Leesburg’s government staff is feeling the strain of overburden, and more benefits and development programs could be provided to improve morale and retain quality employees.
That’s according to a report recently furnished by three city managers who studied the town’s employee development, recruitment and retention program as part of a Capstone project for the International City-County Management Association.
Brant Hanson, the city manager of Ephraim City, UT; Britt Lusk, the city manager of Tucumcari, NM; and Rachel Kelly, assistant city manager of Burlington, NC, were the three behind the study. They presented their findings to the Town Council on Monday night.
The Capstone project was the final step toward graduation from the ICMA program, which is a two-year leadership course that attracts leaders from municipal and county governments across the nation, Town Manager Kaj Dentler said. Local governments apply for the chance to have an aspect of their government studied, for a fraction of the cost outside consultants would charge. On this study alone, Dentler said consultant’s work would have ranged from $50,000 to $100,000, but the ICMA fee was $7,000.
“We get the opportunity to hear from professionals from across the nation with different perspectives,” Dentler said.
The trio first visited the town in March to meet with department directors and put circulate an anonymous survey that drew 180 responses from town employees, Kelly said. The group also toured town facilities and conducted a focus group session.
The low unemployment rate for the area is a challenge for Leesburg, Kelly noted. The report suggested “innovative strategies to stay competitive” in a crowded job market. Those include using social media, custom marketing plans for vacancies, and even new videos showcasing the town. They also suggested targeted recruitment efforts and partnering with academic institutions and trade schools.
A common theme among employees surveyed is that the town government is understaffed, and some employees “felt they’re being asked to do a lot more with less,” Lusk said. While morale within the town government appears to be high, many said they felt a disconnection between department directors and staff.
Compression is also a concern. That’s when new employees are brought in near the salaries of some long-time staff members. The report recommended conducting a benefits study and customizing it for each employee.
That is something that Hanson implemented in his city’s police department in Utah. He noted in surveying his officers that some preferred more leave time, while others desired more retirement contributions.
“This is our way of being more flexible with what their lifestyle is, and really looking for that work-life balance,” he said. “In a town of this size it could be a challenge. There is a way, it’s just a little bit of work for [human resources].”
Other suggestions to improve employee retention included the development of path progression programs; compensation for achievement; flexible work schedules; staff engagement; and staff level evaluation.
There’s a lot of support for employee development programs within town government, Hanson said. But many employees surveyed who said they wanted to attend trainings felt like they couldn’t because the town is so understaffed. Another concern raised is that some front-line employees, notably those who work outside of Town Hall, don’t feel like they’re a part of the town government.
The group recommended the creation of a leadership academy, a two-year program where employees can learn from each other. They also recommended looking at the “value” of each employee, with small recognitions. Long-term, they recommended conducting a classification and compensation study, and the creation of an employee recommendation committee to evaluate the strategies and recommendations presented by the ICMA team.
Lusk helped create an employee recommendation committee in Yuma, AZ. “The whole point is to open up a conversation with the town manager,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to work on different projects that might be interesting to you and could be outside your realm.”
When asked by Mayor Kelly Burk what Dentler plans to do with the report’s findings, the town manager noted that an employee development program is in the works. He said it’s a challenge for Leesburg to keep its best employees. Some employees, particularly young professionals, are not going to stay in an organization if they’re not getting cross-trained, he added. In fact, 25 percent of those surveyed would leave Leesburg if given a higher position in another community.
“We’re working with senior staff to develop a talent management strategy,” Dentler told the council.
The Capstone project on Leesburg’s employee development will be one of four presented at ICMA’s national conference in Baltimore, MD, this fall.