A Fresh Start: The Birth of LLInC’s Employee Council

Tanja de Bie
Author: Tanja de Bie

In this blog post, we aim to explore how the employee council of the newly-formed Leiden Learning & Innovation Centre (LLInC) has organized itself in a manner that enhances staff engagement with the institution, thereby revitalising workplace democracy. The Employee Council at LLInC, freshly established, represents the 10th such council at Leiden University.

Under Dutch law, every company with more than 50 employees must provide its staff with opportunities to participate in decision-making processes. This is achieved through the establishment of an employee council, which serves as a platform for consultation, information dissemination, communication, and advice, ultimately helping staff protect their interests. At Leiden University, this co-participation initiative for central services is managed through Employee Councils, which can be compared to faculty councils, but exclusively for staff.

The Importance of the Employee Council to LLInC

The Employee Council at LLInC was integral to the collaborative effort of building a new department as of January 1st, 2023. As this new department was a merger of two former units (Centre for Innovation and ICLON HO), each boasting distinct work cultures, there was an elevated need to ensure all staff members felt acknowledged and valued, thereby fostering an authentically inclusive workspace. Furthermore, we were keen to improve upon past experiences with co-participation.

Challenges that arose in other Employee Councils, for example, included a lack of awareness about staff rights to co-participation and engagement with the council. Staff members often lacked understanding of the purpose of an Employee Council and who its members were. This lack of awareness primarily led to a dearth of candidates and a low voter turnout during elections. Employee Councils frequently struggled to gather input from staff for discussions with management and to effectively communicate results back to them. Direct access to communication channels was not always guaranteed. Overall, Employee Councils found it difficult to keep co-participation afloat despite intermittent support from the organisation.

It became evident that LLInC had a chance to bypass some of these issues, but doing so necessitated cooperation from the Management Team, the Executive Board, and direct support departments like the polling office.

Organizing Ourselves with a Can-Do Attitude

Our initial step was to disseminate information about the purpose of employee councils to all prospective employees, approximately 6 months before the scheduled election, and repeat this awareness campaign at various official occasions. The backing of the Management Team and the Executive Board was crucial for this initiative. As the sole elected representative within the future LLInC from the SEA Employee Council, I spearheaded this awareness campaign, being a familiar face to at least half of the team.

We spent several months working with the office supporting the elections at Legal Affairs to determine the details of when and how elections would be conducted. Once a date was finalised and the Executive Board had approved all the official paperwork, we moved to the second phase: recruiting as many candidates as possible. This was not only crucial for the election but also for ensuring continuity post-election. Only official candidates would be eligible to eventually occupy a seat during the new Employee Council’s term. In a new organisation undergoing a transition, two and a half years is a significant period that could encourage employees to seek opportunities elsewhere.

Management devoted extra time during this start-up phase of the Employee Council, from organising everything and creating resources to facilitating communication. We supported all candidates with well-designed promotional material to present their candidacy and also made provision for time and space for presentations.

The final phase entailed the installation of the LLInC Employee Council. Meetings between the council and the Management Team were prioritised, but we also invested in several communication channels. For example, we established bi-weekly direct communication with staff from our mailbox, created a Teams environment where staff could freely discuss matters without the Management Team, and initiated a quarterly survey to anonymously track employee opinions on relevant topics, like the desired profile for our new director.

Did it work?

Our diligent work towards establishing an Employee Council at LLInC has started to yield results. We take pride in our high percentage of candidates (7 out of eligible voters, with 3 open seats), and a commendable voter turnout of 83% during the January elections. The first Pulse Survey also revealed a good level of staff engagement, with 60% completing the anonymous survey.

We find it particularly encouraging that staff are showing their trust in the Employee Council by voicing their deep-seated concerns in letters, personal messages, and open discussions. These may not always be comfortable conversations, but they are fundamental in a new department for creating a shared work culture.

We are still grappling with some challenges, such as determining when to leave a matter to management and when a topic is appropriate for the Employee Council. This requires delicate diplomacy, facilitated by the open and collaborative relationship between the council and the Management Team. We also anticipated another challenge: council member attrition. Fortunately, we prepared by having a lengthy list of eligible candidates to fill both permanent and temporary vacancies, ensuring our council remains fully operational.

We are eager to discuss our achievements and challenges with other Employee Councils, making it all the more important that the joint meetings of co-participation councils resumed in 2023.

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