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: https://sites.google.com/site/swfwmdref/.
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 https://sites.google.com/site/swfwmdref/.
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.