By KEVIN CHIRI
Slidell news bureau
COVINGTON – Melissa Henry may not have been the one to criticize certain operations in the Clerk of Court’s office during the 2015 election, as other candidates did. But even after winning she recognized that it was a big change for the 150 member employee staff when she suddenly sat in the chair as the parish clerk—the first time there had been a change in 20 years.
“Any way you look at it I knew it was a big change for me to take over, especially since a lot of employees had been here with Malise (Prieto) for many years,” she said. “There was tension and division in some ways and I needed to change the culture of what was here.”
Henry, who had worked in the clerk’s office for only four years and had been appointed department head in land records a year before winning the election, found several smart ways to get the entire team working together.
“One of the first things I did was to show them that I would be in front of them all the time,” she said. “I visit with many employees every day and wanted them to know I was supportive of them all.
“I knew that many of them didn’t know me at all so my first goal was to improve the morale and gain their trust. I have tried to show them I am putting them first in everything we consider,” she added.
Henry did that in a concrete way when she analyzed and changed the benefit program for the employees. The new plan offered more options on the health insurance plan, but also got employees a short term disability plan that the clerk’s office paid for, along with a dental insurance plan that was much improved.
“We improved a lot of coverage for them, saved them money and got them the short term disability plan that begins to pay in only seven days. And we also upgraded the dental insurance,” she added. “And none of it cost us more money since I bid out the plans and received a number of bids—our cost didn’t go up and the employees got better benefits.”
She began to encourage more participation in the Humana wellness program which is a benefit to the department and the employee when they don’t miss work.
“Most of our employees are female and they have a huge load taking care of their families,” she said. “When they are sick they get stressed out worrying about taking care of their family or missing pay if they go through all their sick days. The wellness plan has helped them stay healthy and come to work, which is a win-win for both of us.”
The department has improved its employee participation in the wellness program from 30 percent to 60 percent. As employees hit certain wellness goals they receive gift cards as a reward.
One other key change by Henry was to totally revamp the department uniforms, which she formerly described as very basic with only black or gray colors.
“Now they have all kinds of options of what they can wear. They can mix or match different outfits and we have beautiful, colorful shirts to wear with the uniforms,” she noted. “I think it helps morale in general for them to have some options with the uniforms.”
Human Resources Administrator Wensel Conroy vouched for her boss in noting “Melissa is very approachable and has an open door policy. She brings cupcakes for the workers, she is always out and visiting with them. It is her warmth with the employees here that has made a difference.”
Henry said she has also been open about her own life and her own challenges when talking to employees going through difficult times.
“I’ve told them I can relate to tough times. Shortly before the election I lost a nephew. Then my husband had a quadruple bypass right after I was elected,” she said. “I’m just like them and I try to let them see that.”