Grainne Elliott, CMO of Thrive, describes four things that employees of local authorities need to support their wellbeing both on and off the job and can be delivered via this new emphasis on digital tools
There’s probably never been another time when employers everywhere have been so focused on employee wellbeing. Not only have employers had to figure out how to keep operations running and objectives humming during these past several months, but they have also had to identify and implement resources aimed at safeguarding employee health — physical as well as mental.
Challenges for Local Authorities
One area where employee wellbeing has been compromised is amongst employees of local authorities. Since the last recession, those who work for local authorities have faced a heap of challenges. First came significant funding cuts, job losses, consolidation and the resulting disruption and transition hiccups. Then came COVID-19, and with it, new blows to morale and wellbeing.
COVID-19 has taught us a number of things about not just running organisations, but also about the need for resilience and that employers need to invest in supporting employees through crises.
And employers are often eager to do their part. One study found that 36% of employers surveyed were concerned about the health and safety of employees during the pandemic. This goes for the public sector, as well. Local authorities have reconsidered how they can keep in touch with employees and transform ways of working in a pandemic age that serves their team members.
Thankfully, we are in a time when not only are there innumerable resources we can look to in our effort to promote health and happiness for ourselves and for team members, there are also vast digital-based choices for connection. Local authorities, in particular, have seen the pandemic as a wake-up call, accelerating their adoption of digitalisation and tools for their employees, such as employee apps, something that has been needed for quite some time.
This is particularly nice for public sector employees, who are increasingly reliant on these kinds of tools for support, motivation, and purpose-finding in their work. As they strengthen the communities in which they work, they must feel supported by the local authorities that employ them, and digital tools are one way they can feel connected to their roles and to others within their organisation.
Four wellbeing needs of Local Authority employees
Here we explore four things that employees of local authorities need to support their wellbeing both on and off the job and off that can be delivered via this new emphasis on digital tools.
#1: Employees need to feel in-the-know
For those working in local authorities, especially those who are dispatched out in the community, access to a computer and company email is either difficult or basically non-existent. This can have some problematic consequences, from employees feeling in the dark, to full-on safety breakdowns.
The Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council in Northern Ireland is one example of this. 26 local councils were consolidated into 11 so-called ‘super councils’ nearly six years ago. As a result of the restructuring, 39% of employees reported feeling dissatisfied with the council’s internal communication. Because 50% of the employees don’t have access to a computer, they suggested an employee app as a way to connect and get up-to-the-minute, personalised and hyper-relevant information.
Meath County Council in Ireland launched an app to help them bridge a broad communications gap for its entire workforce. Their app, MCC Connect, has content specifically focused on physical and mental health, connecting employees to wellbeing information, safety information, and COVID-19 updates and much more.
#2: Employees need to feel like someone is listening
One of the ways that local authorities can take a proactive approach to protecting the wellbeing of their employees is to not just disseminate information but to listen to what employees have to say. Given the opportunity, employees will probably have much to report about the effect of the pandemic on their roles and responsibilities, and specific concerns and challenges they face with respect to mental and physical health.
One of the best things about employee apps as communications tools is the fact that they come with built-in listening opportunities. In fact, one of the best uses of an employee app is to use it as a listening tool, not just an information dissemination tool. Let’s face it: Email is great at pushing out one-sided information but what’s more needed at this time are ways that employees can post, react, create, and share. And then for HR professionals and senior leaders to take note of what their employees are saying and make necessary adjustments or provide timely, relevant support.
#3: Employees need positive feedback
Nothing drains morale more than not receiving recognition for a job well done, or only receiving negative feedback or — and this may be worst of all — feeling like your role and efforts go unnoticed.
On the other hand, a thank you — even a small one, like a virtual high five or badge given within an employee app — can go a long way toward an employee’s wellbeing. An employee app can facilitate the routine feedback needed to keep morale high, by offering features that enable peer-to-peer recognition, the promotion of award programmes, and celebrations of team accomplishments.
#4: Employees need social interaction and connection
COVID-19 has taught us about the woes of isolation and its effects on wellbeing. This is critical for employees of local authorities, many of whom are outdoors workers or whose roles aren’t based in a central location. Some employees may go days without interacting with peers or citizens, and in these days of social distancing and lockdowns, the effects of isolation can really be aggravated.
Not everything that goes on in an employee app needs to be strictly work-related. Employees want to feel valued for who they are as people, not just for the responsibilities they check off when they clock in.
An employee app can foster the building of colleague-to-colleague relationships and connect employees from different locations and departments who may not otherwise interact. Features like photo walls, fun mini competitions, digital book clubs, virtual casual lunch or other breaks, and so on can provide that much-needed connection.