Scathing employee survey 'an eye opener' for city leaders (with SURVEY)

Matt Algarin

The city of Destin may be in the midst of an employee morale crisis.

Based on the findings of the city's biannual employee survey, overall satisfaction has declined from 2011 in 41 of 50 items, with 10 of the declines being "significant."

 "I think this is a critical year in determining how you are going to change things," said James Percy, who assisted with the survey through the Auburn Technical Assistance Center.

During Monday night's City Council meeting, Percy told city leaders that while there was still plenty of room for improvement, about two-thirds of city employees are "satisfied" with their jobs and the city of Destin. As part of the web-based survey, which is in its fourth rendition, the city's 77 full-time and part-time employees were asked a range of questions to gauge their views on the city's progress and areas of improvement.

For this year's survey, the biggest declines were in questions pertaining to employee input in decision making, innovation, and daily roles and responsibilities.

Percy told city leaders that the question pertaining to "my organization asks for my ideas" dropped by 15 percent from 2011's survey.

As part of the survey, the team at the Auburn Technical Assistance Center uses an "overall satisfaction index," which is the mean of responses to a grouping of statements such as "my organization is a good place to work;" "if I had it to do over again, I would still decide to get a job with the city;" and "I would recommend the city to my friends."

The 2013 overall satisfaction index came in at a 4.0, which is based on a scale of 1 to 5, with five being good — the 2011 index was 4.10, and the 2009 was 4.20.

While there are many areas of concern, Percy said, a "greater concern" is the decline in the number of employees that are most enthusiastic about their work. This year, according to the survey, the number of respondents who had an average response of 4.25 or higher out of 5 declined by 40 percent, from 20 to 12.

Overall, Percy told city leaders that there is a general decline in employee satisfaction and engagement compared to years’ past. As they move forward, he said the key is for the city to use the survey's results as a learning tool to make improvements.

The survey "represents reality as respondents see it," he said.

He said the city should focus providing consistent, positive, mission/vision-driven leadership, as well as clarifying what needs to be accomplished — derived from an agreed upon plan, and standards that apply to everyone.

For his part, Councilman Jim Bagby asked the city manager to present her plan for addressing the survey's results prior to their April 29 and 30 Visioning Session.

"The trend has been very positive the past three surveys," he said. "The trend in this survey was definitely a wake-up call."

Mayor Sam Seevers agreed.

"This indeed is an eye opener... very hard to hear," she said. "There is a lot of work that needs to be done up here, and internally. I know we can change and turn this thing around."


City employees were asked to fill in comments and suggestions as part of the survey. Here is what they had to say:

The Good:

As for my bosses, they are a tremendous help. They ask for my input and what I think on a lot of topics. They want me to advance in my career and are pushing me.

It's a really good job, I feel that I make a difference in the community and I get a certain amount of satisfaction from it. Sadly, satisfaction does not pay the bills.

If I had to do it all over again, would I work for the city? With all of the ups and down? Yes, I would. The reason why is that I see potential here and a lot of it, but we need to work together as a group to achieve the potential.

We have a council with big hearts and great intentions. We have a compassionate city manager who is gracious with staff.

The Bad:

Senior leaders themselves are in most part doing the best they can under a council that has moved beyond policy decisions into micro-managing and second-guessing operational issues and projects, and pushing pet projects rather than focusing on priorities.

Very poor morale in senior leader ranks at present.

It's difficult to foster trust when everyone is looking over their shoulder to find a coworker or senior leader pointing fault in one's direction. I can not trust any of the senior leaders, starting with the city manager.

Favoritism is running rampant throughout the city.

The senior leaders want to know what we are thinking and want us to provide them feedback but they never put it to use. It goes in one ear and out the other.

We no longer try to solve problems or issues within the city, but are trying to satisfy the whims of the city council.

The stress of trying to do more with less and staying out of the firing line is unbearable.

The Ugly

One employee proposes trading paychecks with the city manager: “See what its like to eat beans three times a week.”

As a senior leader, these questions are hard to answer because our leadership (city council) is out of control and creating chaos.

Communication, what communication? We've been telling you guys for years that the communication in the city is lousy, and still is.

When I had what I thought was a great idea, I was told "my pay grade is up here and yours is way down here, let me do the thinking around here."

We're great at making changes. Council has us doing it every two weeks.

There is more dead weight in this organization than I have seen anywhere else I have worked.