City drops staff survey

PERTH council workers won’t be surveyed about their job satisfaction this year, despite a recommendation from the state inquiry for a survey within three months of the October 2020 council elections.

The inquiry wanted a close eye kept on cultural improvements, noting only 44 per cent of Perth council employees in the 2017 survey thought their workplace was “free from discrimination, sexual harassment and bullying”.

The surveys are normally done every two years, with another pretty grim rating in 2019, but commissioners filling in for the suspended council jumped the gun and held an early one in July 2020. 

Despite its finding that a majority of employees still wouldn’t recommend working at the city to friends of colleagues (with women the least impressed) CEO Michelle Reynolds recommended giving this year’s a skip because it was too soon to hold another.

“I’d argue that [the inquiries’] recommendation’s been achieved” Ms Reynolds told the March 30 council meeting.

Cr Rebecca Gordon urged them to go ahead anyway.

“For me, workplace culture is absolutely paramount, and if we want to achieve great things we want our staff to be operating in a positive work environment,” Cr Gordon said. 

“It doesn’t need to be perfect, but it does need to be safe and it should allow our hardworking staff to excel.

“We have seen the tragic news from the Town of Cambridge, of what can happen in a local government environment,” Cr Gordon said. 

Last month a Cambridge council employee suicided. They had been on leave after complaining of ongoing bullying. 

Culture

Cr Gordon said “workplaces I’ve been in always do an annual culture survey … I think it’s prudent for us to schedule one this year”.

Cr Di Bain was her only supporter, saying in her workplaces “we do culture surveys annually”.

“We shouldn’t be afraid of doing them, sometimes we won’t like what we hear, but as Cr Gordon suggested it’s a good opportunity to start dealing with some issues ahead of them becoming major problems for our organisation,” Cr Bain said.

Ms Reynolds said it was ideal to do the surveys every two years to give time for any changes to take effect.

Deputy lord mayor Sandy Anghie said results might be thrown off because of the current changes and people may still be focusing on historical issues.

Cr Brent Fleeton agreed with holding off: “We know things aren’t that great right now because they are in flux… I don’t think we need to put out a survey right now because we know things are tough and we’re putting a lot of effort and money into making them better.”

At Cr Fleeton’s request the CEO described support they had ready for any staff who felt distressed or bullied. 

Lord mayor Basil Zempilas agreed with waiting: “I don’t understand on what score or measure we’re conducting a cultural survey five months into the journey. 

“We’re right at the start of that journey of change. Let’s get on and do it… I’m not afraid of any answers or any surveys, but in my view it makes no sense to conduct a survey five months into our time.”

The bid for a survey was lost two votes to seven, and they’ll save about $28,000 by not running it. 

There were some glimmers of hope in the July 2020 survey: Staff had seen improvements in how the new executive worked together.

But since then three fifths of the executive team has gone. 

CEO Murray Jorgensen retired in August. 

Infrastructure general manager Chris Kopec announced his resignation in November 2020 and left in January, 13 months into the job.

Community development GM Anne Banks-McAllister left to move closer to family, and was at her final meeting on March 30 after 19 months at Perth.

by DAVID BELL

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