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FLORENCE — More employees are staying longer with Pinal County than they were just a few years ago, but county staff continue to look at ways to reduce turnover.

More than 10% of employees voluntarily resigned in calendar year 2016, just before the county committed to more competitive pay. By the next year, voluntary resignations were down to 6.11%. Although they continued back upward slightly for the next two years, they were back down to 6.8% last year, Mary Ellen Sheppard, interim deputy county manager and human resources director, told the Board of Supervisors Wednesday.

Voluntary turnover for the previous fiscal year, 8.4%, was almost a percentage point less than the average for Pinal’s “comparators,” or the likely counties, cities and towns Pinal competes with for employees. “If we get them here, they stay,” Sheppard told the board.

The reasons employees leave aren’t perfectly understood because only about 20% complete exit interviews, Sheppard told the board. In recent years, top reasons cited were salary, other employment, lack of advancement and personal reasons.

Last year, the top reasons changed somewhat to other employment, supervisor or management, and work-related stress or burnout. Supervisor Kevin Cavanaugh, R-Coolidge, asked if people are leaving for jobs that pay so much more that Pinal County couldn’t compete.

Sheppard replied no, and added “that’s probably the biggest frustration.” When decisions must await board approval, “that takes too much time. If we could have limited flexibility in order to make a counter offer … there’s no doubt they would stay.”

Supervisor Jeff McClure, R-Eagle Crest Ranch, said if it’s within a department’s budget, he would have no problem with it. Cavanaugh said he favored making competitive base pay for sheriff’s deputies a priority, and Supervisor Jeff Serdy, R-Apache Junction, agreed.

Cavanaugh also asked if the county was conducting satisfaction surveys in an effort to keep employees. Sheppard replied the county has for at least the last three years, and responses have indicated needs for more communication and employee recognition.

Sheppard suggested reviewing merit rules, which were first created in the 1800s “for very good reasons,” and they still exist for good reasons. The goal of a merit system was to make sure government hired the most qualified workforce.

But when the rules no longer achieve the desired results, “I think we have an opportunity to look at them and make changes where appropriate so we’re achieving the intended purpose,” Sheppard said.

Board Chairman Steve Miller, R-Casa Grande, agreed, along with offering more support for continued education. “We need to encourage education continuously,” he said. Vice Chairman Mike Goodman, R-San Tan Valley, told Sheppard, “I think you’re on the right course.”

Statistics presented at the meeting included:

  • Each employee departure costs the county about one-third of that worker’s annual earnings, including losses in productivity, knowledge and time required for interviews, plus the costs of recruiting, background checks, drug screens and temp workers.
  • The largest number of county employees, 437, work in law enforcement. The next largest employee group is administrative support (298), followed by professionals (274), officials and administrators (184) and skilled craft workers (147). The county also employs 77 service and maintenance workers, 66 technicians and 56 paraprofessionals.
  • Pinal County employees have an average of eight years of service. More than 500 have more than 10 years of service, 332 have between five and 10 years, 482 have between one and five years and 197 have less than one year with the county.
  • The average age of a Pinal County employee is 43. The average age of an employee with more than 10 years of service is 48, while the average age of an employee with less than one year is 36.
  • The largest county employee group, 43%, belongs to “Generation X,” ages 41 to 56. About 38% are “Millennials,” age 25 to 40. About 14% are “Boomers,” age 57 or higher, and 5% are “Gen Z,” age 18 to 24.

Mark Cowling is the county reporter for PinalCentral and covers the town of Florence, San Tan Valley and the surrounding area. He can be reached at