El Dorado County Supervisors saw a draft version of a document that they hope will give them a clear view of the county as employer and the county as workplace. The March 4 board meeting included presentations by Human Resources director Pamela Knorr and two consultants retained to find out what’s wrong, what’s right and how to get more of the latter within the county’s workplace culture.
More commonly known as anti-bullying , the Respectful Workplace policy being created will target a wide range of workplace mis-behaviors in all permutations of employee relationships. Step one was to develop a tool to gauge the relative health of the county as a workplace. Toward that end Sue Ann Van Dermyden, a partner in the Van Dermyden Maddux Law firm, and Mary Egan with Municipal Resource Group were contracted to diagnose and then “fix” what ails the county. Van Dermyden will focus on the first, what she called “the easy part,” while Egan will attempt to put the fix-its in place.
The tool they developed is an interactive Cultural Assessment, a survey that all employees can participate in anonymously. When completed and analyzed, the survey will show a range of “themes” that can then be addressed. A theme could be something like “many employees in a particular department feel unappreciated” or “some members of a small department have come up with a good team method for problem solving.”
Board Chair Norma Santiago opened the discussion asking that the “highly emotional issue” be treated respectfully and that supervisors, staff and public treat each other with respect.
Director Knorr riffed on the chair’s request when she began her remarks. “I can’t abide by your words, because I’m very excited about this process.” She referred to the “process” as a “marathon, and not a sprint” that will take time and effort and cooperation. “It’s gonna take a village,” she said.
The history of the issue goes back more than a decade and has been recalled numerous times in the past year. Eleven directors have come and gone in the county’s HR department over those years. Department heads, top managers and career employees have left county employment reportedly due to “bullying” of one kind or another and to one degree or another. Hard evidence of the charges, available to the public, is extremely thin. Employees have been characterized as too fearful for their jobs or careers and too intimidated by the “system” to come forward. One former department head told the Mountain Democrat that he is planning to sue the county for its alleged treatment of him. County Counsel Ed Knapp responding to a request for information said no such lawsuit has been filed “to his knowledge.”
Van Dermyden commended the board and the county in her opening remarks. “After 20 years of litigation, you’re being very pro-active,” she said, later adding, “We look under the rug and we know there will be issues.”
The consultants said they “hope and expect” that at least 50 percent to 75 percent of the county’s approximately 1,600 employees will participate in the Cultural Assessment survey. Elected officials are treated as regular county employees for purposes of the survey. Both also stressed and reiterated that no participant would be identified individually and that the value and purpose of the survey is to get an accurate picture of the workplace culture – not to “target” anyone.
District 1 Supervisor Ron Mikulaco said he had “very keenly gone through the survey” and pronounced it “pretty good” as an “overall report card.” But he reminded that no employee is required to participate in the project. He also cautioned the consultants not to go too far back in time talking to former employees and not to include too many of the latter in the results. “There’s a risk of past employees just calling and complaining,” he suggested.
Ray Nutting, District 2 Supervisor disagreed with Mikulaco regarding the value of “history.”
“Supervisor Mikulaco, if we don’t look at our history, we won’t be able to know about today. Logic dictates to me that history is part of what we are,” Nutting said.
Knorr confirmed that “history is paramount to our progress.”
Nutting has been the most vocal supervisor regarding development of the “Respectful Workplace” policy.
El Dorado County Employees Association Local 1 director Jere Copeland called the project “reactive rather than pro-active” advising that rank and file employees might view the consultants as “just management talking to management.” He also warned that “mandatory reporting,” that is, having to report any action that is a violation of established law “will exclude confidentiality.” Copeland has told the board on numerous occasions that the union has been handling so-called “bullying” cases for years as have other bargaining unit representatives.
Santiago suggested the survey and interview protocols include questions or items related to employees dealing with other departments and even with employees who deal with the public. Thus the assessment is not simply about what goes on in each employee’s individual department or workstation. Santiago and Ron Briggs, District 4 referred to interdepartmental business as the “clashing of the titans.”
Examples from the draft Cultural Assessment document:
What concerns do you have about the workplace? (choose one or more) Supervision challenges, lack of management oversight, compensation and benefits, lack of training opportunities and the like.
Responses can include checked boxes or be written with more detail and options.
I believe the county’s “Respectful Workplace” policy: Is a good idea; is unnecessary, will not be adhered to; will not be applied consistently; other
The following category calls for the participant to check the appropriate box:
When my co-workers are not getting along, my supervisor addresses it quickly
Our department has clear standards for behavior
My work expectations are clear
No Opinion/Don’t know; Strongly disagree; Disagree; Agree; Strongly agree
Egan, Van Dermyden and Knorr’s staff will tweak and refine the document as needed, and they expect it to be available to employees by March 10.