The State Worker

Survey: California state workers like their work, management not so much

California’s state workers generally believe their work matters and that performance standards are well-defined, but that management doesn’t recognize good work or hold employees accountable for results, according to the results of a first-of-its-kind survey released Thursday.

And when asked what words best describe their jobs, the term state workers used most often could be interpreted as good or bad, while adjectives high on the list split almost evenly between positive and negative.

The survey went to 5,000 state workers over the summer and drew responses from slightly more than half of them. Officials have said the results will factor into Gov. Jerry Brown’s effort to overhaul the state’s civil service system.

“We can’t fix what we don’t know,” California Government Operations Secretary Marybel Batjer said in a press statement that called the survey results “extremely gratifying.”

The agency, which oversees the state’s Human Resources Department, commissioned Sacramento-based JD Franz Research to help draft the anonymous survey, distribute it to state employees, collect and analyze the results. A little over half of those state workers, 52 percent, responded.

The survey included 10 statements rated on a 4-point scale between “strongly agree” (4 points) and “strongly disagree” (1 point). The highest-scoring were, “I believe my work makes a difference in the lives of Californians” (3.5 points) and “I know what is expected of me on the job” (3.48 points).

On the opposite end, state employees handed the lowest scores to the statements, “People where I work are accountable for results” (2.78 points) and “I receive recognition for doing good work” (2.66 points).

The researchers concluded that although the responses revealed a mix of attitudes about state work by state workers, that the two weakest areas are “not as weak as the positives are strong.”

But many other statements fell between “somewhat disagree” and “somewhat agree,” including those probing individuals’ sense of value as an employee, training, professional development opportunities and receiving sufficient information to perform well.

The statement, “I have confidence in my supervisor,” barely crept over the “somewhat agree” threshold with a 3.05 rating on the 4-point scale.

The survey also asked respondents to list three words that best describe their jobs. A little more than 13 percent used an eye-of-the-beholder word, “challenging,” making it the most-used term.

The remaining top 10 in descending order: “important,” “stressful,” “rewarding,” “interesting,” “busy,” “demanding,” “underpaid,” “frustrating,” “fun.”

State human resources Director Richard Gillihan said that the words “make sense in the context of state jobs” that provide crucial services.

“We want our employees to be challenged when they come to work every day,” Gillihan said.

The survey is part of Brown’s effort to improve California’s state civil service system, from streamlining the hiring process to cleaning up its tangled job classification system. For example, the survey results will be used to update mandatory training for new state managers, according to Government Operations officials, improve recruiting efforts and train new hires.

The push to make state government work more desirable to job-seekers and more friendly to those already employed has taken on renewed urgency, Batjer has said, because the state workforce is in the midst of generational turnover.

More than half the state workforce is at least age 45, with managers and supervisors skewing older than that. Meanwhile, the government is up against stiff competition from a private sector or other government agencies that offer more money, more flexibility or both.

The survey did not probe attitudes about pay and benefits, since those issues are settled at the bargaining table for most employees.

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