North Cowichan losing managers to claims of being overworked

CAO Swabey says burnout an increasing problem

Holding on to senior managers in the Municipality of North Cowichan is becoming more difficult as their workloads increase dramatically, according to Ted Swabey.

Swabey, North Cowichan’s CAO, told council at its meeting on Dec. 18 that staff have made significant progress in accomplishing many of the objectives laid out in council’s inaugural strategic plan for its term in office, but it has come with a price.

He said that much of the progress in achieving the goals of the strategic plan for 2019, including developing council policy for the retail sale of marijuana and an affordable housing strategy, has required significant and unsustainable after-hours work requirements over the past year.

Mayor Al Siebring said that he’s often at the municipal hall late in the afternoons and, more often than not, he watches senior staff members leave the building with files and other materials so they could continue to work in the evenings.

“It’s the nature of the job, but it’s not sustainable,” he said.

“We need to acknowledge and recognize this.”

Siebring asked Swabey if, in his long experience working with local governments, this situation can be considered “normal”.

Swabey said that while the municipality has approximately 450 staff, only about 10 are senior managers who are responsible for completing reports and other tasks laid out by council.

“We’re running flat out,” Swabey said.

“The managers are working under big work loads.”

Coun. Rosalie Sawrie asked Swabey if he expects the situation will improve with the structural changes that were made in the municipality in 2019, or if he sees a “red flag” for 2020.

Swabey said the best solution is for council to “have a plan and stick to it”.

“We’ve been given a lot of new work and we’re handling it, but there’s a burn-out factor to consider,” he said.

“We have lost staff because they have had difficulty trying to work out a balance between their private and work lives. How long can we sustain this? I’m not sure.”

Swabey said he sees a council trying to do the right thing, in their minds, to turn the municipal ship around to deal with environmental issues.

He said that not only creates extra work, but the cultural change in the organization takes a “tremendous amount of leadership” on behalf of the managers to deal with.

“I’m proud of what we accomplished,” he said.

“With patience and if council sticks to the plans it makes, we’d be able to cope better.”

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