Hello PPMA members and friends

Last Thursday (28th July) The MJ published an article by our President Gordon McFarlane, where he reflects on the challenges our sector (and others) face with recruiting and retaining staff. It was very well received and we thought that we would re-share it as a blog post.

Peter Drucker famously stated that culture eats strategy for breakfast. When we look at what we should be doing to address our growing recruitment and retention challenges, is the solution all about pay? It’s worth considering whether culture can and should at least take a bite out of this challenge, if not eat it for breakfast?

Enough of the analogies, and I’ll come back to culture later. Supported by HR, senior leaders across local government are wrestling with what immediate actions to take to recruit and retain in key areas. We need to use resources wisely and really hone in on what’s going to be most effective and impactful. We know that many of our staff are increasingly looking at bottom line pay rates – ‘how much do I need to earn to even survive, let alone thrive….?’.

Whilst we can apply (and many of us are) market premia and other introductory or retention payments, these are arguably expensive sticking plasters, and they don’t stop other employers doing the same. It feels in some areas that we’re in a race to the top from a pay perspective, which simply isn’t sustainable. Nationally, we are at very early stages of pay bargaining for 2022/23, and in the meantime, costs continue to rise. However, rather than just focusing on pay in this piece, let’s look at what else locally could make a real difference.

In a recent MJ article, Matt Prosser from Solace stated that they were calling on government to support a major, sustained campaign to promote the benefits of working in local government. I support this view – but we also need to get better locally at positively marketing ourselves as major local employers, with a huge variety of careers and opportunities on offer. We tend to tell the positive stories when we run specific one-off or ongoing campaigns (e.g. social work), but there is rewarding and fulfilling work to be had in a plethora of areas across local councils. However, in terms of the wider picture, government support and focus would certainly help.

Whilst it is also clear that long-term systemic solutions are needed, there also still needs to be a sharp focus on the here and now.

It’s worth remembering that a huge amount of loyalty, dedication and commitment was demonstrated by huge numbers of our staff during the pandemic – many people regularly going over and above in response to the demands created by the situation. Have we been able to capture and retain this loyalty post pandemic, together with the intrinsic value and reward that comes from high levels of teamwork (amongst many other positive factors)? This leads us to consider the importance of organisational culture. I believe there is a clear argument that if there is a positive, supportive organisational culture, more people will be attracted to join and will stay. Culture is a complex area, made up of many factors, and as local authorities we may also have sub-cultures. However, a few obvious and topical contributors are:

  • Wellbeing – how well we look after people and promote good mental health
  • Family friendly – living our policies
  • EDI – showing real tangible commitment beyond any strategy and rhetoric
  • Learning & development – we have to stay committed to supporting and developing our staff. Across our services, we need colleagues with the right skills and qualifications.
  • Induction – a clear focus on the quality and relevance
  • Hybrid working – a huge opportunity to contribute to culture change if implemented in the right way. If employers are overly restrictive, or choose not to implement hybrid arrangements, they will quickly find that their competitors become more attractive – candidate and employee expectations have changed
  • Brand and image – as individual employers, do we have a clear brand, and do we really do what our marketing says we do?
  • Leadership and management – setting the tone, demonstrating real effectiveness, focusing on the attributes which are essential in the context we are working in

To summarise, it would be naïve to think that pay and financial reward won’t continue to be a major focus for some time to come. The quality of communication and real engagement with our staff and our candidates can also make a huge contribution. However, as employers we shouldn’t underestimate the power of creating and/or maintaining a positive, supportive and inclusive culture.

We’d love to hear you views on this – why not drop us a comment?

Gordon McFarlane

PPMA President