Chin Up!

Chin up! Maintaining morale in the work place.

A recent piece of research has found that morale in the public sector has suffered over the past 12 months as a result of the reductions in funding and public service cost – cutting. This research by recruitment consultancy Badenoch & Clark found that local government has been particularly hard hit, and is backed by research undertaken by PwC which shows that 240,000 fewer people worked in the public sector in the second quarter of 2011 compared with the same period in 2010. Given the scale of job losses and the uncertainty which attends the loss of stability and security that featured so strongly in public sector employment in the first decade of the twenty-first century, a loss of morale in the work force can hardly come as a surprise.

More importantly, how can this lowering of morale be managed and minimised during these times of economic uncertainty? The effects of low morale can be seen readily in an organisation and can include the following:

• Loss of productivity
• Increased presenteeism as people struggle to show that they are committed to their post – without adding value to the business
• Defensive behaviours which stifle creativity and prevent appropriate risk-taking
• Greater emphasis on managing risk and increasing reliance on procedures and processes
• Poor levels of motivation and less laughter in the work place

There is no denying that organisational change and the harsh realities of reducing levels of income impact badly on organisations. Much of the pain that was experienced across the private sector between 2008 and 2010 is now being felt across the public sector. However, there are ways to mitigate the effects of this kind of change, and indeed, they may offer some opportunities to re-examine the business model, to make efficiency gains and to re-energise the work force. We have been working with an organisation in the public sector recently which has, over the past 9 months, completed the following:

• Restructured and re-positioned the business
• Moved to a more commercial and financially aware organisation
• Reduced operating costs by 24%
• Reduced staffing numbers by 10%
• Reduced the number of premises and facilities costs by 30%
• Introduced a more effective performance management approach

It is true that the changes were seen by many staff as very threatening and difficult to come to terms with, but after a 6 month period of intense planning, communication and strategic and operational review, the changes are now all in place and the cost-savings are being realised. Throughout the process, great emphasis has been placed on communications with staff to ensure that all the plans and priorities were explained as clearly as possible, and this was achieved through the following activities:

• Weekly email bulletins on the change process from the Chief Executive to all staff
• The formation of a Staff Committee with representatives from all areas of the organisation, charged with relaying messages between the senior management team and the ‘front line’
• Clear communication channels with trades union officials and local shop stewards
• Emphasis on redeploying and re-training existing staff wherever possible
• Transparent selection criteria for redundancy agreed with trade union officials and staff representatives
• Weekly ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ and Timetable updates published to all staff email accounts
• A series of 1:1 meetings for all staff with their managers to explore their personal situations

The mood of staff within the organisation has changed over time, and this has been plotted throughout the project by asking staff to indicate where they feel they are on a Kubler-Ross bereavement curve, adopted for the change management process. Plotting individual progress on a curve which moves from denial, through to anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance and finally to moving on, the clustering of the dots indicating an individual’s position on the curve has moved from being predominantly on the left hand side of the curve (denial, anger and bargaining) to the right hand side (acceptance and moving on). At the most recent staff forum, all the dots were at, or beyond, acceptance.

Discussion and evaluation with the staff members has shown that the high level of communication, the clarity and honesty of the messages, the fairness and the equity with which decisions were made and applied have all helped staff to come to terms with the process. Although they may not have like what was happening, they did at least know the reasons why it was happening and that it was happening in a transparent and fair way. One measure of the process is that no appeals were made against any of the decisions related to staffing; there were no grievances lodged; there have been no threats of employment tribunal applications, and despite the reduction in staffing levels, there has been no significant impact on the level of service being delivered to customers of the service.

It takes longer to undertake change of this kind well. It means a big investment in time and energy to make sure that staff know what is happening and have the chance to question, challenge and make alternative suggestions. It also means that the opportunities to make radical change within a wider change process can and should be seized so that the maximum benefit can be gained from a project like this. The organisation in question is now about to undertake a six month review and to establish whether all the planned and expected benefits have been realised, and whether more work needs to be done. We await the results of that exercise with interest!

Please follow and like us:
By | 2011-10-30T09:42:35+00:00 October 30th, 2011|Categories: Change Management, Human Resources, People Management, Solo Consultancy Ltd, Uncategorized|0 Comments

About the Author:

Leave A Comment

By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies. more information

The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.