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Do you find elections stressful or hectic? Does the threat of cyberattacks keep you up at night? Are there a million things to do before 2020? Are you worried about staff burnout?
It might be time to pet a dog.
Meet Snowbird, the first four-legged participant in Boulder County Clerk and Recorder’s dogs-at-work program implemented by newly elected Clerk & Recorder, Molly Fitzpatrick. In Boulder County, Colorado, employee wellbeing is a priority, and they aren’t afraid to pilot creative programs that work around employee’s lives. Dogs-at-work policies are known to support employee wellbeing and reduce stress. These policies also help alleviate some of the logistical challenges of dog ownership, such as finding dog-watching services and navigating the long workdays during an election season.
Beyond dogs, Boulder County also boasts an infants-at-work policy and a flexible hours policy. “It is important to attract and retain employees, especially in the elections division,” says Clerk Molly Fitzpatrick. “All these programs are meant to support our employees’ well-being and create better synergy between work and home life.”
Bringing Dogs to Work
The dogs-at-work pilot launched in May 2019 in all 3 divisions of the Clerk & Recorder’s office — Elections, Motor Vehicle, and Recording. The goal, Molly says, “is to support employee wellbeing by reducing stress, boosting energy and general happiness, and by helping to circumvent logistical obstacles and stressors that dog ownership brings.”
There are rules, of course. Only full-time employees who are past their 9-month introductory period may take advantage of the program. The dog must meet certain requirements around vaccinations, licensing, age, behavior, and temperament. There’s a limit on how many dogs can be in the office at any given time, and dogs are not allowed in the ballot processing center during the active election period. Finally, Molly adds that “staff allergies and comfort take precedent over dog owner preferences.”
In the Elections Division, so far only one employee and the Clerk have taken advantage of the program, but it’s been a success. “Many office employees love having the two dogs,” says Clerk & Recorder Communications Specialist, Mircalla Wozniak, and they’ve even “volunteered to ‘pet-sit’ during meetings or do walks as a favor to the dog owners.”
Bringing Infants to Work
The countywide infants-at-work policy was implemented in 2016 with the goal of making the Boulder County government a more family-friendly workplace. Increasingly, employers have begun shifting toward family-friendly policies because a few minor accommodations, like providing space for breastfeeding, makes a huge difference in employee wellbeing and retention.
This win-win-win policy benefits the infants, the parents, and the elections office. Public health research suggests that longer bonding periods can improve infant health and wellbeing, as well as reduce postpartum depression among parents. The policy also helps new parents navigate logistical challenges, such as making breastfeeding easier and more practical. Mircalla adds, this policy “would ideally support and retain employees during one of the most challenging times of being a parent.”
The program is open to any full-time employee with an infant, but the supervisor and division manager must approve. Each request is approved on a case-by-case basis depending on the employee’s work duties.
Countywide the program has been a tremendous success, with over 60 babies having been in the program. So far only one employee in the Clerk & Recorder’s office has brought their infant to work, but Clerk Molly Fitzpatrick says she’s optimistic that future parents will benefit too.
Offering Flexible Work Options
For 2019, another pilot program allows employees in the Elections Division to take advantage of flexible work options. The policy allows for traditional telecommuting as well as more flexible hours instead of five 8-hour days — for example, an employee can work four 10-hour days to get an extra day off. The goal, Molly says, “is to better accommodate the individual needs of our staff in balancing work and personal life, especially given the demands of the election season.”
The schedule change must be requested in advance, and is clearly marked on the calendar, so there’s been minimal difficulty coordinating schedules. For obvious reasons, flexible hours aren’t available in the two months before an election and for several weeks after an election.
But, in the months leading up to an election, the flexibility is greatly appreciated. “While working in elections can be extremely rewarding, it can also be exhausting,” Molly says, “and knowing that during non-election periods, our staff can have a more relaxed schedule by having a flex week or telecommuting, can be something they can look forward to.” Already half the elections staff have taken advantage of either telecommuting or flexible hours, welcoming the “greater control over when and where they work.”
Supporting Employee Wellbeing in Your Office
Colorado elections offices are known for their willingness to pilot new, exciting programs, and Boulder County prides itself on supporting employees. “These programs build off of that supportive culture, but I don’t think there is anything particularly unique about Boulder County that makes these policies work,” Molly says. “You just need to have courageous leadership countywide, trust in your employees, and a dedicated team to make it work. While every office is unique, I believe that portions of these policies can easily and effectively be adopted elsewhere to increase employee happiness and well-being.”
If you’re interested in implementing similar policies in your office, consulting existing policies is a great way to start. Boulder County’s dogs-at-work policy, for example, was modeled after other county departments. “We believe in the fundamental principle of not recreating the wheel,” Molly says. “Email us at Vote@BoulderCountyVotes.org and we are happy to share our written policies.”
There’s an increasing number of resources on family-friendly workplaces, including a Family Friendly Workplace Toolkit and a handout on family-friendly business practices. Some resources are specific to government employees, including case studies on parental pay and City of Boulder’s Child Care Solutions for City of Boulder Employees.
There are also general resources on retaining employees, preventing burnout, and maintaining a healthy personal ecology. You can use these resources to support yourself, your office, or even your entire network — for example, we recently spoke at Vermont’s clerks association conference, which included a session on work-life balance. Employee wellbeing is important, especially with 2020 looming. The election season can be chaotic and hectic, yes, but it doesn't need to be stressful.
How do you manage stress and support wellbeing in your election offices? We would love to hear from you! Tell us about your experience by emailing email@example.com.