Just 29% of City of Johnson City employees think morale is good

JOHNSON CITY, TN – While 83% of Johnson City government employees said they are satisfied with their jobs, just 29% believe the workforce has good morale, according to a recent employee survey.

The City of Johnson City’s first-of-its-kind employee survey revealed low morale isn’t just an issue in the fire department. The results show no more than a third of employees in the police department, water and sewer department, finance, fleet management, administration and development services think morale is good. Overall, only 29% of the more than 460 employees who responded to the survey said morale was good.

“To see the number for morale being 29 was surprising in that the number was as low as it was,” City Manager Pete Peterson said.

The company that administered the survey said Johnson City’s employee morale is lower than the national average, but wouldn’t tell us or the city by how much. The survey went out in the spring, before the city’s embattled fire chief retired, which likely skewed the morale numbers by a couple percentage points. Regardless, Peterson says he’s not as concerned about the “what” as he is the “why.”

“That’s what we need to find out,” he said. “The number is not as relevant as the cause. Our job at this point is to delve into this information and determine why the responses are as they were submitted.”

JCFD employees spent a significant amount of time saying morale was low in their department before the city took action. Peterson is pledging to listen to other departments.

“The employees were kind enough to share with us their thoughts and we are absolutely going to be responsive to the employees,” he said. “A happy workforce is a productive workforce and that is what we strive to have. This survey is one step that we are taking to work with the employees to work together to make this a better place. Our employees are very valuable and we are going to listen to them.”

Peterson says the survey, which covered a variety of topics, identified four areas that need attention and additional research: communication, employee-supervisor relationships, wages and benefits and employee recognition. He says the city’s already made efforts to improve some of those concerns, but intends to do more.

He plans on forming employee work groups, similar to what he did with the fire department. He says he wants those groups to be open and honest about employee concerns without fear of retribution. From there, he says he will present a plan of action to the Johnson City Commission.

“Our employees are our most valuable asset and we are very appreciative for those who took time to fill out the survey,” Peterson said. “We have a group of employees working for us who really care about their job, really care about their co-workers.”

Peterson says the city’s leadership team will continue to meet weekly for the rest of the month to discuss the findings. The survey found only 40% of employees have confidence in the city’s leadership. Peterson hopes this is a good faith effort to restore employee confidence and morale.

While morale and confidence may be low, not only did 83% say they are satisfied with their jobs, more than 70% said they’d recommend working for the city. According to the survey, 93% still plan on working for the city one year from now.

Peterson says he hopes to make a tradition every couple years of administering an employee survey. This is the first in the city’s nearly 150-year history. The survey cost $20,520, according to the city.

Despite employees’ concerns, Peterson says he found it encouraging that the survey responses showed the city’s workforce believes Johnson City is a safe and good place to live, work and raise a family.

Copyright WJHL 2017. All rights reserved.

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