Select Board Hears Results of Municipal Workforce Study

“The Future of Work.”

It sounds profound, like a topic for a think tank or a symposium. Or a response to something that disrupts normal work patterns.

Like a pandemic.

Town Manager Sarah Stanton briefed the Select Board at its most recent meeting on her office’s ongoing “Future of Work” evaluation focusing on the municipal workforce. The study has been ongoing for several months, and some positive results are already emerging.

“During the pandemic, we realized employees should be heard on what they see going forward,” said Colleen Doyle, Assistant Town Manager for Human Resources and Administration, during an interview this week. “Covid changed everything. We realized we have to be more flexible and allow for different life circumstances.”

Hoping to hear from town employees about “what we were doing well and what we could do better,” she continued, the town manager’s office asked for volunteers to serve on one of four subcommittees.

There are 157 full-time municipal employees (excluding schools) and an additional 85 part-time workers. “We got 35 people, from every department, in a range of positions,” Doyle said. “A wide range wanted to participate.”

The subcommittees examined the concept of telework; employee wellness and work-life balance; retention and success; and communication and outreach. The meetings were entirely on the Zoom platform, often using the “breakout rooms” feature. The entire virtual process went smoothly, said Doyle.

After several meetings early in the fall, the town manager’s office assessed the feedback and “broke down how we could implement some of the suggested changes,” Doyle said. “They had some really good feedback.”

“Sarah and I were really pleased about how engaged everyone was, and about the ideas and feedback,” Doyle reported. “We are hoping to implement as much as possible.”

Some of the suggestions are classic low-hanging fruit, such as establishing walking groups. Also, “People wanted more interdepartmental get-togethers and competitions,” she said. So the “deck-the-doors” decoration contest is returning to Town Hall offices. “Employees want to know what everyone else is doing, more communication and collaboration.”

“There are some that will take more work,” Doyle described. For instance, “We’re asking staff to help establish mentorships. That will take a little bit of work and coordination.” Not every idea affects every worker, and some changes would involve collective bargaining units, Doyle said.

The process included a survey about wellness, said Doyle. “We are going to see what kinds of wellness initiatives they want to see us enact.” She added that suggested changes in accrued vacation benefits will necessitate modification of the salary administration bylaw. Doyle said an employee benefits fair is planned for April

One of the recommendations was for implementing a parental leave policy. That would necessitate Select Board approval. Such an addition would not only help attract younger employees, said Doyle, but also would help with retaining staff.

Stanton’s presentation to the Select Board singled out town department heads’ roles. Ideas include preparing brief department guides that summarize staff members and functions; encouraging professional development; and addressing “work-life boundaries.” Other ideas ranged from evaluating ergonomic workspace to placing picnic tables on the grounds near Town Hall.

The presentation also enumerated roles for the town manager’s office, such as finalizing the policy on telework; quarterly meetings for all staff (with refreshments); and finding ways for employees in each department “to take a week helping staff the food bank during work hours.”

Stanton pointed out to the Select Board that many of the proposals could be facilitated by volunteers from the workforce. She suggested helping recruit mentors and pairing them with new staff; planning and promoting wellness initiatives; and establishing a ‘day-in-the-life’ of other departments program. The walking groups also need leaders.

Mike Rosenberg can be reached at mike@thebedfordcitizen.org, or 781-983-1763

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