Reward plan to boost council staff morale

A REWARD scheme is to be introduced in a bid to boost flagging morale among staff at Scottish Borders Council.

The initiative is one of 19 recommendations, deemed either “critical or important”, to address major dissatisfaction at management in general and the way major changes in the organisation have been carried out.

The antipathy was revealed in an independent survey of the workforce of the region’s largest employer which was completed in October, 2009.

The recipe for improvement, now blended into an action plan, comes from 40 employees who volunteered to form a focus group after the disturbing results of the research were released a year ago.

Now a smaller task force, with the blessing of council chief executive David Hume, is to implement the action plan and drive through the recommended changes.

“The focus for the task force during the coming months will be around internal communication, reward and recognition, and modernising the workplace to encourage greater openness and interaction,” said a spokesman for SBC.

The 2009 survey, carried out by pollsters Harris, involved questionnaires completed by 46 per cent (2,800) of SBC’s 6,000 workforce.

Less than half of those who responded said they would not recommend the Newtown-based local authority as a place to work and just 24 per cent believed the council was well managed.

Only 15 per cent were satisfied with the management of a major programme for change – the so-called business tranformation programme – which is still ongoing and has seen hundreds of staff redeployed and many “matched” in lower-paid jobs.

In addition, 31 per cent felt communications within the council were good; 23 per cent had trust and confidence in senior management; 31 per cent believed senior managers showed trust and confience in employees; and 27 per cent said senior managers provided a sense of direction and leadership.

And the Harris report concluded that just 17 per cent believed senior management would act on the survey results.

That cynicism appears to have been unfounded and TheSouthern has this week obtained a copy of an internal document revealing the action plan recommendations of the SBC Staff Survey Focus Group.

Nine of the priority proposals on behalf of disaffected staff are deemed “critical”, including a call for all departments to adopt “a consolidated approach in communicating updates, progress and changes to ensure all employees are kept fully informed”. This, claims the group, will improve morale and increase awareness among staff.

Also judged “critical” is the implementation of a management development programme, covering absence and stress management and training on how to deal with grievances and disciplinary matters.

This, say the volunteers, will “improve the confidence and skill levels of all managers and staff’s perception of them ... and reduce ambsenteeism”. The document notes that one of the comments from the group urged “a stronger stance against staff who take constant sickies”.

The implementation of a recognition and reward scheme is considered “important” by the group. It will be for “employees who go beyond the expectations with their role, demonstrating excellent behaviours and team working”. Incentives could include free tickets for SBC-sponsored events and the programme would “improve morale, retain talent and improve stability”.

Mr Hume told us: “Our staff survey results gave us some clear and powerful messages about what we need to do to make SBC an even better place to work. We have had tremendous support from our group of volunteers who have enabled us to understand the hopes and frustrations of staff on the ground and have contributed hugely to the production of a focused and realistic action plan for change.

“Major changes have already taken place in response to these results. This includes an on-going implementation of a new performance review and development process which is due for council-wide release in the spring having being piloted with more than 400 staff.

“We have now established a central programme office to bring greater rigour and visibility to the management of change in the council. And we have opened up the Future Leaders programme to staff from all departments following huge success in education over the past two years.”

Opposition councillor Nicholas Watson (Borders Party) conceded the action plan was “encouraging”.

“We are lucky to have a very loyal workforce, but the survey identified some serious problems, not least poor communication,” said Mr Watson.

“I hope we can now see real moves towards keeping staff properly informed about what’s happening and learn to listen better to what they have to say too.

“I’ve sometimes found that staff are hesitant about speaking freely to councillors and that is a bad sign. A culture of openness not only helps people to work more efficiently, it also makes for a happier place to work.”