Report: Costa Mesa employees report low morale, toxic work environment

A long-awaited report that summarizes interviews of Costa Mesa employees by Chip Espinoza, expert on milennials in the workplace, was finally released to employees last night — months after a draft was first completed in June and after being sanitized by City
executives. The report confirms what employees have been feeling and saying for nearly three years – “[t]here is strong sentiment that the City of Costa Mesa has slipped from being an employer of choice to an employer that simply does not care about its
employees.”

You can read a full copy of the report by clicking here.

The interviews, which were anonymous to encourage employees to disclose what they truly thought and felt, revealed a work force victimized by a repressive and dysfunctional culture. They were conducted in the wake of the Council’s decisions to lay off nearly half the city workforce and to propose a contract that slashes employee security, pay and rights. For example, employees listed among the problems they face a lack of leadership (“mistrust,” “not being backed up by management,” “uncertain about the direction we are going,” “there is no ‘big picture'”); lack of communication (“breakdown in communication with management,” “we are kept in the dark,” “hear about changes through peers”); a toxic work environment (“decision makers don’t care about us,” “we feel like we are always walking on eggshells,” “culture of distrust,” “adversarial climate between employees and management,” “decision makers don’t care about us”); and an unsupportive City Council (“employees are disposable,” “don’t feel valued,” “lack of respect for what we do,” “being attacked in the media”).

The report acknowledges the fact that “[t]here remains strong energy for positive change,” that “there remains a firm commitment to serve the citizens of Costa Mesa,” and that “[Costa Mesa employees] love their city and they want their city to love them – that means citizens, management, and council members.” And it concludes that the barriers to that still exist: “Most of what you are reading in this report is the result of the failure to create a safe environment in which people can change.”

Yet commitment to collaboration that benefits all Costa Mesa residents are values that Costa Mesa employees poured into our many bargaining proposals to partner with the City. The City’s employees are eager to partner with the city on initiatives to make Costa Mesa more efficient and transparent. We want to go back to a place of collaboration and trust through all levels of City government. Unfortunately, so far, the City Council’s approach at the table has continued to be adversarial. They refuse to move away from proposals that would undermine financial security and rights for employees who have already been through so much and who clearly feel attacked on a daily basis. The City’s employees demonstrated true leadership in sharing their opinions with the City’s consultant in a climate where they continue to feel so much fear.

Hopefully it was not for nothing. Hopefully the Council and management will take the Espinoza Report to heart, acknowledge the amount of damage that has been done, and commit to the rebuilding work that must be done. A good start would be for the City to reconsider its extreme negotiations proposals and instead engage employees at the bargaining table in a way that promotes a culture of cooperation, collaboration, and mutual trust and respect. “That future is not possible without a commitment from every individual to move from self-protecting to self-giving,” the report says. “Trust must be established. It requires suspending feelings of the past and acting on hope for the future.” We’re there. Is the City Council?