A Safer Workplace

During the nine years I’ve served as Albany’s city manager, I have participated in something close to 75 new employee orientation sessions conducted by our Human Resources Department.  I use the same slides my predecessor created to explain the City’s mission, vision, and values, as well as the structure of our organization.

Usually, there are five or six new employees listening politely to what I have to say, although there was the infamous incident where someone fell asleep and began snoring loudly during my presentation.  I have always tried to make my part of the orientation interesting, but the sleeping incident inspired me to rely more on true stories that illustrate our values, rather than simply a dry description.  I guess all new employees owe a small debt to a loud snorer to the extent that my presentations have improved since that event.

I have always emphasized that one of our values at the City is that no employee should be subjected to harassment while working here.  Allegations of harassment are taken seriously, and I can recall at least one termination and several disciplinary actions for those rare occasions when harassment has been reported and documented.  Incidents over the past year, however, have shown that we need to do more.

City employees from all departments have been meeting over the past three months to identify problems and issues related to workplace harassment or discrimination and ideas to address the concerns.  The Inclusive Workplace Committee delivered a report to the City’s management team this week along with some recommendations about how to make the organization safer and more inclusive.  The report will be posted on the City Intranet, and I encourage all employees to read it.

The first step we are taking to address the concerns is to have the committee develop a proposed code of conduct.  While we are relying on a committee to develop the proposal, I believe the proposal will improve in proportion to the number of employees who contribute to it.  We will not adopt a code of conduct without ample opportunity for employees to share their thoughts about the idea.

The management team recognizes that a code of conduct is just one step and that more will be required.  New training has already been scheduled in some departments, and more will be made available in the months ahead.  We will also be looking at how to address concerns about retribution for reporting problems.

I have learned to appreciate the irony that snoring could be an incentive to make a presentation more interesting, and I have received many reminders through my career that disputes and disagreement can be used as a means to improve.  I continue to believe the City of Albany is a great place to work while acknowledging that it takes some work to keep it that way.