How to tackle the challenge of staff turnover in local governments

James Scott discusses how local governments can make employees feel connected and valued to avoid high staff turnover

As community leaders, local governments don’t just provide services and consume taxpayers’ money: they support economic stability, are instrumental in creating a sense of place and implementing needed changes.

But for years – in many cases even before the recession – municipalities have had to do all this with fewer and fewer resources. Resources have never felt so scarce, and thanks to the Great Resignation hitting both the public and private sectors, there’s more pressure on the staff who stay.

Resources have never felt tighter, thanks to the Great Resignation

The pandemic has placed a greater emphasis on work-life balance and the ability to work from anywhere, with many areas of local government seeing an increase in staff turnover as even those who stay close have higher expectations of the workers have benefits and are more likely to find other employment if a job does not meet their needs.

The current state of local politics

Several UK councils are facing enormous financial hardship and are on the brink of bankruptcy after two years of lockdown and other pandemic stresses. The need for funding reform existed before the pandemic, but the crisis amplified chronic misuse of finance. Many communities are asking for emergency money and are struggling to provide only basic services.

Reducing headcount is seen as a way to save budget, but it can become problematic. Even before COVID-19, job losses in local government were high, putting pressure on those still serving on councils. The cuts continue as city councils work to slash budgets drastically from every possible angle, and this diminishing capacity is compounded by the 64% of public sector workers who want to relocate.

The remaining employees are often not together in one central location. This has always been the case, given the nature of the work and services performed by local authorities, but a workforce without desks, without email and without constant access to Wi-Fi can mean a cut-off, less-informed workforce. It can even lead to health and safety issues.

The biggest challenge is to motivate local government staff

Arguably the biggest challenge is motivating local government staff. Each of the above challenges invariably impacts your workforce, and the list of impacts on them is long. For starters: low pay, heavy workload, lack of recognition, and pandemic burnout.

And while there are a number of ways to address the mounting concerns and grave responsibilities of local government (including task forces and business plans), the simple truth of the matter is that when those working in local government are discouraged, isolated and unengaged, Making change and nurturing communities is far more difficult to accomplish.

So how do you instead encourage, connect, and engage your workforce—despite the fact that they’re spread far and wide? Proximity and capacity are only part of the problem. The use of outdated communication technologies (like email and intranet) only exacerbates these problems, as many employees end up feeling overwhelmed.

Local authorities find they need to modernize their internal communications with improved technology. Many are turning to digital platforms like employee apps to enable faster information sharing, give all employees the tools they need to connect and collaborate, and create an environment where employees feel heard and recognized.

How can technology help alleviate the problem of staff turnover?

Local authorities have focused heavily on crisis mode over the past two years, leaving little room for learning and development. Technology can be used to create and deliver opportunities for employees to learn a new skill, tick off an important certification or take a class—and then be rewarded with online or in-app employee recognition—and thus engagement to promote.

Another surefire way to improve retention, boost engagement, and avoid high employee turnover is to make employees feel like they belong. Belonging is a basic human need, so it goes without saying that nurturing positive connections with others at work is part of a healthy work experience.

Ensure all employees have the opportunity to create content and consider matters related to their role through an app or shared online space. This is one way employees can feel heard. Having the right technology that encourages collaboration in this way can also provide opportunities for employees to interact with colleagues, both professionally and socially.

Ultimately, engagement improves when employees feel informed, connected to others at work, listened to, and recognized for their efforts. And a highly engaged employee is more likely to stay with the company, which reduces staff turnover.

Written by James Scott, CEO and co-founder of Thrive.App

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