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Turnover taxing Jeffco Human Services Department

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Below-average wages cited by many departing employees

By Ramsey Scott

Jeffco’s Department of Human Services is struggling with a high employee turnover rate, as more and more employees leave for similar jobs in neighboring counties that pay more.

According to a report presented to the county commissioners, between 2010 and 2012, Human Services had a turnover rate for full-time employees of just under 30 percent, more than double the generally accepted 14 percent rate for government agencies.

For divisions like Justice Services and Fraud, the turnover rate was more than 37 percent.  

“We’re really being forced to dig down because we’re seeing an increase,” Natalie Williams, with the department’s employee relations staff, said during a presentation to the commissioners on Jan. 22. “We’re seeing an exodus. I think, this past week, we had five resignations, all reporting going to positions that would be paying more.”

One of the main reasons cited by employees for leaving the department was pay. In 2011, of all the department’s employees, 59 percent said the pay at Jeffco Human Services was not competitive with similar jobs elsewhere in the market.

More than 56 percent of the department’s staff is paid between 80 and 89.9 percent of the market average for government social workers. Only 12 percent of the more than 600-person staff is paid at or above the market average.

“That’s just not OK. We need to take care of our staff,” said Lynn Johnson, director of Jeffco Human Services.  

Johnson said some of her staff members’ pay is so low they qualify for government assistance.

“When we do trainings on poverty and our people say, ‘Hey that’s me.’ That’s not OK,” Johnson said. “If you’re working as hard as they work in Jefferson County and still need benefits, that’s not OK.”

The department is losing many of its employees to other counties where social services departments pay more.

“What happened is the other counties over these hard economic times did things to maintain the base or made one-time payments to employees,” Johnson said. “We didn’t do that in Jeffco.”

Yet increasing pay can’t be the only answer, Johnson said. For starters, the department suffered a $2.6 million cut from its 2013 budget.

The department has been trying to accommodate employees by offering things like flexible schedules to make up for lower pay while starting the larger conversation about pay increases, Johnson said. Many of the department’s employees, she said, are mothers, and telecommuting and being able to work flexible hours help with things like child care.

“The money is one more piece, but it’s not the whole answer on this,” she said. “What else can we do that might not be more money but still makes us a valuable place to work?”

The high turnover rate increases training costs and overburdens the remaining staff. Johnson hopes that by working with her staff and examining the data, the department will be able to find a solution.
 
Generational challenges

Another issue Johnson is hoping to tackle is how to retain her Generation Y employees.

Generation Y, people between ages 22 and 36, make up about 36 percent of the full-time staff at Human Services. Yet they make up about 45 percent of those that are leaving.

On average, employees that fall in that age range stay for about two years before moving on to another job. It’s a trend that isn’t unique to Jeffco.

“We need to figure out why they are here in first place, and the second piece is what they value,” Johnson said. “What entices that generation? I need to be able to understand what is of value for that group. It’s not like when I was in my 20s.”

Contact Ramsey Scott at ramsey@evergreenco.com or 303-933-2233, ext. 22.