Survey: N.D. Workers’ Comp Staff Distrust Top Managers; Like Their Jobs

June 29, 2007

Most employees at North Dakota’s workers’ compensation agency distrust senior managers and believe department policies often are applied unfairly, a new survey says. However, most workers said they enjoyed their job, and thought they were treated well by their front-line supervisors.

The $100,000 survey, commissioned by the Workforce Safety and Insurance agency in response to an unflattering state audit report, reinforced the audit’s findings of widespread unhappiness among WSI employees with top managers.

“The results from the current assessment are consistent with the recommendations from the audit survey regarding employee morale,” the survey said.

The review was done by ICF International, a consultancy based in Fairfax, Va. It used surveys distributed to employees, focus groups and interviews to reach its conclusions. Its report said 155 of WSI’s 225 employees filled out the survey, a response rate of 69 percent.

It includes a series of recommendations for improving the work environment at the agency, which provides insurance coverage to businesses for employees who are injured on the job.

John Halvorson, the agency’s interim chief executive officer, said the survey’s results were discussed at a WSI employee meeting last week. Managers and employee groups will set to work on the suggestions for improvement, he said.

“I think communication is key,” Halvorson said. “You definitely work to improve in that area, and build trust. You’re not going to do it overnight.”

Some of the employee misgivings may have been influenced by recent reports of turmoil at the agency, and criminal charges against two of its top executives, Halvorson said.

WSI’s chief executive officer, Sandy Blunt, and Romi Leingang, the director of its special investigations unit, are accused of conspiracy to disclose confidential information. Blunt is also charged with mishandling agency funds. Both have been put on paid leave of absence until the charges are resolved.

Most workers who responded to the survey said they felt respected by their immediate supervisors, and that employees were focused on customer needs and cooperated with each other in doing their jobs.

Ninety-three percent described their work as important, and 89 percent said they liked the work they did.

On the other hand, 62 percent disagreed with the statement that senior agency leaders maintained “high levels of honesty and integrity.”

Sixty-five percent said they were dissatisfied with top executives’ policies and practices, and 63 percent disagreed with the statement that “personal favoritism or bias” was not practiced in the organization.

When asked “the one thing you would do to improve morale at WSI,” 63 people who responded said they would “replace people in certain positions,” including Blunt and executive staffers, while 46 respondents said they would focus on “improving trust.”

“WSI employees are the most unfavorable toward organizational aspects that affect their work, namely senior leadership and policies and procedures,” the report says.

Halvorson said the job satisfaction numbers were encouraging, but there were “definitely some improvement opportunities” outlined in the report.

“For the first time, we have a baseline to gauge internal satisfaction,” he said. “Our commitment is, ‘Let’s get in here, let’s try to nail down the core issues, and move forward’ … I think we have a good working document, where we can make progress.”

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