Building on the employee experience of lockdown – how was it for you?

Success in recovery will be in our ability to evidence-base our approach to the experience, one in which the learning is insightful, timely and inclusive.


A picture of Nigel Carruthers

Nigel Carruthers, is a senior advisor in the LGA’s Workforce Team and is currently leading a project to support councils to undertake employee surveys to inform the next phase of responding to the pandemic – Workforce Recovery and Renew. for more information contact nigel.carruthers@local.gov.uk

From my experience talking to local authorities up and down the country throughout lockdown, councils have done a good job in reacting to the crisis in addressing employees’ immediate safety, wellbeing and security during the pandemic. As we enter the next phase, local lockdowns and a second wave permitting, many councils are engaging employees to better understand how COVID-19 has impacted their working lives and how their individual needs can be met going forward.

It is clear this is an evolving picture for many staff who are now working more flexibility, in new roles and/or working from home. For many the crisis has created new ways of working, where a new mantra for some is “work isn’t where I go but something I do”.

The way COVID-19 has impacted this channel shift – to take communication and shift it from one medium to another – has presented an opportunity for councils to rethink how they elicit the employee experience in a much more innovative and dynamic way to inform the recovery and renew phase. 

Councils simply ‘surveying staff’ has passed the stage of just asking a series of questions. It has become more sophisticated using behavioural science, technology and data analytics to understand the employee experience in a more meaningful, impactful way. Councils have reported internal capacity, expertise and speed of analysis are all key factors they need now but are cost restrictive. 

Those local authorities who have gathered employee views have reported the technological channel shift. The use of Zoom, MS Teams, 8X8, SKYPE etc is allowing better two-way communication to foster workforce cohesion and build a greater sense of inclusive affiliation. In speaking to HR teams trust has increased, gained from the shared purpose of responding to COVID-19. Sense checking staff wellbeing to tailor specific solutions to individuals, or specific staff groups, teams and/or occupational roles is allowing council HR teams to create new ways of working that would never previously have been delivered in such short timescales. Of course, the focus for work is on its purpose, and that has required the customer to change expectations and experience things differently too, with many receiving services on-line or remotely. Again, the pace of change has been unimagined. We need to better understand their experiences too.

Local authorities told me they have needed to re-think how team relationships work and that external partnership working had improved. Many recognised there was a need to support the role of the line manager at this time, having already foreseen that ‘coaching’ would be more of the norm than ‘supervising work’.

For many the need for individuals to have a clear purpose at work has become realised, and as we know from evidence, we are more motivated and engaged when our individual needs are fulfilled. Recognition still remains vitally important to sustain performance – i.e. employees believe the benefits of their efforts are tangibly recognised. Does this mean there is a need for a psychological contract reframe in recovery?

Throughout the first phase of the pandemic, councils rightly focused on employee wellbeing and less on work effectiveness. There appeared to be a nervous reluctance to consider work effectiveness, performance, and productivity until now, where early evidence has been anecdotally reported as showing a positive relationship between the changes and staff engagement with their work. More work needs to be done here to evidence progress.

Broad cultural themes have emerged in discussions with councils who are reporting that team camaraderie is an often over-looked but essential aid to recovery, along with a clear focus on wellbeing and the need to maintain a shared purpose. Where there has been success, an active culture of involvement, equality, fairness and inclusion are all clearly evident.

Learning from your experience, where you model the positive behaviours, focus on team inter dependence and show a clear strengths-based approach will boost your chances of a successful recovery.