CityCaucus Redux: Vancouver City Hall staff morale in dismal shape

Post by Daniel Fontaine in

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An internal memo shared with CityCaucus.com reveals deep unhappiness among exempt staff

In August 2010 CityCaucus.com exclusively reported on how bad staff morale was at Vancouver City Hall. The story eventually made it on to the front page of the Vancouver Sun. We hope you enjoy this latest installment of our daily CityCaucus.com Redux series we''ll be running from now until the November 19th election.

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CityCaucus.com received a copy of a memo and survey that indicates a growing dissatisfaction among over 700 non-union staff working for the City of Vancouver. The memo dated June 15, 2010 is to the City's corporate management team and is signed by President Bill Boons and Vice-President Christine Warren on behalf of the members of the Vancouver Association of Civic Managerial and Professional Staff (VACMPS).

The memo begins with a respectful tone describing a Citywide culture of respect, fairness and a workplace that "drew a clear and important line between administration and politics."

However, the second paragraph goes on to say, "It is truly unfortunate that the environment noted above has changed." It says that "staff in all parts of the organization felt negatively affected by the new style of management." As a results VACMPS was asked "to stand up and present a strong and unified voice to senior management regarding both their concerns and their desire to work toward improvements."

So low key is VACMPS that they barely appear in a Google search. A pair of memos going back to 2000, then the rest is coverage from CityCaucus.com last year. But recent grievances among exempt (non-union) staff forced VACMPS to reactivate its relationship with Vancouver's top brass: "Based on the wishes of our members and on our constitution, we believe that a more formal relationship with the employer is now necessary."

The documents presented to CityCaucus.com are in two parts. A three-page letter, with a 15-slide PowerPoint presentation featuring survey results taken from over 70% of exempt staff, or 502 employees. The letter at times has a tone of despair:

"It is also important that senior management is fully aware that the 700+ exempt staff are at risk of becoming disengaged."

The memo states that "after 21 meetings with 225 exempt staff, VACMPS can identify some strong and consistent themes".

These are:

  • A loss of respect and trust throughout the organization;
  • Managers have lost their ability to manage – decision-making has been centralized and many staff have resported being unable to provide good service;
  • Inefficient and expensive processes have replaced methods which were cheaper and more efficient (emphasis ours);
  • Staff retention is becoming an issue; we are beginning to lose corporate knowledge on a significant scale;
  • The City seems to be moving away from its core values...many younger staff report that they are reconsidering their decision to build a career at the City (emphasis ours);
  • Staff are fearful of reprisals which is leading to a "heads down/don't rock the boat" attitude. Creativity and excellence are not being stimulated.

The fifteen pages of survey results follow. At the top of the list of items cited by survey respondents is "Lack of trust, respect and acknowledgement of skills/abilities/decision-making", with 52.7% agreed. The next slides outline the additional major concerns by management.

Back in December during a gruelling budget process there was significant pressure put upon management staff to carry the load and forego wage increases due to them.

The rest of the survey sums up with this list of concerns:

  • "If senior managers continue to leave the result will be a lack of continuity in decisions and information"
  • Low morale
  • Need for budget transparency
  • There is less independent thought and creativity
  • Feeling of security among staff

The vast majority of respondents describe themselves as having "limited or moderate empowerment". The give barely passing marks to the City for their effort to uphold stated corporate values. The slide discussing "concerns about losing staff" has its top response (a whopping 35%) saying "I am undecided about my future".

The rest of the document lists several proposed solutions put to senior management for how to improve the present situation.

It's not clear what progress if any has been made since these presentations were made to the City Manager and corporate management team, but the fact we received this information only last week suggests that the situation is still dynamic.

Certainly the decline in morale at Vancouver City Hall has been palpable and sad to watch for many. The loss of so many senior managers to early retirements and firings is having predictable consequences.

Vancouver voters by-in-large are most interested in the quality of the services they receive from the City. If, as we've been hearing, that some staff are now "working to rule" as a result of present conditions, it may be only a matter of time before the troubles among 700+ non-union employees raises the hackles of the greater public.

As with this document, we invite other public servants to share their brown envelopes with CityCaucus.com.

- This story was originally published by Mike Klassen in August 2010.

2 Comments

is that it??...do other news outlets regurjitate old stories form 1.5 yrs ago?....

The question should be what has changed or been done since that memo....(see the ad about the 9000 staff bbq / 34000 drop in the bucket)....

Cant have it both ways!....Oh what would Sam and Judy do....
....nothing....! file more arbritrations and lose 97% ....no wonder morale was soo low...(it takes a very long time to get that distanced from all your staff) ....thankyou Sam.

To Jeremy

What has changed you ask? It's gotten worse !! More high level exempt staff are voicing disapproval of the direction that managers are FORCING them into. But don't go looking for memos because anyone who complains gets two hands wrapped around their neck, and gets told "resistance is futile". The Borg queen will assimilate all or replace those who fight with brainless drones.

The collective will blindly follow the queen to absorb all departments in the quest to pay for the PropellerHead drone who is steering the ship into the Riotous abyss.

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