Report cites leadership, morale concerns at fire department
By Seth Thomas Gulledge
The Daily Reflector
Tuesday, August 7, 2018
More than half of Greenville Fire-Rescue personnel are dissatisfied with the department’s leadership and many have serious concerns over compensation, training, communication and workload, according to results of a six-month assessment released Monday.
The assessment concludes that these factors in addition to other, smaller concerns are to blame for an unusually high turnover rate at the department — which has steadily grown each year from four in 2015 to 21 resignations in 2017. The study also notes that citizen satisfaction with the department remains at 88 percent.
Department Chief Eric Griffin said in a news conference after the report was released that the department and city will seriously consider a long list recommendations to address issues raised by employees through the assessment team.
“It is concerning, I want to make sure we can increase the level of satisfaction and I think the report gave some very clear recommendations to increase satisfaction early on and thereby hopefully increase retention as well,” he said. “We recognize that we’re in an industry where retention is on the minds of many leaders.”
The study was conducted by Developmental Associates LLC, a Chapel Hill based consulting firm, at the request of City Manager Ann Wall in March for a cost of $29,500. Wall said a review of city departments and interviews with former and outgoing fire-rescue personnel prompted the request.
The study results, as well as an executive summary of the 358-page document, were posted publicly on the city website Monday morning. At the same time, members of the department were briefed on the results in an employee-only meeting at City Hall.
The study concludes that the cause of the turnover cannot be determined with certainty, but statistical and anecdotal evidence points to concerns with leadership and operating issues. It says:
“While the department is undertaking an effort to address many of the concerns identified ... a lack of transparent communication, evaluation of decisions, and inconsistent exhibition of effective leadership behaviors across ranks, has created a culture of distrust and low morale. Despite high satisfaction with their chosen career, particular work conditions ... and co-workers, a majority of current and former GFR employees expressed dissatisfaction with multiple areas ... that require attention by the city manager’s office and GFR leadership to ensure increased job satisfaction and retention of staff.”
The assessment was conducted through group interviews, private interviews with department leadership and city management, a review of department records and metrics, and a department-wide survey. The firm reported 95% employee participation in its study efforts. Past employees also were surveyed.
According to the firm’s findings, morale at the department varies greatly between employees: 24.3 percent responded “poor,” 22.5 percent answered “fair,” 23.4 percent answered “good” and a combined 29.7 percent answered either “very good” or “excellent.” Nearly 83 percent responded they had a passion for the work that they do.
Dissatisfaction with specific work conditions was more uniform: 45 percent of respondents said they were dissatisfied with compensation and 50 percent of employees reported concern over the lack of rest they received on shift.
In regard to Chief Eric Griffin and Deputy Chief Brock Davenport, 66 percent of respondents said they were dissatisfied with the level of trust shown in employees; 40 percent were dissatisfied with their personal relationship with them; 45 percent in regard to respect for employee ideas; and 61 percent with frequency of communication.
Just over half of respondents indicated the relationship with their immediate supervisors was effective, while only 10 percent responded that it was not effective.
“There is a significant drop in satisfaction from station officer to battalion chief and then again to senior leaders across behaviors,” the report says. “While some of this decline in satisfaction can in part be explained by proximity (e.g. frequency of communication), other behaviors such as trust with employees, respect, recognition and communication of goals would be expected to result in more similar ratings across ranks if there was a stable culture of these behaviors throughout GFRD.”
The report also notes that there is a statistically significant difference in millennials being more dissatisfied than satisfied compared to other age groups. The reports notes since the majority of the department is made of millennials — people born between the 1980s and early 2000s — identifying the cause behind this difference should be a priority for department leadership.
The report offers more than 30 recommendations in 11 categories for addressing employee morale and culture. At the Monday news conference, Wall said they she and staff members would need time to consider the assesment but remained committed to improving conditions and retention for employees.
Wall said she has great confidence in the work and level of service being provided by the department.
“We’re at a place now where we’ll take this report, digest this report and go forward and we look for opportunities to improve,” she said. “We look for opportunities to address blind spots to understand how it is that we can create a workforce where we can recruit and retain so we can continue to provide the great service we are providing.”
Contact Seth Gulledge at 329-9579 and Sgulledge@reflector.com.
Following is are some of the more than 30 recommendations in the final report:
■ Various methods for the city to undertake in order to accomplish the listed recommendations, including the creation of employee committees to address specific problem areas.
■ Methods for reducing turnover such as revising exit interview procedures, but noting that the completion of other recommendations would result in lower turnover.
■ Recommendations for increasing recruitment of more staff, including community outreach events.
■ Improving employee retention through the formation of a city-wide committee to include GFR staff members, but noting that other recommendations would result in higher retention.
■ Leadership recommendations such as acknowledging the high department turnover and other concerns, and engaging with employees more frequently, while creating more methods of accountability for department leadership.
■ Communications recommendations including methods to address a divide between millennial and non-millennial personnel and generally increase communication between higher leadership and employees.
■ Increasing career development opportunities.
■ Increasing training opportunities and frequency.
■ Undertake a formal analysis of call volume demand and performance to develop a data-based evaluation of the deployment model.
■ Evaluate minimum staffing levels for department resources
Click here to read the full report from the city of Greenville’s website.