How to maintain morale when the future is so bleak

The public sector is to foot the bill for economic recovery. The price to be paid in reduced take home pay and job losses will be felt by all those working in the public sector. The news paper headlines warn of six years of austerity. This year’s budget cuts were painful, next year’s budget cuts are already being drawn up and it is clear things are only going to get worse. As staff fight to protect their pensions and jobs do managers face an impossible task in maintaining morale? 

I have worked in organisations where the budget has allowed for growth and the service has been held in high regard but morale has been low .I have worked in places where services were being cut to the bone and where criticism in the local press and from local MP's was relentless, yet staff morale remained high. Two facts seemed to influence morale: the quality of leadership within the organisation and the people management skills of line managers. Yet in both sets of circumstances there was no direct relationship I could find between the level of morale and the individuals commitment to doing a good job for the service user. This seems to be because people's commitment in the public sector is to the client/service user rather than the organisation. They don't pull out all the stops for the organisations reputation, to hit Government targets or to make senior management look good, they do it to make a difference to an individual's life. They can be fed up with the way the profession is treated and feel undervalued and unappreciated by the organisation, but they will still do their best to help the individual because this is why they joined the profession in the first place. 

In general people who work in the public sector are proud of what they do. People can feel very positive about the work of their team or service but negative about the organisation they work for. This often comes to light when organisations prepare for Investors in People accreditation. The senior managers fret over what staff will say to the assessors in light of budget cuts and management reorganisations but staff are asked about what they do and they are invariably positive about their own work and that of their team. 

People who work in parts of the public sector are highly motivated by the prospect of helping people and making a difference to an individual's life. If they get on with their line manager, trust them, feel valued and that their efforts are recognised, then what's happening outside of their team/establishment has limed impact on their morale. This works both ways as if there is conflict within the team, if there is a lack of trust in the manager then any additional pressure caused by staffing vacancies, service cuts or changes in the way work is organised will result in people feeling unhappy at work, looking for other jobs and complaining about their lot. 

However bad the big picture gets experience shows that managers can influence morale in their team but if you were a teacher, nurse or social worker would you encourage your children to join the profession?

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Former Member 9 Years Ago
Good comments Blair and this applies to the private sector too. We are finding that delegates on our courses are worried about job security, frozen pay, reduced employer pension contributions, higher targets to meet, longer working hours, etc. Yet, as you say, how they cope with this is down to self leadership and digging deep to maintain their morale. This is often based on what thier personal motivation factor is and the quality of the management they experience every day. Good managers can create an environment that enables people to find that self leadership. Anyone can sail a ship in calm waters, but when things get rough, that's when we need exceptional leadership. The leader's role is then to keep the team doing what needs to be done and maintain morale; not to be the first in the lifeboat!! My son has chosen sales as a career with tough targets to meet, which is not the easiest area to be in at the moment. I know he is giving it his all to make it work. The professions you mention are still there and can still provide the job satisfaction a person requires. The choice is about attitude. You can choose to be positive or negative about your job, whatever sector you are in. You can still choose to be the best you can be despite what is going on around you. The choice is yours.