Staff Morale

Employee satisfaction hits record low in downturn
Workers’ ‘fixed grin’ in tough times reaches public sector, finds CIPD
A drop in living standards and job security has plunged workplace morale to record lows, according to the latest CIPD quarterly employee survey.

The study of 2,000 UK employees found that staff satisfaction, and employee confidence and trust in senior leaders have dipped as economic conditions damage job security and standards of living.Staff satisfaction on the CIPD index – which measures the difference between positive and negative answers – dropped to +34 from +39 last quarter.

This is the lowest level recorded since the survey started in spring 2009 and a large fall from satisfaction scores of +42 just last November.

Scores for employee confidence in senior leaders fell to -1 from +3 in the quarter before, while staff trust in their employer dropped to -8 from -2. Employees who said their living standards had worsened had risen to 37 per cent from 31 per cent.

Meanwhile, workers in the public sector were most likely to report this drop in buying power, 47 per cent, compared with 35 per cent in both the private and voluntary sectors. Across all sectors, job insecurity had risen from 20 to 21 per cent. But this negative perception was most prevalent in the public sector where 30 per cent said they could lose their job.

Overall 21 per cent of respondents said their organisation was planning redundancies. But for the public sector alone this jumps to 58 per cent, with 29 per cent in the voluntary sector and only 10 per cent in the private sector.

The percentage of staff overall looking for a new job also increased from 19 to 24 per cent.

Claire McCartney, CIPD resourcing and talent adviser, said that the survey “underlines the importance of the Employee Engagement Taskforce launched by David Cameron last month” in boosting morale and performance at UK organisations.

However, she added: “The job satisfaction scores provide evidence once again of a ‘fixed grin’ effect, where workers tend to be more satisfied during tough times.

“This time public sector workers display that fixed grin, with job satisfaction among this group considerably higher (+38) than private sector workers (+33), despite – or perhaps because of – the turmoil being experienced by the sector.

“In these circumstances it seems employees are more satisfied simply to have a job.”

So what does this mean?

This set of figures, and other staff surveys may lull some public sector employers into a false sense of complacency. Whilst this change from the relatively secure days of the ‘noughties’ may be masked by the apparent ‘fixed grin’ effect, it may also mean that managers are less concerned about staff morale and productivity, particularly of they are suffering form the same drop in living standards and the same insecurities about the future of their jobs.

Recent informal discussions I have had with trades union regional officers has revealed that most public sector work places within Kent appear to be struggling with the enormous volume of change and the pressures that cuts in budgets are placing on employers.

This scenario will inevitably give rise to ‘presenteeism’ where staff feel compelled to stay at their work place for longer and longer hours in an effort to protect themselves from redundancy; to a reluctance to challenge the decisions and actions of their superiors, for fear of drawing unwelcome attention to themselves; and to a loss in confidence and focus as these worries overwhelm other issues.

In these circumstances, encouragement to still debate and question the business model in a positive and productive manner should be the focus of managers. It is wise to be honest about the requirement for change and the need to respond positively and creatively to the challenges being faced in the public, private and charitable sectors, but staff still need to feel that they can contribute as much as possible to the work environment without being completely stifled by their anxieties and concerns about the future.

How can this be done?

There are a number of techniques that might help to achieve a more positive outlook from staff. They include:

• Be honest and communicate as clearly as possible about proposed changes and re-structuring
• Choose positive and influential staff to act as conduits between staff and managers
• Keep any recognised trade union representatives informed and engaged in change
• Actively look for ideas and suggestions from staff about making efficiencies and cost-savings
• Model what you want from staff – be proactive, questioning and positive
• Offer support in the form of training, counselling, team building activities and 1:1 meetings to address staff concerns
• Publish newsletters, Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on a regular basis, together with the answers
• Use an electronic pin board for posting information and updates

In short, the more you communicate with your staff, the less potential there is for suspicion and conspiracy theories to develop!

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