Most Colorado Springs Utilities employees give the agency positive marks and feel good about the role they play, according to the 2021 Employee Pulse Survey Report released in May.
Sixty-four percent of the agency’s 2,000 employees took the survey, down from 73 percent in pre-pandemic 2019. Only half participated in 2017.
Specifically, most employees “agreed” they were willing to go beyond expectations to help Utilities be successful, saw their efforts as directly affecting the agency’s success, enjoy their work and see their supervisors as committed to supporting a culture of inclusion — all higher ratings than two years ago.
Employees also scored the agency highly for goals set by the department, opportunities to use their talents and having the tools necessary to do their jobs well.
But ratings declined when asked about changes happening at Utilities, trust in top officials’ leadership according to the organization’s values, and indications that safety is a top priority.
“Overall, the results were pretty darn good, all things considered,” said Utilities spokesperson Steve Berry, noting that participation increased this year compared to 2017, although it was the second-lowest in surveys dating to 2014.
In response to most questions, but not all, the negative responses were negligible.
Berry acknowledged that some leadership metrics lagged compared to previous surveys due to “all the changes” being made by Aram Benyamin, who was installed as CEO in October 2018 to replace Jerry Forte, who retired.
Those changes include the earlier-than-planned closure of the Downtown Drake Power Plant, which burns coal, and “a lot of tweaks to our structure,” Berry said.
For example, the water services officer saw the word “innovation” added to his title, while the chief operations officer over energy also had the oversight of construction and maintenance of water and energy projects added to his plate. Those would include water treatment plant projects and power plant undertakings.
“Any time there’s change, long-term employees are going to have anxiety over those changes,” Berry said.
Employees also expressed concerns about safety. Berry said that feedback might stem from the many Utilities jobs that couldn’t be handled remotely during the pandemic while some offices functioned with employees working from home. One example: Power plants can’t be handled remotely, he said.
“That’s been a challenge across the industry,” he said. “What was reassuring to customers is people are still very committed to the job.”
Ninety percent agreed in some form with the statement: “If I had to do it over again, I would still want to work at Utilities.”
Even more, 97 percent, agreed in some form that they were willing to put in the effort beyond what’s expected to help the organization be successful.
“I would be more concerned if things were completely flowery,” Berry said, which he said wouldn’t give Utilities areas to improve upon.
More than 42 percent, the largest negative response to any question, said their departments weren’t staffed adequately to do their jobs.
Berry acknowledged the results point to a need to better articulate why some decisions are made, a point not lost on Utilities Board Chair Wayne Williams.
“I do agree we continue to have a need that we communicate with employees so they know why things are taking place,” Williams said. “Change is hard. People want to understand what’s going on, how, and what their role is in it.
Some changes, such as combining jobs from the various services provided by Utilities — electricity, water, wastewater and natural gas — into one job description advances resiliency, Williams said.
“People are doing a greater variety of things. For some folks, that’s a little daunting,” he said. But Williams says those changes help managers have a wider view across Utilities’ four services.
“You’ve got more of a backup and resiliency,” he said, “and also better coordination between various branches.”
Williams said he was happy to see that more than four in five employees expressed satisfaction with Utilities’ response to COVID-19 and with the agency’s communications regarding the virus.
Overall, Williams noted, “We’ve got two-thirds of employees who are excited, and a third who are not.”