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Human Resources at the European Patent Office (EPO): Another Crisis in the Making

Posted in Europe, Patents at 7:26 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Video download link | md5sum a3befb6fac64118fd2273d680a531dcf
HR Crisis at EPO
Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 4.0

Summary: Human Resources at the second-largest institution in Europe has been run by a stubborn mule without any Human Resources skills; as it turns out, there’s a crisis brewing there (internally) as well

The Central Staff Committee (CSC) of the EPO has spread around a publication about “[p]rioritisation of HR requests,” arguing that “HR [is] Drowning in work,” resulting in anxiety. This typically results in an exodus of those most capable of doing the job. The EPO is going to lose not only a lot of highly skilled examiners; even administration-level staff will flee and whatever replaces or fill the gap/vacuum lacks the experience and skills. This assures further deterioration of the Office’s operations.

The CSC promises “to follow up the issues with senior management.” Here is the letter to staff:

Zentraler Personalausschuss
Central Staff Committee
Le Comité Central du Personnel


Human Resources:

Drowning in work

Dear Colleagues,

In July, our colleagues in HR posted a cry for help1 on the Intranet, asking staff to “be patient” as they were “experiencing a large volume of incoming requests and enquiries” and needed “time to process the requests received”.

Since then, many colleagues have received individual emails informing them that the processing of their requests to HR would be delayed.

This announcement made obvious that our colleagues in HR have been brought to a point where they are no longer able to respond to telephone calls or emails in an appropriate amount of time2.

Considering the current Office policy of only filling up to 50% of vacated posts outside DG 1, severe understaffing is a major factor in the problems currently experienced in HR, coinciding with overly complex procedures and regulations. The recent reforms and related portals do not take into consideration the impact on our HR colleagues, they are implemented in a hurry, and instead of alleviating work pressure, they aggravate workload.

With the reform of the education allowance, the administration promised a simpler scheme that is easy to understand and administer, the feedback received so far from both staff and HR colleagues proves this assertion wrong. We are concerned both for the wellbeing of our HR colleagues and for staff members who are not currently receiving the service they are entitled to when contacting HR.

Over the past months we have met with several HR teams and collected their concerns regarding staffing and IT tools. Instead of enjoying proper working conditions, the workload is piling up, service is delayed and all the conditions for health problems are met. Nevertheless, our HR colleagues continue to strive for quality support.

Some staff have been recruited recently but it is far from making up for the many departures the team is facing. External recruitment, as opposed to the current practice of internal transfers amounting to “robbing Peter to pay Paul”3, could be the solution to the staffing problem but management so far refuses to consider this.

Following the intranet announcement, we recently again met some HR colleagues to reaffirm our support and our determination to follow up with senior management.

The Central Staff Committee

1 “Prioritisation of your HR requests” of 1 July 2022
2 See also the results of the EPO Staff Engagement Survey 2022, e.g. slide 26.
3 “Déshabiller Pierre pour habiller Paul.”

As noted in the video at the top, the EPO’s site has been mostly dead lately and there are profound changes in the Bulgarian and British delegations. Maybe it’s a bit of a mystery, at least temporarily, why all this happened. Maybe insiders can enlighten and tell us?

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