Is Burlington going to have to pay more to attract better people and keep those we have? What is this going to do to the budget?

News 100 blueBy Pepper Parr

November 1st, 2019



About 50% of the non-union staff at city hall are not paid all that well.

Laura Boyd, Director of Human Resources, delivered that news in one of the most frank and direct reports the Gazettes seen come from a senior staff person at city hall. It was refreshing.

Boyd’s report was delivered to city council in July. She was instructed to return to council with “more detailed information and specific recommendations regarding non-union salary market competitiveness.”

Laura Boyd 2

Director of Human Resources Laura Boyd

Boyd talked about the culture at city hall – it was about as bleak as the pay rates.

Human Resources undertook to “re-surveying staff this year to take a pulse on if, as an organization, there has been improvement on our workplace culture scores.”

What wasn’t made clear was – who was going to be doing the re-surveying. Having HR do it would be close to a conflict of interest.

While, compensation in and of itself does not motivate people, “if employees are compensated poorly in relation to the marketplace, it will lead to higher turnover and less engagement.” The Boyd report outlined “the current experiences with staff turnover, especially related to compensation, our current retirement outlook and our capacity to deliver on Council’s work plan.”

Boyd refers to a report from Mercer, a leading consultant on matters of salary matters in the public sector.

“Most companies align themselves with a market position of the 50th percentile – however in the highly competitive GTA, companies align with the 60th to 75th percentile to compete for employee resources.

V2F - policy

The policy is to give staff a better deal. Will the public go along with what that is going to cost?

“The City’s current Council approved market position is mid third quartile, between the 50th and 75th percentile.  Here is what comparable municipalities are offering:


Burlington does not compare all that well with comparable communities – the Region offers a much better deal salary wise.

“Actual salaries are aligned appropriately to our current job rates (the 50th percentile).

“Our market competitiveness varies across the salary grades and this could be an indication of challenges with our job evaluations system not being robust and up to date.

Given the current challenges the City is having in attracting and retaining talent, the following will outline options for Council to consider moving forward.

A compensation system comprises of the following elements:
1) Alignment with corporate strategy;

2) External competitiveness;

a. Market comparators
b. Market position/Pay philosophy

3) Internal consistency;

a. Job Evaluation System

1. Alignment with Corporate Strategy
Compensation strategy must be in line with corporate strategy.

Private Sector Comparators: Based on information provided by Mercer, municipalities within the GTHA do not typically lose employees to the private sector. Private sector compensation systems and philosophies can be very different from the public sector.

While the public sector provides base salaries, pension and a benefit package it is not uncommon for large private sector employers to offer this plus incentives and bonus programs which are not typically provided within the public sector and therefore from a total compensation approach do not provide a good match.

Conversely, smaller private sector firms are not able to provide some of the benefits afforded to the public sector and therefore, do not compare well from a total compensation perspective. Private sector compensation approaches are different from municipal practices and as such do not provide a good basis for comparison.

The Broader Public Sector: The broader public sector was also considered especially in the areas of hospital and academic employers. The size of employers in these two areas tends to be much larger and the core business or service delivery very different. In addition, employers in these areas tend to be more heavily unionized. Compensation approaches between non-union and unionized staff is quite different.

Finding good matches with these employers to positions across our entire organization is difficult and as such these employers do not provide a good match.

Great weather to be outside, enjoy a burger and contribute to the United Way Campaign and be part of a team that pulls a fire truck down Brant Street.

Great weather to be outside, enjoy a burger and contribute to the United Way Campaign and be part of a team that pulls a fire truck down Brant Street.

Regional Governments: In the past the City has compared its positions to those found both within municipalities and regional governments.  Regional governments and municipalities have both similar and dissimilar governance areas. Regional governments also tend to be much larger in size from both an FTE and operating budget perspective. However, as we have lost staff to regional governments, they are a potential source for comparison and should be considered when determining market comparators.

A business case of $180,000 (one-time funding) has been included in the 2020 operating budget to secure the services of a consultant to source, design and re-write job descriptions and develop a rating system against which all current and future non-union positions will be rated. Implementation of the salary impacts of a new job evaluation system will be included if required as a business case on the 2021 operating budget.

$450,000 has also been included in the proposed 2020 operating budget to initiate a multi-year phased implementation which will result in a renewed competitive market position.

The consultants have put forward a number of options and recommendations.  Thought was given to creating one salary policy for Managers and another for Director level people.  The Burlington salary schedule doesn’t attract much in the way of Director level talent.

Meed Ward hands out frnt city hall

The Mayor is having fun: photo ops are close to a daily event. Is city staff as happy?

Missing in the deep dive look at how the city pays its staff is this: who is responsible for the culture of city hall?  It isn’t about just money.  People have to be proud of the work they do and see that what they do is making a difference.  That stuff works its way down from the top.  Burlington has gone through so many City Managers that it is difficult for young people to see the city as a stable place to develop a career.

The people in the Planning department have been whip-sawed back and forth with all the changes.

Clerks give everyone that funny look all the time - and take best costume prize during the 2011 United Way fund raising event.

Is City Hall a fun place to work? In the 2014 municipal election there was a well qualified candidate for the Office of Mayor who said it was far too toxic – he took a pass.

Related news story:

Boyd lays it all out on the table: there is trouble in paradise

Find a way to recruit the right people and then give them reasons to come to work with all their energy and creativity.

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4 comments to Is Burlington going to have to pay more to attract better people and keep those we have? What is this going to do to the budget?

  • Stephen White

    Time for a reality check.

    In the range of activities that comprise the compensation function (e.g. conducting job evaluations; performing salary surveys; managing the pay equity structure; etc.) writing job descriptions ranks near the bottom of the hierarchy. An efficient, well-run organization will review job descriptions annually, usually at the time performance reviews are conducted with employees and supervisors, and update them accordingly. With a bit of proper training an experienced supervisor should be able to revise/update a job description based on a pre-defined template. Moreover, where are Human Resources’ staff in all of this? Why can’t they update the job descriptions? Do they not have the requisite training or experience? Why not?

    Paying $180K to hire an external consultant to write job descriptions is like taking your car into a mechanic and asking him/her to wash it. Yes, I suppose they could do it, but why pay $120/hour when you can hire a student or someone else to do it for minimum wage?

    If this is the kind of perverted logic that is dictating how issues are reviewed and evaluated at City Hall it’s no wonder proposed budget increases are coming in at 3-5%. Before jumping on the bandwagon and agitating for increases in the salary structure let’s see the evidence from exit interviews, employee attitude surveys and other data to substantiate the argument that Burlington’s pay scale is significantly lower than other municipal governments. I, for one, am not buying it, and I suspect a major reason for staff turnover has a lot to do with retirements and a toxic work environment courtesy of the former City Manager.

  • David

    They have to get over themselves….A director of any meaningless job title, is a title I don’t need to pay for.

  • Penny Hersh

    Hans, while money is a factor, I would think that employees have to feel valued and heard. For many years I have heard over and over again “the culture at city hall is toxic”. I would like to know what that means?

  • Hans Jacobs

    Re: “It isn’t about just money…” – Herzberg would agree; motivation/demotivating factors differ widely among workers. Equity is always important, so it is essential to have accurate job descriptions to compare jobs and compensation with other comparable employers. I wonder how Burlington came to have a serious staffing issue?