‘A PUNCH IN THE FACE’

City’s com­mu­ni­ca­tions branch fac­ing low morale

Edmonton Sun - - NEWS - ELISE Stolte @elises­tolte es­tolte@post­media.com

“My en­tire ca­reer has been ded­i­cated to lead­er­ship and grow­ing women.” - Carolyn Camp­bell, deputy city man­ager for Com­mu­ni­ca­tions and Pub­lic en­gage­ment

Ed­mon­ton’s com­mu­ni­ca­tions team held a shar­ing cir­cle last year to un­der­stand why the branch had such low morale.

There were tears. Some blamed work­place ha­rass­ment and dis­re­spect, say­ing there was bul­ly­ing in the city and among the clients they serve that wasn’t be­ing dealt with.

But the em­ploy­ees saw no ev­i­dence city of­fi­cials dealt with those bul­lies in 2016. In­stead, two months later, they in­stead sent the whole com­mu­ni­ca­tions branch to re­spect­ful work­place train­ing.

“Why were we sent to that? That’s such a punch in the face,” said one em­ployee, try­ing to ex­plain why staff morale is so low in cor­po­rate com­mu­ni­ca­tions.

City of­fi­cials cel­e­brate small in­creases in morale and cor­po­rate cul­ture city­wide. But a branch-level look at the city’s em­ployee en­gage­ment sur­vey shows some ar­eas are do­ing much bet­ter than oth­ers. Cor­po­rate com­mu­ni­ca­tions ranked the worst.

That means those sell­ing the city’s vi­sion are the least likely to have any faith it will come true.

In the Septem­ber 2016 sur­vey, just 27 per cent re­sponded “Yes” to the ques­tion: “I have trust and con­fi­dence in my branch’s lead­er­ship team’s abil­ity to achieve the city’s goals.”

Thirty-one per cent of the 82 staff mem­bers in cor­po­rate com­mu­ni­ca­tions who an­swered the sur­vey gave a vote of con­fi­dence to the depart­ment-level lead­er­ship — and 46 per cent gave a vote of con­fi­dence in the city man­ager and her team.

Sev­eral cur­rent and for­mal em­ploy­ees said the prob­lems in­clude ha­rass­ment and gen­der-dis­crim­i­na­tion, bul­ly­ing be­hav­iour from of some clients they work for out­side com­mu­ni­ca­tions, and a lack of city-wide un­der­stand­ing for strate­gic planning skills they have. They aren’t just highly paid edit­ing staff.

“There was this cul­ture of (clients) be­ing able to speak with us in any way they wanted. I was at the whim of peo­ple who didn’t even know what my pro­fes­sion was,” said one woman, afraid to use her name for fear it would im­pact her job.

She said she’d be crit­i­cized at large meet­ings, get yelled at, and have peo­ple go be­hind her back to her su­per­vi­sor.

“It was de­mor­al­iz­ing. You felt no one had your back,” she said. “No one was will­ing to sit down with these high­erups and clar­ify our roles.”

An­other left af­ter years of see­ing man af­ter man get pro­moted and feel­ing like the deck was stacked against her. The depart­ment mostly em­ploys women.

“It was aw­ful. My men­tal health de­te­ri­o­rated over the ... years I was there,” she said. “I tried ev­ery­thing in my power to fig­ure out what I was do­ing wrong and it had noth­ing to do with me.“

“Oh, the sto­ries I could tell,” said an­other woman, who still works in the depart­ment. But she said it feels like it has been slowly im­prov­ing. “I feel there’s gen­uine good­will. There’s a gen­uine de­sire to do well by us. I’m op­ti­mistic.”

The branch is un­der new man­age­ment. Di­rec­tor Carolyn Camp­bell started in May 2016, and branch man­ager Mary Stur­geon took her role in Novem­ber 2016.

Camp­bell said she’s cer­tainly heard the con­cerns.

“Where com­mu­ni­ca­tions needs to do a lot of work is on role clar­ity,” she said. “The un­der­stand­ing that your com­mu­ni­ca­tions part­ner is your strate­gic thinker, has a role at your ex­ec­u­tive ta­ble.”

As for hir­ing and a gen­der bias, she promised over­sight.

“My en­tire ca­reer has been ded­i­cated to lead­er­ship and grow­ing women,” she added, say­ing that re­cent hires have been the best of a very di­verse group of can­di­dates.

At the lead­er­ship level, the branch now has five men and eight women in di­rec­tor, branch man­ager and deputy city man­ager roles.

For ha­rass­ment, “there are con­cerns across the world right now. It is a sad in­ter­na­tional story we’re hear­ing right now with #metoo,” said Camp­bell, re­fer­ring to a dis­cus­sion across so­cial me­dia where peo­ple are speak­ing about sex­ual abuse.

She’s hope­ful a new process for deal­ing with ha­rass­ment com­plaints at the city will help, she said.

Com­plaints will go straight to city man­ager Linda Cochrane be­fore be­ing in­ves­ti­gated, she said: “We want to make sure we have line-of sight at the ex­ec­u­tive lead­er­ship team.”

ELISE Stolte

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