Destin HR chief Karen Jankowski retires after almost 20 years of service and 400 hires
After almost two decades with the city of Destin, Karen Jankowski will walk the halls of city hall for the last time on Feb. 5.
Jankowski, 43, who started with the city in April 2001 as a receptionist worked her way up to the position of human resource manager.
“Karen has been an invaluable member of Team Destin,” said Destin City Manager Lance Johnson. “Her heart has always been with the employees and her strong dedication to the city has always been demonstrated in every aspect of her role and engagement with staff, council and the public.”
After about a year as a receptionist, she moved into the HR coordinator position and for the past six years she has served as HR manager.
“There’s been quite a lot of people come through here. I’ve helped hire over 400 employees in my tenure,” she said, noting some as recently as last week. “The job doesn’t stop.”
Jankowski said the HR job was a good fit for her. She had just separated from the Air Force after four years at Eglin and was looking for something where she could continue to do what she learned in the military, which was doing evaluations of officers as well as running security background investigations.
“So, it was very similar to what I had done in the military,” she said.
Plus, she was living in Fort Walton Beach and looking to put some roots down.
"And (the city) took a chance on me,” she said.
When asked what her job as HR manager entails, she replied, “how long do you have?”
“The condensed version is the life cycle of an employee — the hire, benefits, workers comp, anything that has to do with job-related things,” she said.
And as HR manager, Jankowski has had to deal with some strange things as well.
“Everybody wants to say the pandemic but I’d say probably the strangest thing I’ve had to deal with is trip and falls in the city and accidents in the city,” she said.
“If someone runs into a stop sign, it’s got to be somebody’s fault … and I have to work through those issues,” Jankowski said, adding she has to go out and take damage photos and then track down the person who hit the sign.
However, the hardest aspect of her job has been losing employees.
She said that in the past few years the city has lost two employees who passed away suddenly.
As head of HR, “I’m having to keep my head on straight and get the benefits and care and resources for staff, so they can grieve. That’s been really hard, because you don’t get to really do that yourself. You’ve got to put on a brave face and make sure everybody’s taken care of.
“That’s probably been the most difficult,” she said.
The thing she has enjoyed most about the job simply has been “helping people.”
“I feel like I'm a tool in the tool box for the organization … to assists supervisors and staff with policies and procedures and helping to administer those.
“I’m a middle child … so I was geared to help and be that mediator.
“I think I was just naturally born with being a helpful person. … I hope that has been my legacy,” Jankowski said.
And she definitely is going to miss the people.
“After working for an organization for almost 20 years, I’m going to miss the people,” she said.
As the HR manager she has learned about the employee's families and problems as well as the fun stuff like marriages and babies, she said.
Feb. 5 will be her last official day with the city.
“I want to leave on good terms and I want to leave the person who is going to replace me in a good standing and do what is right for the organization,” she said, noting she is helping to train her replacement.
Jankowski said the city has “a lot of new blood, but I’m excited about that. Everybody brings their own backgrounds, beliefs and educations experience, so I’m excited about the new growth and blood.
“I feel very blessed to have this opportunity to do what I’m doing, but I also feel like I’ve given what I can and it’s probably somebody else's turn to be able to improve on what I myself have done as well as those before me,” she said.
Jankowski and her husband, Robert, will be moving to Pace where they have built a home.
“We’re just going to take it easy … hoping to focus on family and maybe travel,” she said.
As for one thought to pass on to the new HR manager, Jankowski said, “You’ve got to be very considerate and open-minded, and try and always look at the bright side of things because it’s so easy to focus on the negatives. Just be a good employee and advocate for everybody and helping them move forward.”
Jankowski said, “I've learned so much from the unsung mentors in my life and from the folks who have come through here. It’s been the longest commitment of my life … it’s bittersweet,” she said.