Municipal Journal logoTroubleshooter: The Problem

I’ve worked in the HR team for a central government department for nearly ten years now. Throughout that time, employee engagement has not been a problem – we attract a lot of people that are very committed to the aims of the organisation and work towards them passionately. However, the Government Relocation Programme has recently focussed its attention on us and plans are underway to relocate our department outside of London – it’s a programme that will undoubtedly help curb government spending, but it also promises to have a profound impact on our workforce.

Most of the people in roles that are being relocated are very unlikely to follow the department out of London. That has left me with a significant problem – how to keep people engaged, motivated and productive when they know their job won’t be there this time next year. The temptation for a lot of people is to simply tread water until the department relocates, which could see the department growing increasingly ineffective for quite a stretch of time.

How can I ensure the people that are being left behind continue to perform effectively during the long lead time it takes for the relocation programme to take effect?

PM magazineTrouble Shooter:

The Answer from Angela O'Connor PPMA

Early action will be the key. Make maximum use of the long lead-in time before the relocation and recognise that now more than ever is the time to look after your people. Treat staff as adults from the start - be entirely open, even when you do not know the answers to the questions they’re asking. People will be feeling anxious about their futures and their fears shouldn't be underestimated.

Devise a programme of support now, tailored to the needs of staff. To achieve a balance between the need to keep people motivated and sustaining their belief that you have their best interests at heart, focusing on employees’ development needs. Help them to prepare for their future, whatever it holds.

Give employees all the information they need about the relocation proposals. Use your in-house expertise to conduct skills interviews with staff and help them to understand their career aspirations. Provide development opportunities that bridge the gaps in people’s CVs. Provide support in preparing for interviews; some staff may not have had an interview in years and will need to practice. Start conversations with other government departments, looking for redeployment opportunities.

Run some surgeries on redundancy. The key to these is not to make them too general, as staff will quite rightly want to know how much they could get, when and how much of it is taxable. Tackling these issues up front is crucial as people will need to plan how to support themselves and their families.

The key to your staff remaining committed and engaged is their belief that you are looking out for their best interests. Understand their fears, boost their opportunities to get new roles, help them plan for an uncertain future and they will remain engaged until the day they leave.