County workers frustrated, survey says
The new Mesa County Commission has a long way to go to boost sagging morale, and its members will be challenged to bridge a growing divide between employees and their bosses in administration.
That’s one of the biggest takeaways from an anonymous employment survey the county conducted late last year.
Nearly four in 10 employees who responded to the 2012 Mesa County Employee Engagement Survey said they were looking or planning to seek another job. Nearly one in five say they are “seldom” appreciated for the work they do, and almost half of the respondents said they “seldom” have trust in the Board of County Commissioners.
The Daily Sentinel obtained the detailed results of the survey, along with hundreds of comments left anonymously with all identifiable information redacted from responses, last month after filing a Colorado Open Records Act request with the county.
A number of themes resonate and are oft-repeated in the employee commentaries. The level of frustration with a nearly 5-year-old pay freeze is on the rise. A perceived lack of benefits is dampening enthusiasm. And distrust or outright disgust with commissioners — particularly with previous commissioners Craig Meis and Janet Rowland — is exposed in dozens of comments made by county employees in response to survey questions.
PAY AND BENEFITS
A MAJOR HANG-UP
The theme of compensation courses through nearly every section of the survey. In one question, for people who responded that they indeed were looking for another job, “better pay” was far and away the top reason why, at 40 percent.
■ “We have not had a raise in almost 4 years”
■ “with no raises in sight, I need to look out for me and my family”
■ “The City pays $8 more an hour for the same job!!!”
■ “Tired of no raises or support from county admin”
■ “The minute I find something better, I’m gone.”
A lack of competitive compensation was one of many factors in another related question, about whether employees felt “regularly appreciated for the work you do.” Only 11.7 percent answered “always.”
■ “We are never given appreciation for our work.”
■ “I bust my butt all week and never get so much as a thank you”
■ “My department appreciated my work but the BOCC and County Admin does not.”
■ “I cannot remember the last time that I heard a compliment from a supervisor about how a case was handled”
■ “I receive constant positive feedback from the public ... I never hear anything from Command Staff or supervisors except for annual evaluations ... “
■ “From my immediate boss I do, DO NOT feel it from the top, I’m disposable and I know it.”
MEIS’ ISSUES LED TO LOSS
OF TRUST, MANY SAID
Of the two commissioners who recently finished their eight-year terms, Meis generated the lion’s share of the ire of county employees.
One question ranked the commission the lowest in terms of “trust” across the 900-plus employee organization, and many commenters recalled Meis’ behavior during his term. He was the subject of a number of Daily Sentinel stories for allegedly raising his position when being issued some low-level tickets.
A comment Meis made in an email — “you pay for what you get” — in reference to the proposed hiring of a new county administrator, seems to have stuck with some employees, who haven’t seen a raise since 2009.
■ “Craig Meis is disappointing and an embarrassment to Mesa County”
■ “Trust the BOCC — Really??? After all they believe we are all worthless, and we are supposed to trust them?”
■ “Using one’s position to circumvent the law breeds distrust. (Meis)”
■ “Can’t wait for elections. So ready to get rid of Meice”
■ “It amazes me how we have a commissioner that has abused his position, out right lied, and has commited a misdemeanor crime and is still emoployeed.”
■ “2 out of 3 Commissioners I do not trust”
■ “Comments are made (by Commissioners) if you don’t like what’s going on you can find employment elsewhere. NOT GOOD!”
The trust factor, and larger issues of morale in county jobs, also are common threads in comments regarding a question about “willingness and enthusiasm” to make Mesa County a success. Notably, many employees expressed “love” for their job and gratitude for their employment. But many still took the comment opportunity to raise some warning flags.
■ “It’s tough to keep up the enthusiasm when it appears that the light at the end of the tunnel is a train.”
■ “morale is declining”
■ “I am tired of giving 100% when the BOCC and County Admin does not support the employees.”
■ “There is an expectation to do more and take on more with less.”
■ “Hard to have a good attitude around this place.”
■ “Wage freeze is wearing on us”
■ “Hard to work at a place where the BoCC thinks so little of ‘staff’”
■ “This place sucks the life out of me”
NEW BOARD RECOGNIZES EMPLOYEE ISSUES
With two new members added to the board last month — Rose Pugliese and John Justman — there is an element of the new board inheriting old problems — issues that may not have been of their making but are before them nonetheless.
“Trying to establish that rapport and trust is something that we are going to be focused on,” Pugliese recently said. “We need to be as engaged internally as we are externally. Employees are constituents as well.”
Pugliese recognized that there may be an issue with employee enthusiasm, but she focused on some of the survey elements that she viewed as positive.
She called the 71 percent overall response rate to the survey “pretty good” and said she was encouraged by the fact that 35 percent of the respondents have been with the county for 10 or more years, 24 percent for between six and 10 years.
To the issue of diminishing trust, Pugliese said that’s a reason why she, Justman and holdover Commissioner Steve Acquafresca decided to conduct lengthy orientation tours of departments top to bottom — “not just high-level staff, but everybody” — and that she’s already heard back from a number of employees who she’d met during those tours.
At a meeting in January, Acquafresca talked about commissioners’ current department orientations.
“Given the fact that employees haven’t had a pay increase in nearly five years, it doesn’t hurt to go down there and tell them we know how tough their work can be at times, and we know they go the extra mile, and they are doing important work for the community, and it’s greatly appreciated,” he said.
“It’s a welcome change, from their point of view. The previous board, at times, had a reputation as not caring about county employees — even being anti-county employee,” Acquafresca said.
Regarding those employees’ current salary levels, Pugliese said, “It’s something that I really think we need to look at.”
“But to be honest, having just come out of the private sector — the private sector is not doing much better,” she added. “This is just the environment (in which) we are living, and we’re trying to adjust to it the best we can.”
While employees often lobbed criticism at their supervisors and commissioners, numerous commenters used the survey opportunity to extoll the virtues of their department heads, relate their gratitude for their jobs and express their pride in Mesa County.
The survey also goes into further depth about employees’ volunteer activities, which employee benefits would be their highest priority to return and how they would rate their fellow employees.