Update 4: Perspectives from Local Government Leaders on Staff Morale

Managers from across the globe share how they are maintaining staff morale despite social distancing.

By Ellen Foreman | Apr 7, 2020 | BLOG POST
computer screen with virtual meeting
James Malloy is hosting team meetings and virtual staff happy hours to maintain morale for the town of Lexington, Massachusetts.

By Jim Malloy, town manager of Lexington, Massachusetts, and ICMA president-elect

Last week, my department directors reported their staffs were experiencing anxiety and stress from working remotely.  One director thought it would be reassuring if I could address all staff through a zoom conference.  Another indicated she held a zoom “happy hour” with her staff.  We ended up with the plan for me to hold a Zoom “happy hour” meeting with all town staff.

We did this last Thursday “after work” and I encouraged those that could “attend” to grab their favorite beverage for a talk with the town manager and their colleagues.  We had a great discussion that included an update on the town’s COVID responses, issues with staff working remotely, as well as the anxiety many staff were going through.  It was a big hit and one of the best outcomes is that we found many of our staff missed their colleagues and we’re now working on the best way to keep staff connected during this time. 

It was a great experience and went a long way during a stressful time to reunite staff.  I’ll continue doing this regularly until we return to a normal work environment, and I believe there will long lasting positive effects of this effort.


By Elena Gamberini, director of Bassareggiana, a region that has 8 municipalities on the banks of the river PO in Italy

Here are some of her region’s current practices and results:

  • 24/7 cooperation between elected and appointed officials.
  • Strengthening every possible network: web meetings, Skype conferences, Whatsapp chats, etc.
  • Personal protective equipment for employees.
  • Smart (flexible) work schedules and nationally funded income support measure.

I plan a weekly “Camera Café.” On Friday at 11:00 a.m., we host a Web-ex meeting to discuss schedule activities, problems, suggestions, and proposals; and to share a virtual coffee together.

As a result of these activities, response times and problem solving has significantly improved; cooperation gives rise to other collaboration, for example, volunteers are increasing; and over the long-term smart working is a good path. In summary: COVID-19 has no boundaries, but also professional networks have no boundaries.


By Paul Martin, chief executive of two councils in London, Wandsworth, and Richmond, which serve a population of over half a million people south of the River Thames

At any normal time, local government connects its communities and residents to the services we provide and the workforce that delivers these services. In so doing, there is an umbilical cord that connects the municipality to its region, country, and the wider world. 

At this extraordinary time of crisis, this connection is more apparent than ever. We are hyper local in our connectedness and at the same time more global than ever in facing a pandemic that challenges all parts of the globe. 

In my area of south west London, I see a hunger for connectivity that in nearly 40 years in local government, over half of that as a city manager, I have never seen before. My last staff webinar was attended by 2,500 staff. I talk about the crisis; our response to shield vulnerable people and keep vital services running; providing food directly to the homes to all who need it; supporting vulnerable children and adults in their care and support; and working closely with hospitals to ensure rapid discharge back home; making sure that everyone who needs personal protective equipment has it. 

Yesterday, I visited one of the largest of the London parks that we run, Battersea Park, to talk to our parks police and check out how we ensure that everyone observes the government’s social distancing instructions. Everyone is pulling together, doing a terrific job. 

The day before I held a webinar for all our councillors to present our response to the crisis and take questions about our approach and what more we can do. In these difficult days, and in what will be the immensely challenging period that follows it, city managers need to focus on these connections and remember Clem Attlee’s response to the question “What did Churchill do to win World War II?” “He talked about it,” was Attlee’s reply.


By Guntar Gogulis, city manager of Jekabpils, Latvia

  1. Together with staff we set new targets, deadlines, and the necessary resources. We jointly control and discuss the results. This keeps us all busy with new project development, not discussing the invisible threat.
  2. We ask employees for advice to ensure a safer environment for staff. We identify solutions and employees have confidence that the maximum has been done.
  3. The working pace is maintained in the normal order, while adapting to the new realities. Remote meetings are being held. Colleagues communicate, share information, report on what they have done.
  4.  Most staff can work remotely. We changed to a technical solution that allows staff to work from any place connected to internet.
  5.  Always effective is a one-on-one conversation with an employee about his/her day-to-day problems. Even if you don't find a solution, it is often enough that you have shown an interest in employees. And usually they find a solution to the problems themselves.
  6.  Thinking ahead, we will need our staff to focus on how to work and be effective in the face of a falling budget.

By Borchert Belien, ICMA member and city manager of Oosterzele, Belgium

Nowadays we try to work as much as possible from remote distance and hold conferences through video chat. Today I video chat, even more than strictly necessary. And every week I make sure I’ve seen everyone’s faces. Then we talk. We talk business, but we also make time for a chat. I also make the effort to visit the personnel who are still coming to work just because they don’t have the opportunity to work at home. I try to give enough attention to people’s feelings about the situation and I feel that is appreciated very much. Sometimes it can be as simple as that.


Barry Reed leads ICMA/USAID program in the Ukraine and former county manager in North Carolina

My strategy emphasizes pragmatism, positivity, connection, and communication.  We recently installed MS Teams and this gave us the opportunity to connect and communicate.  Mainly I do whatever I can to make people feel part of the DOBRE team and emphasize staying connected to each other. I start every day with a message to the team.  I have transformed myself into a cheerleader; I offer as much encouragement and positivity as I can.  I also wrap up the day with a positive message.  I also call a couple of people every day and just chat with them.  Like standing around in the office kitchen.  It allows me to connect on a more personal level.  

The majority get involved in teams and we still find ways to interact with our local partners.  As the quarantine drags on, I suspect I might need additional ideas and strategies.  At the end of the day, the entire experience might alter our working methods.  We find new and innovate ways to engage partners.  Teleworking and remote assistance does become easier and more comfortable with time.  We waited 100 years for such a challenge; it might herald advances in the workplace years in advance.

For additional information, visit ICMA’s Coronavirus Resource page.

 

 


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