Justice morale hits new low

If you’re looking for a healthy, collaborative, respectful workplace, don’t apply at Justice.

If you’re looking for a healthy, collaborative, respectful workplace, don’t apply at Justice.

Only 25 per cent of staff are satisfied with the department, according to a 2008 Yukon Government Employee Engagement Survey.

“It’s sad,” said Noreen McGowan.

The former assistant deputy Justice minister was with the department for 27 years, and was assistant deputy for 11 of them.

“I do hear that people are very unhappy,” she said.

Confidence in the department’s senior leadership has fallen to 23 per cent from 47 per cent last year, according to the survey.

Justice Minister Marian Horne would not discuss the survey results.

“I’ll get you a call-back,” said government spokesperson Matthew Grant.

It never happened.

Only 18 per cent of Justice staffers believe “essential information flows effectively from senior leadership to staff,” says the survey.

A request for an interview with deputy minister Dennis Cooley got a call-back from Justice spokesperson Dan Cable.

“I’m going to look at your story and see if it requires another flogging of this same dead horse,” said Cable, responding to questions about discontent in the department.

Only 20 per cent of employees believe senior leadership in the Justice Department “is genuinely interested in the well-being of its employees,” says the survey. That’s down from 46 per cent last year.

“The deputy minister isn’t going to make your deadline tomorrow because he’s tied up for the rest of the day,” said Cable.

“I can’t get Cooley until sometime later this week, at the earliest — if I can get him at all.”

Only 21 per cent of Justice staff believe senior leadership “makes timely decisions.” That’s down from 37 per cent in 2007.

“I’ll see what your story says tomorrow, and I’ll tell you what I’m going to do tomorrow,” added Cable.

A mere 25 per cent of Justice employees believe senior leadership in the department keeps them informed of the things they need to know. That’s down from 41 per cent, according to the survey.

“When I first started working for the Yukon government the management philosophy of the day was, ‘Do as I tell you and don’t ask any questions,’” said McGowan.

“And that evolved to a more collaborative style of management — my impression is there has been a shift back.”

Only 21 per cent of Justice staff believe senior leadership provides clear direction, down from 40 per cent last year, says the survey.

“While I was there, I believe Justice was a very cutting-edge department,” said McGowan, whose name sits on a plaque in the Justice building’s atrium, lauding her “outstanding contribution” to Justice.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that we had very innovative, very committed, dedicated employees.”

Currently, 81 per cent of Justice employees have a positive relationship with their co-workers, according to the survey.

There was also plenty of opportunity for people to develop ideas and to move forward with those ideas, said McGowan. “And I think that makes people feel good about their job.

“I believed in a very collaborative management style — people are happiest and work best when they know what’s going on and are able to participate in the decision-making.”

In 2008, only 41 per cent of Justice employees feel their work contributes to the achievement of the department’s goals.

That’s down from 69 per cent last year.

The general Justice malaise has forced at least 18 people to leave, including victim services manager Sandy Bryce, who worked in the department for 23 years.

Bryce left after victim services was cleaved in two, separating offender programming from victim services.

“The connection between victim services and offender programming was seen to be very leading edge and innovative and very effective,” said McGowan, who did not want to comment formally on its recent separation.

The philosophy was, “How can we best help the people we’re here to help?” she said.

“Everybody that we come into contact with in the criminal justice system should leave us slightly better prepared to be strong, healthy, happy, contributing citizens.

“That’s what we’re there for. And I guess there are different views about how you do that …”

Although victim services employees voiced their concerns about the split, it happened anyway.

Only 27 per cent of Justice employees feel “essential information flows effectively from staff to senior leadership. That dropped from 42 per cent in 2007.

Last year, victim services lost 11 employees after the controversial division came into effect.

“As a senior manager I think it is absolutely vital that employees trust you, and that employees feel that it’s safe for them to say they disagree with you,” said McGowan.

“If you only have people agreeing with you, you’re never going to hear about the reasons why you shouldn’t do something.”

But whenever staff try to voice their discontent, senior management chalks it up to an inability to accept change, said Bryce. And that’s insulting, because if change is for the better, staff will embrace it, she said.

“We’ve made changes,” said Horne, responding to New Democrat Steve Cardiff’s questions in the house about low staff morale.

“Not everyone likes change,” she added.

When McGowan was with Justice, the department faced plenty of change.

“There was a lot of change in ministers, a lot of change in deputy ministers, a lot of change in focus, and the people adjusted,” she said.

“People adjust to change if you manage the change well.”

Only 23 per cent of Justice workers feel senior leaders “effectively communicate changing priorities,” compared with 37 per cent in 2007, says the survey.

McGowan has a favourite quote, which she lived by as assistant deputy minister — “If you want your nurses to take care of their patients, you have to take good care of your nurses.”

“It’s about the health-care profession, but it applies to any kind of business, especially Justice,” she said.

“And I believe that from the core of my being, that you have to pay attention to your employees. If you pay attention to your employees, then you’re going to be able to deliver the services Yukoners need.”

Jake van der Merwe does not feel Justice took proper care of him.

The former director of human resources left after only 18 months with the department.

“I do not think what I did there was valued,” said van der Merwe.

“The people who leave, maybe they’ve gone on a different path that makes them happier,” said Horne, in the house on Monday.

Van der Merwe, now a human resources manager for two districts and 18 Wal-Mart stores in BC, was elected No. 1 people-manager-of-the -year in Canada.

“So clearly there’s nothing wrong with what I do,” he said.

But the work he did with Justice “just wasn’t appreciated.”

“My colleagues and the department were quite happy with me and what I did,” said van der Merwe.

“It’s just that I don’t think my boss (Cooley) had a good thought about what I did, that’s all.

“When he evaluated me, he did not give credit for the stuff that I was doing, and I just don’t think that was a proper environment for me to grow and function.

“There were concerns (staff) discussed with me, concerns with senior management, specifically with appreciation for what they were doing.”

Only 28 per cent of Justice workers feel their department “does a good job formally recognizing its employees.” Last year, 37 per cent felt this way.

“The reason I left (Justice), was I felt this was not the kind of atmosphere I would prefer to work in,” said van der Merwe.

Contact Genesee Keevil at gkeevil@yukon-news.com