During a decade of austerity, many public sector organisations have been forced to weather stormy seas – and local councils are a prime example of this. Budgets have been slashed time and time again, leaving local governments struggling to deal with the realities of providing services for increasing numbers of people and an ageing population. But while the recent Autumn Budget has promised more funding to improve services, this won’t necessarily improve staff morale damaged by years of cuts.The strain on employees
Typically, when we talk about budget cuts and limited resources, we tend to linger over the impact this will have on the general public. But isn’t it just as important to consider the people who actually deliver these services? Whether it’s operating in a financially strained environment, trying to do more with less, or even being burdened with outdated legacy infrastructure, life as a local council employee has been difficult to say the least over the last few years. In fact, a survey from 2016 found that 73% of local council workers reported rising levels of stress, with the majority saying morale had declined.
Considering job cuts means that the number of council employees has dropped ‘every quarter since June 2010 and continues to fall’, this is hardly surprising. Fewer workers have been doing more work with less resource.
In order to run effectively and make the most of their new budgets, local councils need to retain and attract talented staff. To do this – and keep delivering services to a quality level – councils need to find ways to improve employee satisfaction, ensuring that skilled workers aren’t motivated to leave.
Improving morale in a challenging environment
There’s very little that councils can do to reduce external stress factors – and even with increased budgets for services, it’s not always possible to offer incentives like pay rises. But there are things that local government bodies can do to improve employee satisfaction. Implementing a genuine culture of flexible working is one example.
There are a number of reasons why workers seek flexible employment patterns: it’s a great option for parents, or simply for empowering all staff to work at the time that suits them best. But ultimately, it’s a way of improving work-life balance and decreasing employee stress as a direct consequence. In fact, the Harvard Business Review found that the possibility of flexible working is one of the most desirable benefits an employer can offer – something local councils should take note of.
Supporting flexible working
Sadly, it isn’t just a case of telling all staff they can work from home one day a week. Councils need to give employees the right tools to work from home – or indeed, to stay productive while out and about, working in the local community. Part of this comes from having the right technology in place – for example, a hosted phone system is a much more flexible solution for home and remote workers than a traditional on-premise phone system. Given the minimal capital outlay required, this is also a great option for IT decision makers who need to modernise phone services while keeping a close eye on spending.
Making sure all workers have access to portable technologies like mobiles, tablets and laptops is the next step – although it isn’t the end of the story. Mobiles lack features that come as standard on a desk phone, like effective call routing or hunt groups, access to a corporate directory, conferencing and call reporting. The loss of these important features can turn home working from a satisfaction booster to another cause for frustration.
So, local governments should seek out mobility strategies that enable employees to work as effectively and productively from home as they do from the office – productivity enhancing solutions such as Connect, gives workers the power of a desk phone from their mobiles.
Investing in employee satisfaction
Budget increases will be welcomed by all in local governments (and indeed, all other public sector services), but this won’t automatically increase employee satisfaction. When planning for the future, this is something IT decision makers should bear in mind. While it’s important to spend on end-user services, shy away from investing in employee satisfaction altogether, and public sector organisations will find themselves with a much bigger problem on their hands: a lack of workers willing and able to deliver vital services.
It won’t solve the whole problem, but investing in platforms that can power satisfaction-boosting measures like flexible working could be the key to supporting workers during any difficult periods they may face.