LIHU‘E — Ineffective leadership and unfair practices were noted as two causes of low morale in the county’s Department of Public Work’s Solid Waste Division, a new audit confirmed.
The independent audit, conducted by Spire Hawai‘i, LLP, questioned division employees to review policies and procedures. The audit focused on policies associated with flex-time and outside employment by reviewing requests and checking compliance with county practices and state law.
The audit was requested by the Kaua‘i County Council in 2019.
In October and November of 2020, Spire sent out an employee survey with 85 questions. Only 29 of the possible 67 respondents answered.
“A response rate this low usually indicates that employees have low expectations that anything will come of the survey,” the audit states. “The most significant predictor of high response rates is the degree to which employees believe that their manager will act constructively on what is learned through the survey. The low response rate on this survey suggests a negative perception of management, which is confirmed by the ratings of those who did respond to the survey.”
The audit concluded that from the survey that employee needs are unmet, “which most likely negatively impact work quality, employee retention, and morale.”
While auditors noted that respondents found that job expectations were clear, there is no “undue stress” and employees feel their job is secure, employees were most negative toward divisional leadership, “which could be the root cause of many if not all of the other challenges in the division.”
“If employees do not feel that the leadership provides direction, is trustworthy, cares about them, listens to them, or acts in their favor, poor morale, staff retention, and quality work are all likely to suffer,” the audit said.
In open-ended questions about divisional leadership, auditors noted the division’s “need for qualified, engaged and decisive leaders who are trained in communication skills. The need for fairness and accountability was also noted, as was the need for full staffing at the chief engineer and division head levels.”
In a three-year span, several key positions within the division, like Deputy County Engineer and Fiscal Management Officer, were a “revolving door.”
Employees responded that workflow was inefficient and division leaders were unfair and “seldom reprimanded (others) because of their knowledge and duties or because supervisors are unable to deal with their difficult personalities.”
“Go after the bad apples that drag our division down. Some people need to be disciplined even when it’s hard,” one employee said.
Employees also made comments on management’s lack of communication, lack of managerial training, “chronic” sick leave and short staffing.
It was only in the Recycling Department that employees answered most questions positively.
Spire recommended supervisory and management training focusing on communication and problem-solving.
Flex-time and moonlighting
Flex-time allows employees to have compressed workweeks, part-time schedules or otherwise not be in the office. The audit found inconsistencies in the division’s flex-time policies which are “inadequate and risk operational problems and costs.”
“What is clear from the data is that division supervisors were allowed to be unavailable or absent during the regular County workday,” the audit says.
Auditors noted that the division “has no meaningful criteria for considering requests, we could not test anything more than whether approval was provided.”
In a review of 15 flex-time requests, Spire found one instance where a supervisor-level division leader was allowed a flex schedule while living in Seattle. According to Spire, the county did not require when this employee would need to be on the clock.
“The job description for this position includes supervision, calling into question how he could manage supervisory duties from another state.”
In addition to this supervisor, another high-ranking division employee had a flex schedule to reduce commute time, which auditors said “calls into question the adequacy of management and supervision in the division…”
The division’s flex-time policy also questioned whether public services are actually being provided during county work hours and if an employee’s rank or personal connections were linked to whether or not flex-time requests were approved, “as suspected by some in the employee survey.”
Auditors also found that policies for employees to have outside employment were also inadequate and not effectively administered or monitored.
A draft of the audit was provided to DPW Acting County Engineer Troy Tanigawa, who said the department was in “general agreement with the audit recommendations and have attached copies of the corrective actions to be implemented for each of the three audit findings.”
The audit will be discussed during Wednesday’s Kaua‘i County Council meeting, which starts at 8:30 a.m., and is available to be watched online at kauai.gov/Webcast-Meetings.
Sabrina Bodon, editor, can be reached at 245-0441 or firstname.lastname@example.org.