I hope you had a great double bank holiday weekend, however you spent it. I am a hopeless romantic, so I admit to watching the royal wedding from end to end. It was a rare moment of escape though in my otherwise rugby dominated home. Later that evening I was dragged off to the Norwich rugby club youth dinner in support of both my rugby playing sons! But it’s the end of the season now-yahoo!
It’s back to business today though, and my thoughts are turning to one of the challenges I think most of us are facing in public sector workplaces right now – how to keep our great staff engaged and motivated in these difficult and challenging times.
There are loads of features of good employee engagement. But thinking about particular issues we need to consider in trickier times, for me there are five things to pay particular attention to:
At all costs, avoid wrapping up bad news in soft or bland words. Acknowledge head on that difficult stuff is happening, and that it will be upsetting for employees and will result in job losses. Shying away from these difficult messages will result in people at best not being clear and at worst being misled about what you are saying. People appreciate honesty and transparency in communications from their employer. Above all, do not leave a vacuum. This will inevitably act as a magnet for speculation, rumour, and even fiction. If people are not given the facts, then they will make them up!
Keep your trade unions on board as much as possible. A “no surprises” culture is essential. Of course, trade unions will be unhappy, concerned to protect their members as far as possible, and to lobby for alternative solutions to redundancy programmes. That is entirely right and appropriate. But in my experience trade unions, like their members, are realistic about the issues facing the public sector. Of course they do not like it and of course they will expect and insist on good consultation and employment processes. And that is part of good employee engagement.
Take time to consider the size of the task facing your leaders and managers across the organisation. They are being asked to simultaneously achieve significant budget reductions, often by re-thinking models of service delivery models. In many cases they are leading dialogue which could impact on their own personal position and future career. They need to deliver difficult messages to staff at the same time as ensuring services continue to be delivered. This is a very big ask. In any organisation there will be a spectrum of experience in your leadership cadre, but the majority of them will be relatively un-tested in terms of leading organisational change and transformation of the current scale. Plan and prioritise the support they will need.
Make sure you continue to recognise success and good performance. Alongside this, as our organisations change, it’s important that we take time to honour and celebrate the past.
Don’t be surprised to hear some employees be critical. These things are difficult to get right everywhere all of the time. The important thing is to find ways of keeping your finger on the pulse of the organisation and to be prepared to listen and respond quickly.
Good employee engagement always takes sustained effort, and never more so than in difficult times like these. Hard work it is, but mission impossible it’s not!
Until next week,