Let's Get Staff Off The Fence!

Hello PPMA Member and friends

I have been surprised by the extent to which the journey of the Olympic flame around the country has caught the imagination of the British public. In Barking and Dagenham, 80,000 people lined the streets of the borough to celebrate as it passed. The whole event has been brilliantly choreographed, embracing the distinctive landmarks of the country and linking with other iconic events taking place (including the Dagenham Town Show!). However, I think it is the stories of the 8,000 individual torch-bearers that has captured the imagination of the public and created a sense of engagement with the torch relay and the Olympics as a whole.

Whilst many people are positive about the Olympics, there are a vocal group (certainly on twitter) who are critical and disengaged with the whole event. Despite the numbers who have turned out for the torch, the majority in the country (certainly based on the conversations I have had) are ambivalent about the Olympic experience. I think this probably mirrors the experience in our own organisations: however much we push the engagement buttons, there will be a negative cohort who we will never win over and a group of staff who will sit on the fence, waiting to see what happens.

The CIPD recently published the results of their Summer 2012 Employee Outlook Survey. They show that the number of “engaged” staff has increased slightly since the previous survey to 39% (35% in the public sector). The number of “disengaged” has stayed at only 3%; whilst the number of those who, from the survey questions, are deemed “neutral” is a whopping 58% across all sectors and 62% in the public sector.

This is fascinating and does reflect the experience in my own organisation. Staff are adopting a very passive position, not actively opposing the changes we are making, but nor are they taking the opportunities we are creating to engage in a debate about them. We were one of the councils that took part in the recent research into the Employee Value Proposition or Employment Deal in Local Government. The results of that research work, which was supported by the LGA and the PPMA have been published on the website.

What this demonstrates is that there is an opportunity to construct a new employment deal based on reaching a position where pay and benefits are perceived to be fair, but which broadly embraces those things that currently undermine the balance in the deal.

These are:

  • the extent to which people feel supported in delivering good services to the community
  • the strength of the employee voice
  • the ability to surface tensions
  • the quality of line management.

It is important that councils consider the state of their employment deals and seek to articulate and put in place something positive and motivational for the future.

As employers, we may not have something quite as symbolic as the torch around which to build engagement, but an articulated employment deal, based on a sound, realistic narrative about the future, does provide a basis for a dialogue which may move people from a position of passivity to one where they are fully engaged with the challenge of meeting the needs of communities with much reduced resources.


By | 2017-07-30T12:23:24+00:00 July 30th, 2012|Categories: Martin Rayson|5 Comments


  1. Lisa Sibley 7th August 2012 at 10:56 pm - Reply

    I really liked this quote I saw in one of the weekend papers and it resonated with your blog: ‘A loser isn’t the person who gets involved and finishes last. A loser is the person who doesn’t get involved in the first place.’ Oscar Pistorius, BT Ambassador
    It is absolutely crucial that we engage our fence sitters – HR has a vital role in creating an environment/the opportunities that will make employees want to get off the fence and jump into creating a new deal in the public sector. HR also has an important role in being exemplars of not sitting on the fence…..

  2. Martin Rayson 8th August 2012 at 9:00 am - Reply

    An inspiring comment from Oscar. I think your comment about HR is well-made. We can be very reactive, feeding our “support” function image. We need to be proactive, get out there and try things to improve engagement and move the business forward. And if things do not work, try something different!

  3. Raffaela Goodby 9th August 2012 at 6:54 pm - Reply

    I think HR can facilitate the movement from sitting on the fence, to jumping over it like an Olympian in really small easy ways. I’ve found through our work in Bham that showing a genuine interest in employees’ issues has a huge impact. I don’t advocate tea and sympathy and joining in, but I am a big champion of sweating the small stuff.

    If staff are repeatedly suggesting small improvements, go out of your way to theme those, get them in front of the senior people, make it happen, then shout about it in your comms and messages. It builds trust and enables employees to be able to engage with the bigger issues that are going on as well as build trust in HR – and of course it doesn’t harm the old top table issue to have your finger on the pulse of what’s going on!

  4. Martin Rayson 10th August 2012 at 12:48 pm - Reply

    Interested to know what systems you have in place to capture staff ideas? Do you have staff suggestion schemes, are there on-line forums, or are ideas captured by line managers?

  5. Raffaela Goodby 10th August 2012 at 6:13 pm - Reply

    We have a successful Dragons’ Den – here’s a little video

    We also have emailing the CEX and Q&A at various events, as well as service based schemes. We want to move the silo based ideas online, so all staff can see and comment, vote on ideas etc. I think NE Lincolnshire have a successful online scheme in place that does just this. Any NE people on here to share their experience?

    I’d be interested to know if others financially reward good ideas, or savings ideas and how they do that in a way that’s equitable and challenge proof!


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