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

As leaders in the community, local governments don’t just provide services and consume taxpayer money: they support economic stability, are instrumental in creating a sense of place, and enact necessary change.

But for years now—in many cases predating the recession – local authorities have had to achieve all this with fewer and fewer resources. Resources have never felt tighter and thanks to the Great Resignation hitting the public sector as well as the private sector, there is more pressure on staff who stick around.

Resources have never felt tighter and thanks to the Great Resignation

The pandemic has put a greater emphasis on work-life balance and the ability to work from anywhere, so much so that many areas of local authorities are seeing a rise in staff turnover as even those that stick around have higher expectations when it comes to work benefits, and are quicker to find other employment if a job doesn’t meet their needs.

The current state of play in local government

Several UK councils face staggering financial distress and are on the verge of bankruptcy following two years of lockdowns and other pandemic strains. The need for funding reform existed prior to the pandemic, but the crisis intensified the chronic mishandling of finances. Many councils are asking for emergency cash and are struggling just to deliver basic services.

Reducing staffing levels is seen as one way to save on budget but can become problematic. Even prior to COVID-19, job losses in local governments were high, squeezing those still serving in councils. The cuts continue as councils work to drastically trim budgets from every possible angle, and that diminishing capacity is compounded by the 64% of public sector employees looking to move elsewhere.

It’s often the case that the employees that are still around aren’t together in a single, central location. This has always been the case, given the nature of the work performed and services provided by local authorities, but a deskless, email-less workforce without consistent 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 how to keep local government employees engaged

Arguably the biggest challenge is how to keep local government employees engaged. Each of the challenges mentioned above invariably has implications on your employees, and the list of ways they are impacted is long. For starters: low pay, heavy workloads, a lack of recognition, and pandemic burnout.

And while there are a number of ways to tackle the compounding concerns and weighty responsibilities of local governments (including task forces and business plans), the plain truth of the matter is that when the people serving in local governments are discouraged, disconnected and unengaged, affecting change and nurturing communities is far more difficult to do.

So how can you encourage, connect, and engage your employees instead—despite the fact that they are spread both far and wide? Proximity and capacity are only part of the problem. Using outmoded communication technologies (such as email and intranet) only magnifies those issues, because many employees can end up feeling out of the loop.

Local authorities are discovering that they must modernise their internal communications with upgraded technology. Many are turning to digital platforms, such as employee apps, to enable more rapid information sharing, provide all employees with the tools they need to connect and collaborate, and create an environment in which employees can feel heard and recognised.

How can technology help alleviate the issue of staff turnover?

Local authorities have been hyper-focused on crisis mode these past two years, leaving almost no room for learning and development. Technology can be used to create and deliver opportunities for staff members 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—helping to drive engagement.

Another sure-fire way to improve retention, drive engagement and avoid high levels of staff turnover is to make employees feel as though they belong. Belonging is a basic human need, and so it goes without saying that cultivating positive connections with others at work is part of a healthy work experience.

Ensuring that all employees have an opportunity to create content and weigh in on matters related to their role via an app or shared online space is one way that employees can feel heard. Having the right technology in place that encourages collaboration in this way can also provide ways for employees to interact with colleagues, both professionally and even socially.

Ultimately, when employees feel in-the-know, connected with others at work, listened to, and recognised for their efforts, engagement improves. And a highly engaged employee is more likely to stick around, reducing staff turnover.


Written by James Scott, CEO and Co-Founder, Thrive.App

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Open Access Government
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