Only two thirds of EPO staff are proud to work at the European Patent Office. Four in ten say they face substantial obstacles to doing their job well. They have a very negative view of management effectiveness, with low confidence in senior management decisions, lack of clarity about direction, and insufficient contact between senior management and staff. Concerns are high about the Office’s commitment to quality, and about its reputation and service focus. The majority of staff have autonomy to do their work, but far fewer think it is safe to speak up, or feel encouraged to contribute new ideas. There is little evidence of a ‘continuous improvement culture’ in the Office.

These are the most important conclusions of ‘Your voice, our future: The EPO Staff Engagement Survey’. The results of the survey, carried out by Willis Towers Watson, were published in a report which was distributed among staff last week.

The survey was held at the start of this year in order to ‘establish a baseline to measure progress as the new EPO strategy is rolled out from summer 2019 onwards; give EPO staff a chance to have their say at an important time for the Office; compare results with relevant external benchmarks: WTW’s Europe Norm [which comprises 360 companies and 2.028.911 employees, ed.] and Professional Services Norm [which comprises 23 companies and 187,296 employees].’ 85% of employees (5675) took the opportunity to express their opinion, which is ‘a strong response rate providing reliable and representative data’.

According to the report, ‘staff recognise that their pay and benefits are competitive. Views are also positive about issues impacting staff well-being (e.g. work schedule flexibility, workload/staffing, manager care for staff well-being), but results are below external benchmarks on all other categories.’

Discontent

The report seems to be a strong confirmation of what has been communicated over the last nine months through various channels: despite the leadership change at the EPO – where the authoritarian president Benoit Battistelli was succeeded in July 2018 by António Campinos, chosed for his qualities as people’s manager, among others – the social climate hasn’t improved. Many employees don’t trust the senior management at all.

Recently, there has been a lot of discontent among staff about a sudden surge in the number of negative performance reports received by examiners. Staff representatives have estimated several hundreds of examiners received such negative reports for no clear reason. In the past this figure was never higher than several dozens. There are also concerns about plans to change the pension system with no sufficient consultation and involvement of  EPO staff.

Also, despite the encouragement of president Campinos to his staff to reach amicable settlements for old labour conflicts, there is no sign whatsoever that the EPO management is seriously looking for a solution for high-profile cases, of for instance former member of the Central Staff Committee and SUEPO leader Laurent Prunier, who was dismissed over three years ago. As the SUEPO wrote in a recent letter to its members (see here): ‘So far the Office has not reconsidered Laurent’s unlawful dismissal and the Tribunal [the Administrative Tribunal of the ILO] is unlikely to grant him relief before the end of 2019. Laurent is sick, remains unable to work, and thus without independent income.’

Major declines around quality, reputation, respect

In comparison with a similar survey in 2011, the report ‘Your voice, our future: The EPO Staff Engagement Survey’ signals ‘major declines around quality, reputation, service focus, management/staff contact, and respect at work.’ Earlier this year, only 30 percent (-35)  of staff reacted favourably to the phrase: ‘The Office’s commitment to quality is apparent in what we do on a day-to-day basis’; ‘There is sufficient contact between senior management (PD and above) of my DG /BoA Unit and staff: 19 percent (-24) (Europe norm 57 percent).

Some other striking results:

‘I have confidence in the decisions made by senior management (PD and above).’ 16 percent favourable (Europe norm 66 percent)

‘Senior management (PD and above) communicates the reasons for important decisions effectively.’ 13 percent favourable (Europe norm 56 percent)

‘Sufficient effort is made to get the opinions of staff in the Office.’ 21 percent favourable (Europe norm 59 percent)

‘It is safe to speak up at work.’ 27 percent favourable (Europe norm 66 percent)

‘The Office has established a good reputation for the quality of its services.’ 61 percent favourable. In 2011 it was 87 percent. (Europe norm 82 percent)

‘All staff are treated with respect here.’ 39 percent favourable (Europe norm 75 percent), 49 percent unfavourable.

‘The Office is effective in identifying the changes that are necessary for our long-term success.’ 20 percent favourable. (Europe norm 56 percent)

‘Aspects of the EPO culture support well-being, but nearly 50% do not think that all staff are treated with respect. Further investigation is advisable on what lies behind this result, as it is also the most frequently mentioned topic in the comments about what would make the biggest difference to the Office as a place to work’, according to the survey.

The report recommends the EPO to build greater confidence in senior management by creating ‘regular channels/forums for upward feedback (…) (in particular among the Examiner population)’, to focus on personal development, empowerment and external reputation and to ‘create a culture of continuous improvement by creating opportunities for staff to speak up and to contribute to innovation.’

The results of the report will be discussed at all levels at the EPO in April and May, which should lead to the launch of a strategic plan and initiatives in June and, from July onwards, to the ‘integration of actions into yearly goals, implementation, monitoring and communication of progress’. In 2021 a new survey will be held.


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5 comments

  1. the external reader should know that from one survey to the next the EPO is systematically making use of a different questionnaire. So no reliable benchmark possibly showing further deteriorations of already highly deteriorated indicators, can be produced.

    Also a detail but technically speaking the EPO survey is not a psycho social risks survey like that organised by EPO’s main union in 2010, 2013 and 2016 (see https://suepo.org/results_of_the_2016_european_patent_office_staff_survey/d-43311).

    It is thus doubtful that after 8 years of Battistelli and now close to 1 of Campinos — but with Battistelli’s minions kept at their very positions, atmosphere and well-being at EPO are matching the results published (answers always depend on the way question are designed). In any case about well-being, these results are not in line with feedbacks from the work floor which on the contrary show worried, tired, demotivated and sick staff.

    Also not so sure that the soon to come new deteriorations of the work package — currently being prepared behind closed doors by Campinos et al. which will be announced in his “strategic plan” at the June meeting of the AC e.g. axing the current pensions and the like, are of a nature to foster well-being among staff (and obviously improve the quality of the work produced by strained staff).

    After so much pain and suffering under Battistelli (suicides, depressions, burn outs, dismissals, force resignations you name it) and the same HR policies kept unchanged since Campinos’ arrival, SUEPO should consider a re-run of its survey.

  2. …to see how such devastating results will be turned into even higher production targets for staff and juicy bonuses for EPO management

  3. As long as the most nasty and powerful minions of the past president are left in place no social peace is to be expected at the EPO.

    There is apparently a clear divide between them, the management, and us, the examiners.

    The pseudo managers at the head of the EPO have conveniently forgotten that the work force at the coal face, actually has the same intellectual capacity as the members of the management. As long as those pseudo managers do not acknowledge this reality, they will show a profound disrespect of those bringing the money in!

  4. The conclusion “Views are also positive about issues impacting staff well-being” is misleading.

    In the questionnaire, there were 62 questions in 13 categories. According to “Appendix 1: Detailed Item Results” provided by the survey provider, exactly 4 of these 62 questions relate to “well-being”, namely:

    Question 4: My work schedule allows sufficient flexibility to meet my personal/family needs.
    Question 24: There is usually sufficient staff in my unit to handle the workload.
    Question 38: People in my unit are attentive to each other’s well-being.
    Question 54: My immediate manager cares about my well-being.

    Regarding question 4: this question only relates to flexibility, not to the workload per se

    Regarding question 24: the file stocks are rapidly decreasing in many technical areas of the EPO due to ever increasing production targets and examiners are quickly running out of work. This is why one would answer “yes” to that question. However, this does not indicate well-being at all – on the contrary, staff is afraid of being laid off as soon as the remaining file stock is exhausted.

    Regarding question 38: this question only relates to one´s direct “unit”, NOT to the EPO per se. A “unit” is a small team of colleagues (for examiners, a few other examiners and one team manager). The question ONLY relates to that small team (“unit”). It is evident that people who work together closely on a day-to-day basis are attentive to each other´s well-being. However, this neither implies that employees regard the EPO as being an institution which is attentive to employees well-being, nor that there is a high degree of well-being at the EPO.

    Remark: The “Appendix 1” compares the answers of the EPO employees to benchmarks of employees from other companies or organizations for most questions, but not for this question (“not available”). Thus, this question does not seem to be a default question (I do not know whether it was tailored specifically to the EPO). Furthermore, it is not possible to compare the EPO results with answers of employees of other companies (given the specific wording of the question, the results would probably be very positive in almost every company). However, this does NOT indicate at all that the employees have the impression that the EPO cares about their well-being. For a question worded “The EPO cares about my well-being”, the results would probably be devastating.

    Regarding question 54: similar to question 38, this ONLY relates to the “immediate” manager (for examiners and formalities: “team managers”). “Team managers” were appointed only recently from the groups of examiners and formalities and thus used to be direct colleagues just a short time ago. They have no real managerial power, but only execute the instructions and orders provided by higher management. While the answers are positive for the “immediate” managers (former colleagues), I am sure that the answers would be much more negative for a question which also includes the higher ranking managers (which actually take the decisions at the EPO, not the team managers).

    Thus, it is entirely misleading to conclude from the answers to these four questions that the staff at the EPO has a positive view about well-being.

  5. When individual examiners are requested to produce 20% more products in 2019 compared with 2018, that is on top of all the increases of the past years, do not tell us that quality is increasing.

    Schemes like Collaborative Quality Index are nothing new, they existed on a smaller scale long ago, but the % announced are given without a reference, so they lack clarity, Art 84, or even better, sufficiency of disclosure, Art 83. It is fig. leave to hide bad management by numbers.

    To the managers of the EPO, start applying the EPC in your own dealings.

    Techrights FINGERS OFF!

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