We broke the news last week. Page 1.

Not everyone who works at Oak Park Village Hall is wildly enthused about their job. Actually, most of the people who work at village hall, at least among those who could be bothered to fill out the Gallup survey a year ago, were pretty actively disgruntled.

Turns out a lot of staffers, and there are a few more than 350, don’t like their jobs, or their supervisors, don’t have much use for top management and, sadly, feel unappreciated and unrecognized.

On the question of “recognition,” as in “in the last seven days I have received recognition or praise for doing good work,” Oak Park did quite poorly. Seems no one is patting these sad sacks on the back and saying, “For a really crabby and disengaged employee, you’re doing just great. Keep it up!”

There is, you see, this matter of the chicken and the egg. For as long as I can remember, most of the people who work at Oak Park’s village hall have been grumps. They’re not happy with their jobs, they don’t seem so wild when the people who pay their salaries stop by to visit and maybe get a vehicle sticker, a permit, pay a parking ticket, open a business, or complain, as is their right, about the parking ticket, the permit, etc.

Oak Park’s elected officials have seen this, what shall we call it, virulent malaise, and chosen to engage it, to measure it, perhaps, alas, to improve it. That’s why they hired Gallup last year to conduct a Q12 survey. Twelve questions asked of millions of employees all over tarnation, designed to measure if an employee is engaged (“By Jiminy, love coming to work and spreading my sunshine indiscriminately”), non-engaged (“I’ll write my 600 parking tickets today but not one more than that”), or actively disengaged (“Take a seat, yeah they can wait, let me tell you how I was abused and maligned and not ever a smidge recognized yesterday”).

But if the elected officials want to provide taxpayers/voters with better, more positive, more efficient service, this sounds like a tough crew to turn. 

Sure it doesn’t help that during the brutal recession Oak Park laid off 20 percent of its staff and is not rushing to bring that number back up. I remember a village trustee from that era telling me at a reception that 20 percent of staff had been evaporated and that he couldn’t tell any difference in the level of service. The amount of work being accomplished had not declined even as the number of people doing the work shrank. Hmmm.

The village board now wants to simultaneously improve customer service while overhauling the ways that service is provided. Departments are being realigned, desks are being moved, and major investments in software that connects information within the hall are being made. All logical and necessary. But it is hard to sell massive change to a disgruntled workforce. 

A previous village manager, and I lose track of which one, tried to lift morale by grilling burgers for the staff. Did not seem to turn things around. The last village board pushed hard for merit pay as a way to recognize strong effort. The unionized staff basically pushed back with the message, “We’re all in this funk together!” Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb wants to abandon the concept of merit pay as too piddling an amount of money to have a battle over.  

And so the board turned to Gallup a year ago. Conducted the survey, pretty much buried it from the public and denied our FOIA request to unearth it. The mayor acknowledged to me a month ago that the results “weren’t favorable to the village” and then said another survey was taking place this month. 

We’ll see if the board releases the results this time because its attorney’s argument that this is a personnel matter is a total crock. 

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Dan Haley

Dan was one of the three founders of Wednesday Journal in 1980. He’s still here as its four flags – Wednesday Journal, Austin Weekly News, Forest Park Review and Riverside-Brookfield Landmark – make...

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