Port Canaveral staff sees 95 percent turnover rate

11:19 AM, Mar 1, 2013   |    comments
Image courtesy Canaveral Port Authority
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PORT CANAVERAL (Florida Today) - The cumulative staff turnover rate at Port Canaveral was about 95 percent during the past five years, leading port commissioners to seek an outside consultant to try to figure out if something is wrong.

Canaveral Port Authority Vice Chairman Jerry Allender says he's worried about what he sees as unacceptably high turnover and low morale among port staff. He also fears it could negatively affect dealings between port employees and the public if something is not done.

"We are hemorrhaging talent by the turnover of these people," Allender said. "We're losing their time. We're losing their talent. We're losing their knowledge. And it is costing us a fortune in severance packages. Then we have to hire more people and train them. I assure you, we have big problems."

Allender said low morale affects employees' work performance, including the way they deal with the public.

"Port Canaveral should be an exciting place to work, maybe a fun job," Allender said. "But, because of all of the internal problems that there appear to be, there are a lot of employees that are dissatisfied."

During the last five years, 233 Port Canaveral full-time and part-time employees have left their jobs, either voluntarily or involuntarily, including 126 in the last two years alone, according to data provided by port officials. The port's staff level, meanwhile, averaged 244 employees during the last five years.

Those turnover figures are higher than Allender estimated, based on his own research.

With Allender spearheading the push, port commissioners unanimously agreed on a plan that includes contracting with an independent consultant to figure out the extent of the morale and turnover issues through interviews with current and former employees.

Brenda Morrish of Leadership Coaching and Consulting of Indialantic, who is assisting in the port's human resources operations while the position of HR director is vacant, said the port "certainly welcomes any feedback to improve in any area of the port experience - as a passenger or an employee."

Noting the port's record passenger counts and record revenue, Morrish said: "Providing our guests with the best possible experience, while operating Port Canaveral at a high level of professionalism, is a priority."

Allender said some employees left voluntarily, while others were laid off because of the quality of their work or because their positions were eliminated as part of port operations restructuring. He said, based on conversations with current and former employees, he believes issues with port management led to a number of the departures, as well as "the hostile and toxic environment in which they work."

Port Authority Chairman Tom Weinberg said he also is concerned about the departures of some key port executives. These include the port's chief financial officer, as well as officials in leadership roles in the cargo, human resources and legal operations.

Under the plan approved by port commissioners, they will seek an independent consulting firm that is an expert at human resources issues to help devise a process for conducting detailed exit interviews with employees who left the port over the last several years. The idea is to help determine why they left, as well as gauge their views about the port as an employer.

The consultant also will research the morale level and other issues related to current employees, whom Allender said "have nowhere to turn to" within the port staff to air their concerns.

"No employee will talk to anyone employed by the Port Authority" about morale problems, Allender said, meaning an independent consultant is the best option.

Under the plan, the consulting firm, which the commissioners hope will be in place by April, will issue a report on its findings, but the identity of individual respondents would be protected.

Port Commissioner Bruce Deardoff said the use of human resources consultants to compile data on employee issues is a practice common in the private sector, citing his auto dealership group as an example.

"There has been considerable concern," Weinberg said. "We need to know what the issues really are. It will give us a real good look-see in what our issues might be with turnover. We'll get a full picture of why people at all levels, including management, have left."

Dave Berman, FLORIDA TODAY

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