Sunday, March 10, 2013

SWFWMD Employee Survey: 71% say morale is poor; over 300 say why

There was a time at the Southwest Florida Water Management District when staff members were valued, and whether or not they felt good about their jobs was believed to be strategically important to how well they did them.  It is now as clear as Florida’s blue skies after a summer rainstorm, however, that this fundamental management principle is no longer in play.
And, based upon the ample whispers from under the blanket of fear that now swaddles virtually all of Florida’s environmental regulatory agencies, SWFWMD is not the only public workplace where this abhorrent situation is stifling productivity and motivating some of the best environmental scientists in the world to abandon their public careers for better pay, security and professional satisfaction elsewhere.
It is as if this was the goal of Rick Scott and his henchman, Herschel Vineyard, all along:  to dismantle, discourage, weaken and essentially render regulatory agencies incapable of doing what they were established, authorized and mandated to do by a number of carefully structured Florida laws passed over the last four decades.
It is no wonder that the remaining staffers, though wanting to stay dedicated to what they believe are the higher purposes of their governmental responsibilities, are struggling to find something as fundamental as trust in the new hand-picked Tallahassee minions they now work for.  But after hundreds of firings, no pay increases for years, seeing odd hiring and promotion practices that seem more political than deserved, their faith is clearly waning.  This is a disastrous thing to be happening for any organization, public or private, and especially for organizations that are so strategically important to the future of Florida.
Virtually all of the water management executive directors I have known believed it a personal responsible to build a positive relationship with their staff members.  Staff meetings, employee recognition programs that gave kudos for excellence, and social events like sponsored picnics and other outings (on days off and paid for by volunteer staff contributions) were all considered important team-building exercises that helped keep the complex machinery of a water management district turning.  This is just fundamental management 101. 
I would personally attend meetings with the entire staff of the district at least every quarter at the district’s headquarters in Brooksville and each of its field offices in Tampa, Bartow and Sarasota.  There were many other face to face meetings with the staff, of course, at all levels where I would go with the primary supervisor to answer as well as ask questions of the staff.  If there were rumors that needed to be put to rest, we’d get them out on the table and discuss them straight up.  These were in addition to the normal coordination meetings where supervisors developed and managed teams of scientists working on hundreds of programs and projects directed by the governing board and all in accordance with statutory directives.
It wasn’t always an easy thing to do.  There were times when the questions were uncomfortable for everyone but the staff never hesitated to ask them that I know of and the ED was clearly expected to answer them as forthrightly as possible.  I never saw any hesitation out of fear of retribution to bring up an issue that was important and I know with virtual certainty no one was ever fired for doing so.
With over 700 employees and a monthly governing board agenda of over 70 items that required specific board dispensation, water management is a daunting task where laws are translated into policy and science-based decisions are carried out within a stringent legal framework of rules and legal procedure.  It is daunting also because the decisions could potentially have devastating impacts for private individuals or companies if wrong. 
But all those days are gone it seems.  In a recent survey distributed around the end of January by the management at SWFWMD, a variety of questions were asked of the staff that most, normally I would think, could have been gleaned by supervisors simply talking with their staff directly.  Instead, they put out this survey asking such questions as: How can we improve internal communications?  How often do you receive feedback about your performance from your supervisor?  If the District periodically recognized employees for outstanding work, what would be an appropriate form of recognition?  Where would you prefer to be recognized? What type of Employee Appreciation food activity do you prefer?
I mean are these really questions for an employee survey? Seems to me, any first line supervisor who works with his folks every day would already know these things. And what in the world is Employee Appreciation food activity?
Nevertheless, best I can tell, the survey asked about 40 questions and had over 430 responders. A summary of the responses was provided in a comprehensive 124-page report that revealed what, I’m certain, the ED already suspected but now likely wishes he had tried some other way to verify.
Then in the middle of all this arcane stuff they provide on page 13 a summary of 403 responses to the question, “How would you rate District morale?” Keeping in mind that the total number employees at the district is now down to somewhere around 600, 100 of the respondents (24.8%) said it was “very poor.” 186 (46.2%) said it was “poor” and 87 (21.6%) said it was “adequate.” Of over 430 respondents to the survey, only 28 said it was “good” and 2 said it was “very good.” In other words, over 70% of those who responded are saying morale is poor or very poor.
I’m no statistician and it’s an understatement at best but it sure looks to me like morale at SWFWMD is in the toilet. Is there any other way to look at it? And, given the staff’s reasons as indicated by their other obviously heartfelt responses, it is reasonable to assume the situation can be similarly found across the board within all the other districts and DEP.
When asked, “What is the primary reason for this state of the morale?” staffers gave 307 very specific responses, all of which are detailed on pages 68 through 99 of the report, some 31 sad pages that reveal a staff that is fearful of anything they say, their jobs, executive management, the governing board and the future of water management itself. It reflects an agency in severe decline and the cause can be placed squarely at the feet of a governor who has no regard for natural Florida, has carried out and/or supported massive and damaging actions that are destroying the state’s very ability to assure future generations the legacy of a clean and healthy natural environment.

The survey on which this post was based can be found at this link:

When there, open the document titled:  2013-03-10 SWFWMD Morale Survey Responses FINAL.pdf 

Since this was posted, a “final” final version was received.  It’s title is 2013-03-10 Employee-Opinion-Survey-2013-Report.pdf and can now also be found at 

There should be no differences in the data between the two versions but the presentation of it is substantially “cleaner” and “condensed” in the later version.


  1. As for the latest gesture of the Executive Director giving up his new $700/mo vehicle allowance and extra week of time off. Yeah, it sounds great in writing, especially from someone who hasn't shown an ounce of humanity, but let's not kid ourselves. That extra week a paid time off will get taken whether he officially has it or not. I mean, who actually approves his time sheet and whoever did, would they actually be able to question it? And this car allowance, wasn't this "budget neutral" according to the Governing Board. First of all, they were obviously misled to thinking the man actually had to walk back to the compound and check out a vehicle from the District pool everyday and that by given him this car allowance, it will make his job more efficient. INSANE! The man had his own unmarked District Tahoe which was only used by HIM. Now that he so graciously given up the allowance, he will simply take back his assigned (oops! I mean unassigned ;-) ) Tahoe. Then, he will continue to use his personal vehicle and collecting thousands of dollars in millage reimbursement while the brand new Tahoe rots in his own parking space? I guess when you’re not making the same money as you used too in the private sector, you have to make up for it somehow. And don't get me started on the $33 in per diem he collects a week for lunches because he's not working his "Home" office in Brooksville. He's working in Tampa which his closer to his residence. Geesh, I just don't understand why morale would be such a problem.

    1. ummmm, it's actually $36 PER DAY he collects (in addition to mileage) by claiming his home office is in Brooksville, even though he is rarely at the Brooksville office.

    2. I have reviewed Blakes travel and I would question or ask for documentation for his charges. If I was in his position I would want to cover my @@@

    3. The real question isn't whether its within the travel policy or not; it's whether he's taking advantage of the policy to maximize personal gain. I don't know about now, but in the past the District's policy was if you worked away from your home office that you would get $11 for lunch (given that you worked certain hours; obviously a whole day or even say 10 - 2 would qualify). If the man's home office is Brooksville (which it is) and he works three days in Tampa, then he's entitled to $33 for lunch that week per the policy. In addition, if on those three days he gets up and drives his own vehicle (and not the one the District has given him) 10 or so miles from his house to the Tampa office, he gets 40-something cents a mile. And I might need to be corrected, but I believe the policy used to be that the mileage would be calculated from the Brooksville office to the Tampa Office and then back to the Brooksville office; not the distance from his home to the Tampa office and then back to his home.

      Regardless, if some other employee was doing this and claiming $11 for lunch plus mileage every time they CHOOSE to work at a different office, they would be reprimanded. Lets face it, Class C travel should cease to exist. Other state agencies don't pay for it, why should Swiftmud. The reason it hasn't gone away is because the people who gain it (and in most cases, take advantage of it) is SENIOR MANAGEMENT. And if you are going to talk the talk about reducing operating costs, then shouldn't you walk the walk and set an example by foregoing the $11 for lunch when you were going to buy it anyways. ESPECIALLY after eliminating close to a 3rd of the District's workforce.

      That my friend, is the real question!!!

  2. From what I hear, he is rarely seen in either District Office (but I don't think if he changed that morale would improve - likely the opposite).

  3. The last lay-off eliminated positions that were budgeted through the end of the fiscal year (9/30). Why weren't all of those employees allowed to remain through that period of time? NOTE: The eliminations were not due to budget restrictions. As Anonymous referenced the additional money and vacation time alloted to the ED, that pretty much killed any small bit of morale that remained. Which makes the survey a waste of time for the remaining employees who probably reacted with a big "DOH" when asked about morale.
    How many contracts were paid for with how many taxpayer dollars to evaluate employment at the District over the past couple of years? Did management read and comprehend any of the results? If not, then why were those "studies" done? Nothing positive came out of any of them. What a waste - again.
    Sandspur's remarks as to the weakening (destruction?) of the water management districts being one big item on the Governor's agenda is right on the mark. And that should be a concern of every Florida citizen. Weakening the effectiveness of DEP and the water management districts seriously endangers Florida's natural environment.

    1. I experienced staff and workload studies (i.e. North Highland) both in the private sector as well as at the district. In all cases, the staffing study was followed within a few months' time by one or multiple waves of layoffs. Management does not bring these consultants in to help employees do their work better or improve their morale. The bottom line of these studies is determining who and what is expendable. It's little coincidence timing of the District's North Highland study was proposed in the Governing Board (all heads bobbed in approval) and carried out within several months of Rick Scott taking office. The fates of Dave Moore, other WMD ED's and the "old guard" immediately under them had likely been decided at or about the same time.

      Two things can be concluded from any study of this type - (1) usually, few if any results from these studies positively benefit the rank and file employee, and (2) a staffing and/or workload study is often a predictor of future layoffs. The North Highland study and others done at the District during the same time period (early and mid-2011) accomplished exactly what they were paid to do.

      There's little question gradual reductions (as originally planned pre-2011) through retirements and other departures would have adequately performed the task of trimming the District without the turmoil that happened. Unfortuately... the need for instant gratification prevailed. Welcome to the NFL!

  4. thanks for keeping me in the loop on this. Agree with everything you said, 100%. I have been tracking some of this, since I talk to a few cohorts frequently.

  5. Its apparent the Executive Director is beginning to see the reality of having to work within the "sunshine" of government and that government employees do work hard. While he makes a very good salary he's apparently not satisfied. He longs for the private sector days where you can massage the books with sales & backlog figures to get that year-end bonus and not give a care as to what those below you think. He's unhappy with the reality of being a government worker ( although 99% never saw $165k a year).Pay is predictable and constant, but as your previous blog stated, not going to make you rich as compared to the private sector. He apparently bailed when the going got tough thinking it would be a walk in the park and he could sit back for a few years, straighten out the District, come out a champion to the regulated community, update his resume and re-enter the private sector when things get better. This self serving goal is not lost on the staff hear at SWFWMD. He is not committed to this job,the staff or for that matter the citizens he serves. You can't work out of a suitcase at this level job and be good at it. The most exciting part of his week is probably driving 3 hrs to home to West Palm. What frame of mind do you think he's in driving back Monday morning? The notion that he "gave back" his vacation time and car perks is BS! He was told, as was the board, from above, that this was not to be. Remember this is his confirmation year and the governor is in full re-election mode. Can't have one of Scott's Executive Directors out of goosestep with the others. Imagine what would happen if they all started one upping each other. Well they would be back right where the ED's were before. Which was thought to be obseen by the Governor and tea party, not to mention those on the current board who supported this. Neither Guillery or the board feels that way anymore. As for the survey, he needs to understand what it means. They aren't working for you! And that is the reason you were hired, to get people to work for you! The governor and his appointees ran off all the executive directors and executive staff of all WMD's saying change was needed, well you have it, they've demoralized the staff and the result is lower production. A result proven over and over again in any business environment. My quess is the morale is even worst than the survey indicates. The staff here at SWFWMD are good people and probably thankful that they have a job so many most likely bumped their rating up a notch as trying to be optimistic. As for those that rated things good, well it may be for them, as they may be the lucky few that have come out of this in a better situation,new position/raise, thinking they are out of the cross hairs. Of the two that thought is was great, well I don't think the Executive Director and the General Council should have been allowed to vote. Finally, did you see the article involving Carlos Beuruff and the former head of Manatee Community College, where Bueruff went after him accusing him of forging someone name for a state grant. Spent his own $ for a handwritting expert and flew him to Tally to study the grant signatures. Bueruff was appointed to the College board. Ran the guy off. This guys a serous power trip and that's the kind of guy that's now running the District. If he doesn't like you, then he uses his money and connections to run you off. Horrible situation not getting better I'm afraid.

  6. The situation is just as bad, or worse, at DEP. Worse because upper management has decided that nearly every employee in Tallahassee needs to be moved from one office to another, and at least some of the moves are either poorly planned, or there is no planning. It is hard enough to function with reduced staff, no trust in upper management, and the constant fear that one's job is in jeopardy, without having to be concerned with having to try to keep up an increased workload while moving from one office to another - in some cases, multiple times. Most staff have also been forced to learn new jobs. Some of these changes are because the employees who did those jobs previously were laid off; however, some of the job changes seem to be random, and designed only to keep long-term, proficient, employees from trying to tell upper management why their "new" ideas won't work (since they have been tried before and didn't work the first time.) I fear that by the time this bunch is run out of town, the damage will be so great that it will take decades for the environment to recover to what it was before they came into office.

  7. I have been involved with the District for more than 20 years. I was laid off in the third cut, I was told by many that is was nothing you did it is just a necessary issue. Well I was the longest employed person in my department and had dedicated many years only to be past over due to FAVORTISM. I had excellent evaluations and loved my job. I should not care about the District but I do.
    The District needs HONESTY from upper managment to the lower employees to ever get back to normal. Have respect for one another and appreciate the employees that want to work. Blake needs to interact with the people that makes him a success in his positon.
    Comments such as "Hwy 41 runs north and south" Find out why someone is having issues. District employees as "Surplus" really no one deserves that.
    I miss my job I feel like I am begging the State Of Florida for unemployemnt funds to survive, I want to work.
    Govenor Scott help the employees that have been laid off from the WMD like you helped the people from the airlines. We are a business as well doing a job to Protect our wetlands and water.

  8. As a scientist at NWFWMD, I'm glad someone is writing this.


    As we all have been advised: "Highway 41 runs North and South."

  10. The following is excerpts from an article by Andrew Jensen entitiled Manager, Do You Rule Your Office by Fear, which appear to fit into Mr. Guillery's "management style".

    As a boss, what is your number one resource for motivation? Do you use money and pay raises to motivate your employees? Do you use incentives and company meals? Or, do you choose to use fear as your number one motivator? Many employers are turning to fear during the financial crisis to motivate their employees to perform better. While fear may provide some motivation, chances are it alienates the employee, hinders performance, and weakens workplace relationships. An employer sees examples of fear being used as a motivator on a daily basis and uses those examples as the basis for their management approach While we may see many examples of fear motivating a person, does fear in the workplace achieve positive results? Many of us have experienced this type of bullying boss. They make it a point that each employee knows that they can easily be replaced. Their voice alone sends employees scrambling to look busier. They feel that bullying the employee will force him/her to work harder and perhaps faster.However, while the fear may motivate the employee to work harder in their presence, how exactly does the employee feel when the boss isn’t around? Working in an unpleasant environment under constant stress and fear may lead the employee to dread and hate their job. They may be unmotivated to accomplish tasks and spend most of their time daydreaming about quitting.Fearful employees may resist participating in any type of communication with coworkers. They will simply put in their 8 hour shift and head home. While it may be distracting for employees to spend 15 minutes talking about their weekend, conversations among coworkers is important to the success of the business. Discussing the company and job could bring up valuable new ideas that could just benefit your business.What has the bullying boss accomplished? Yes, the employees “work harder” in your presence. But by creating this negative, pressuring environment, your employees go home every night exhausted and burned out. Chances are they are looking for another job. Although you act as though they are easily replaceable, this is not so. It is expensive and time consuming to train a new employee. With many businesses struggling, the fear epidemic is on the rise. However, before you consider implanting a “fear” in your employees, look to the future. While it is hard to break the “fear” habit in management, look at the long term effects on not only your employee’s performance and health, but also on your overall business.Let’s face it. Employees don’t want to worry each and every day that one small mistake could cost them their job. You may be firing seasoned, experienced employees for trifling details and hiring inexperienced, naive new employees. Meanwhile, your competitors are probably jumping to hire your best and most talented workers.
    Resist the urge to rule by fear. Instead, be honest and open with your employees about the future job outlook. Explain their responsibilities and what is expected of them. Your employees are well aware of the financial crisis. Constant reminders during the workday will only discourage them and weaken their performance potential.

    Does this apply at SWFWMD?

  11. Another sign that the ship is sinking. Thought to be in line to replace the soon to be departing (didn't buy in) Executive Division Director Mike Holtkamp, Roy Mazor,District Operation and Structures Bureau Chief, has left and taken a job with Hillsborough County. Good for him. The question is why, when it seemed he was a possible candidate to moveup? Rumor has it (funny how most all the rumors out of here are proven true) that it took the executive director by surprise. Well it just goes to show that he does not communicate well with any of his staff, including developing a repore with his senior staff. It is telling that someone thought to be part of the "secure" staff was in fact unsure of whether they had a future as an employee. Can you blame him or others for leaving for a more secure working environment when you look at the staff, from top to bottom, that have been run off since the new executive director came on board? Another example of management by fear is that there no longer exists an Executive Division Director over management services. That position was eliminated and the duties placed under the Chief of Staff position. Now management services has two of the most important responsibilities at the District. The first is the financial/budget department and the other the IT. The Chief of Staff David Rathke is likable enough, but he is an outreach guy, a hand pumper, no background in finance or IT. So much for oversight. It's leaders like that, that when things go wrong they will point the finger at some underling as they will claim it was outside there knowledge zone. Difficult to see how things are better for the taxpayers as the continued loss of experienced staff has a tremendous monitary cost on having to train people to do jobs that were being carried out well. A proven fact that new hires take several months to become productive and often years to learn from mistakes that experieinced staff already learned. When will this governing board wake up? Sonny, don't give up on this matter and to the staff, its time for you to overcome your fears and speak out as that is th eonly way positive change will occur!

  12. Knowing how to measure employees morale is itself an art. It is an important factor for any organization in order to survive for a long. It also helps to reduce the employee turnover.