Polly Rance: Support our teams through the redundancy programmes

As the financial year draws to a close, public servants up and down the country are preparing to say their farewells to colleagues and friends.

Polly Rance: When the going gets tough, the tough gets interesting
Polly Rance: When the going gets tough, the tough gets interesting

Many public sector voluntary and compulsory redundancies will come into force on 1 April, and as the staff who remain attend numerous leaving dos, and sign cards for valued colleagues, their morale will certainly take a knock.

In councils, the NHS, and other public bodies, even those who still have jobs will have been through or be preparing for demoralising and stressful restructures, with the knowledge that things are set to get a great deal worse before they get better.   

If this makes for depressing reading, I apologise, but it does, I hope, show the scale of the challenge facing internal communicators in the public sector.

How can staff be kept motivated and focused on delivering high quality services when budgets are being slashed, and the shadow of redundancy looms over every public servant? And how can we, as leaders in communications, keep our own teams motivated when our service areas are in the firing line for cuts?

Hackney Council, where I work, has just had the results of its latest MORI staff survey. In many ways they are highly encouraging.

The percentage of staff members who feel proud to work for Hackney and who rate us highly as an employer continues to rise. Our advocacy rate is very high, with 60% of staff saying they would speak highly of the Council and 77% of staff feeling informed about developments at the Council. This is 19 points ahead of the local authority norm.

These are very positive results and show that our internal comms strategy is working well; our policy of openness, of communicating news as soon as it is available, of putting our chief exec at the front of all communications and making sure he is out there talking to staff.

However, the downside of the survey was the news that the percentage of staff who feel insecure in their jobs has risen sharply. This is perhaps an inevitable result of clear honest communication about the scale of the financial challenge we face, and it is interesting that those who feel most insecure are those closest to the corporate centre, such as comms staff.

Back office workers will always feel threatened in times financial difficulty and that presents a leadership challenge to heads of comms right across the public sector, especially when we will all be expecting more from our teams as resources diminish.

It’s worth remembering though, that in communications at least, when the going gets tough, the work gets very interesting indeed.  

Many communicators thrive in adversity, and find crisis and change management enormously professionally fulfilling. Whilst training budgets disappear, the job itself will become the professional development programme, as the reputation management challenges get tougher.  
Communicators at all levels will be expected to step up to the plate and deliver high quality strategic, professional support to their organisations, and many will be handed development opportunities that would not have come their way in more comfortable times.

We must support our teams to help them make the most of those opportunities, and to help them realise that those who come through this challenge will have seriously earned their stripes in the profession, and enhanced their employability for the long term.

Polly Rance is head of media and external relations at Hackney Council

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