Here’s how the city workers who keep Denver running say they are doing by the numbers

Pay is low, burnout is high, and more than 21 percent of them are thinking about quitting. No wonder your trash didn’t get picked up, the pool was closed, and the inspectors still haven’t examined your wiring.

City workers load bins with personal items for 30-day storage. "Homeless sweeps" on Nov. 15, 2016. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

City workers load bins with personal items for 30-day storage. "Homeless sweeps" on Nov. 15, 2016. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

kyle harris

In recent months, we’ve heard about the City of Denver’s staffing shortages and how getting the basics done can be tough.

Denver Parks and Recreation hasn’t been able to hire enough lifeguards to keep the pools open. Trash routes have been regularly missed because too few people are available to collect the garbage. City planners are buried under stacks of applications for new buildings, in turn, slowing down the creation of much-needed housing. Library workers are unionizing. Residents complain some first responders are slow to respond.

Taxpayers wonder: How well are the City of Denver’s employees, who get paid from public dollars and are overseen by Mayor Michael Hancock, doing? Is everything okay?

A recent survey published by Denver’s Office of Human Resources suggests many of the workers that keep your city running aren’t doing so well.

The anonymous survey included input from all city departments, and 66.4 percent of the 7,477 employees surveyed filled out the form.

Since 2019, the city has hired more than 6,400 employees, while more than 6,900 employees were termed out, according to a report from the Office of Human Resources. Over 3,250 employees were either promoted, demoted or transferred. Just one in four are reporting to the same supervisor.

In those years, the city has 73 percent more divisions than it did in 2019.

There were forty questions on the 2022 survey, twenty fewer than last time.  They ask about salary, burnout, retention, equity, supervisor relationships, ethics and more.

The majority of people in the city find meaning at work but say they are not fairly paid.

Over 90 percent of city employees find their jobs meaningful, understand how it benefits the city, and see how their work relates to whatever their agency is doing. More than 78 percent say they are engaged.

But that doesn’t mean all those workers are sticking around. Over 21 percent are considering leaving within the next year.

More than 36 percent of workers say they are burned out, and nearly 59 percent say they are not being paid fairly.

More than 20 percent say violence and/or bullying are tolerated at work.

Despite Mayor Michael Hancock’s constant rhetoric about equity, over 45 percent of staff believe their bosses cannot resolve challenges when it comes to issues of diversity.

Nearly 42 percent of staff do not believe senior leadership is sincerely interested in the well-being of their employees.

Over 40 percent of staff members say their skills and experiences are not what determines promotions and career development; instead, they think it’s personal background characteristics like race, sex, gender, age, sexual orientation, religion or disability.

When it comes to addressing ethics issues, more than 40 percent say they are not encouraged to address questionable departmental practices and policies.

The data the city collected on workplace satisfaction — and dissatisfaction — will be used to improve retention and morale, according to the city.

The Office of Human Resources will be meeting with each city agency to discuss results through October and putting together survey action teams. From October through December, agencies will create action plans, and through 2023, those plans will be put into action. The Office of Human Resources will conduct additional surveys as needed.

The department said the city is already doing a lot to keep staff satisfied. Denver is also offering city employees a hybrid work model and remote work when possible, subsidizing some parking, offering free RTD EcoPasses, and paying retention bonuses to people in hard-to-recruit positions.

“Our employees are our biggest asset. Their happiness and well-being are integral to the success of their teams and our city departments,” Office of Human Resources Executive Director, Kathy Nesbitt said, in a statement. “This survey by our OHR team produced clear, actionable feedback, and our citywide response is already taking shape. Denver will continue to innovate new ways to embrace our workforce and remain a top employer that values and invests in its people.”

Correction: This story misstated the engagement numbers in the 2019 survey. We regret the error. 

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