Rudeness by a few county employees I've encountered "makes me crazy." It seems like this is a growing problem. If you agree, HR Doctor, what are some things county leaders can do?
Annoyed County Official
The HR Doctor's experience is that we live in an era that is witnessing a great increase in the volume and intensity of whining and a decrease in the willingness of many people to accept personal responsibility for their own behavior. Many people see themselves as victims of their situations rather than having the ability to shape their own future.
In addition, there is a decline in many places in "civic engagement." That is, membership in civic clubs, churches and charitable organizations has declined as people substitute their VCRs, TVs, computers and other "toys" for simple things like having dinner with neighbors or volunteering in a community project. This "disengagement" attitude can also be seen in the workplace.
It is tough to be a civil servant in many places. The workloads are often high; the work is important, but often unappreciated by the public; the people who oppose any government expenditures or programs are active; and "watchdogs" in the media in the front row of board meetings focus an extraordinarily sharp eye on public workers and programs.
Despite all of this, the overwhelming majority of county employees care about their work and about the effects of their efforts on members of the community and other employees.
Counties need HR programs which actively seek out and recognize these employees, honor them, and set them up as role models and positive examples for others.
The HR Doctor suggests creating a modest Performance Excellence Award Program, using cash incentives, perhaps combined with time off and other recognition, such as lunch for the employee and a family member with the chairperson of the board or commission, or the county administrator. These simple efforts over time become infectious in a positive way.
On the other end of the behavior "food chain," every county should issue what the sheriff would call a "BOLO" - a "Be On the Lookout" - warning about the harm done by rude or "uncivil" behavior by a "civil" servant.
A clear policy stressing the priority the county places on positive citizen contact, an easily available citizen praise and complaint procedure, honest and timely employee feedback, public contact training, and strong supervisory role model behavior are the key elements. Also of critical importance is an available Employee Assistance Program to help when behavior problems are based on emotional or substance abuse issues. These programs are nothing short of important business investments for the county to take seriously and to highlight.
Here is the recipe: take the ingredients above, mix well with regular praise and recognition and a disciplinary system designed to discourage negative behavior, and the results will be well received by everyone involved.
Employees themselves, and any unions which may represent some of them almost always want the bullies and the arrogant "uncivil" servants in their own ranks to be out of the work force if their behavior doesn't change. A strong HR program will help tremendously.
The HR Doctor
(If you would like additional information on the column, or are interested in joining the National Association of County Human Resource Administrators, call Donna Boykin, 202/942-4207; or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.)
(The HR Doctor was written by Phil Rosenberg, director of Human Resources, Broward County, Fla.)