, informal, impartial and independent problem-solving resource. Ombuds do not intervene directly to fix workplace problems; rather, they advise and empower employees, including supervisors and managers, to make informed decisions. Additionally, we intend to establish an Employee Advocate Program that will provide direct support to employees navigating the various anti-harassment and misconduct systems. 

WEPO staff members are working to diagnose root causes and cultural barriers to emotional safety, security, diversity and inclusion in the work environment. By understanding these root causes we can identify critical next steps needed for cultural change. To aid in this learning, every Forest Service employee will have the opportunity to participate in a comprehensive work environment assessment this summer. This survey will assess personal perceptions of work satisfaction, employees’ sense of well-being and the presence of inappropriate and unwanted behaviors. This is the first assessment specifically designed for the Forest Service. It is critical to our ability to understand the current situation, identify next steps and measure our progress in improving our work culture. You will hear a lot more about this survey in the coming weeks.

Have you heard about This is Who We Are? As the workforce of the Forest Service, we are the living embodiment of the agency and everything it stands for. When our agency’s Purpose serves to guide us, when we focus on building strong Relationships with people and communities, and when we base everything we do on our agency’s Values, we are living our mission. This is Who We Are was designed with abundant input from employees, as well as the people and communities we serve. I invite you, and your units, to take time to explore it and use it to guide us as we grow relationships that help us all to be excellent coworkers and good neighbors. Be sure to take a look at "This is Who We Are" materials available on the web available on the web.

WEPO staff is delivering numerous activities and services aimed at supporting employees and improving the work environment for all. All are supported by active employee participation and collaboration. These include:

  • Hosting the Chief’s Employee Advisory Group to foster active listening and learning between agency leadership and employees;
  • Delivering Bystander Intervention Training across the agency to increase awareness and help employees look out for each other;
  • Offering popular webinars and training sessions in conflict management, mindfulness, and diversity and inclusion;
  • Revising Forest Service Anti-Harassment Policy, based on employee feedback, to be more supportive of employee needs, while holding managers responsible for addressing harassment;
  • Improving response times and employee experience by adding Case Managers to the harassment reporting process;
  • Incorporating recommendations from the Office of Inspector General to improve agency procedures to prevent known harassers from being re-hired;

More information on these efforts and the office’s accomplishments can be found on the WEPO intranet site [Internal link].

Making long-term change in complex organizations like ours requires discovering points of high leverage that can accelerate the kinds of changes we desire in our work environment for the future. In response to this, the Chief and National Leadership Council have decided to explore how our agency’s approach to supervision and the role of supervisors can serve as a high leverage. I’m very excited about taking on this exploration and the results it could deliver for the Forest Service. I am equally excited to engage our employees as part of this exploration. We will share more details in the near future.

Over the past months I have learned a lot about the grassroots efforts underway within the regions, stations, Job Corps centers and in the Washington Office. I have also heard from many employees the concerns and desires they continue to express for a safe, respectful, harassment-free work environment. This is a reminder that even as we determine approaches for long-term change, all of us should strive to be part of the changes we want and to lead from where we are. The past six months have been both challenging and rewarding and there is much to be hopeful about. Thanks to all of you for what you do for the Forest Service.

I hope this update gives you an idea of what the Work Environment and Performance Office has been working on. I encourage you to keep doing excellent work and fostering the workplace environment we all deserve.