Last week during a routine check of the upcoming Sparks City Council agenda, I came across an item regarding City Manager Shaun Carey’s performance review. The item contained some interesting language: When considering a contract extension for Carey through 2012, the council will consider his “character, conduct, professional competence or mental health.”
Admittedly, the first thing to cross my mind was a comical image of Carey stretched out on a leather sofa in front of the council talking about his childhood fears and and sobbing as he admits he still wets the bed. Considering all the city has gone through in the past year — with the city manager in the thick of it — I’d probably start wetting the bed, too.
According to Sparks human resources guru Chris Syverson, the “mental health” language is codified in Nevada law. Probably one of those things that has a good legal reason but sounds funny to a normal person. In any event, it’s a job review.
But it got me thinking about the workplace in general during this time of bankruptcy, foreclosure, cost-cutting and overall economic mayhem. Up until three years ago — about the same time this recession started — I worked at a place for eight years where there was relative financial stability. What was unstable was the environment. One minute people liked you, the next they didn’t. There was a lot of turnover, even among the management. Some of this turnover was voluntary, much of it wasn’t. At times, everyone had the “quit before they fire me” mentality.
That kind of stress is exhausting and grating. It wears a person down. It makes it painful to get out of bed in the morning. It makes the weekend seem like two minutes instead of two days. It makes Monday seem like execution day.
And that’s when times are good. I cannot imagine the agonizing uncertainty of working for the city this past year when everyone knew the money was short and the ax would fall. All anyone could do was hope it didn’t fall on them. And there was no chance to quit before getting laid off because there are no other jobs. Plus, quitting means forfeiting unemployment benefits.
Now imagine being the guy who gets to sit in on every meeting to decide who loses their job. Sometimes that guy hands the numbers to other department heads who put a face with a cut, and sometimes that guy makes the layoffs himself. Either way, the stress has got to be heart-wrenching.
I did not have a chance to make an appointment to talk with Carey for this column, but assuming he is not a cyborg I think it is safe to say he did a lot of hand-wringing and lost a lot of sleep over the past year or so. I can also assume there is a tinge of guilt at still being employed. At least I know I’d feel that if I had seen more than 150 pink slips given to my co-workers.
There has been a lot of debate about City Council members and other employees cutting their salaries to save jobs. In Sparks, everyone has already taken 7.5 percent pay cuts to help close the budget gap. One might argue the employees who make a lot of money — like city managers — could take bigger cuts, still make a lot more than lowly newspaper editors and maybe save a few more jobs. Either way, still more stress.
So, aside from the job performance and competence aspects of his review, I hope Carey’s mental health is not too badly shaken. If I had to deal with an 18 percent decrease in revenues over three years resulting in the layoff of a lot of good people, my mental health might have some holes, too. At least Carey’s insurance covers mental health. I wonder if he has used his five free visits yet.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to see my shrink.
Nathan Orme is the editor of the Sparks Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.