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Public Sector

Take a local leadership role in COVID-19 response

This commentary is additional to "The necessities we just forgot we needed." insight that also focused on the public services sector but also had a broader point for the public at large.

Public sector workers are much more despondent about the outlook than all other groups (67% of public sector workers are either in Catastrophic Change or Surviving but Despondent, compared to 55% for all other sectors).

This makes sense, considering many in the public sector have been in the front line in terms of fighting COVID-19, but it highlights the risk in terms of mental health and public sector engagement should there be a second spike.

Moreover, public sector staff are particularly negative about their organisation, compared to other sectors. Over half (55%) of public sector workers think that their organisation is in catastrophic change, compared to just 38% for other industries. So, public workers have much more concern for their organisations to cope and manage the change than the private sector. This "double whammy" highlights that public sector bosses will need to work very hard to support their staff. These could include, in the very short term, coordinating holidays to enable key teams to take a break in what might be a short respite before the autumn, but also how to encourage health and wellbeing among their teams in the medium term.

Public sector workers perceive noticeably more importance to social distancing guidelines, and, in the longer term, flexible hours. The first of these makes absolute sense, for those who are more likely to be at the forefront of society's response. Unlike those in other sectors, public sector workers' interest in social distancing guidelines does not degrade over time; in six months from now, public sector workers still rate this with a score of 1.46 compared to just 1.32 (one of the lowest scores overall) for private employees.

So, clearly, social distancing will continue to be a priority for public workers. But it is interesting that flexible hours are also seen to be more important in the long term for public workers (rising to 1.51 after six months, from 1.45 now). This suggests that public sector workers recognise now is the time to start thinking about greater flexibility in how they work, and they would like to see introduced more in the medium to long term.

This raises interesting questions about how public services can be delivered, and how they could be delivered remotely; considering much of the debate about devolving government services to the regions, is it possible to go one step further and establish how they can be delivered from home? Irrespective of these larger questions, forward-thinking public sector managers could see this as an opportunity to learn from the lockdown experience, and see how some services could be delivered in new ways, potentially increasing employee satisfaction and happiness, whilst maintaining delivery standards.

At a fundamental and practical level, taking a leadership role in best practice response to the pandemic, giving their users the confidence to return to a transformed environment is a significant opportunity. Previous cynicism to public sector workers and work is moving towards respect and awareness for their positive impact on society and people are looking for trusted bodies at a local level to take a leading position on guidance in the transformed post COVID world.