This is a difficult question to ask but is it time for people to consider moving out of the public sector into something else? I spent most of my career working in the public sector. It was where I felt I could contribute the most and hopefully make a difference to people’s lives. Despite the hours, the lower pay, and the pressure, it always felt that I was doing good. But is there really a future in making a career in public sector communication?
From 2009/10 cuts to the public sector left many organisations with much smaller communication teams. Multi-skilling was seen as the way forward and streamlining the key to the future. Like most people I became frustrated with the phrase that was always used ‘doing more with less’. It became a very empty choice of words. In reality social media did pave the way for communication to develop in a different way but it didn’t reduce the amount of work that was expected. Gaps started to emerge and people started to see their workload increasing. It was like having a ‘to do’ list that just got longer and longer with each passing day.
From 2010 until 2020 there were many serious incidents that tested public sector communicators. Terrorist attacks, floods, fires there were so many challenges to those working in local authorities, health, emergency services and other public bodies. Every time something happened the communication teams stepped up and supported the emergency response. You can’t underestimate the impact that these events can have and the impact may be felt weeks, months or even years later. Being invested in an organisation can make emergencies a personal challenge.
The last two years have been a huge test to everyone in public sector communication. The pandemic has demanded a lot and left people exhausted with little resilience to face the next wave. I continue to be concerned about the toll that the pandemic has had on public sector communicators. The latest impact is the Government’s request to look at business continuity plans to deal with gaps in the workforce caused by the pandemic. January will not be a quiet month as the public sector has to work out how to keep essential services running while there are staffing gaps. Communicators will have the same problems to wrestle with, while also being faced with increased demands on them to communicate with employees and the public.
So, should people stay or look to something else? The key factor in this has to be whether the organisations realise what is happening and invest in looking after their staff. Do those at the top of the business realise the pressure that the communication teams are under? Are they willing to bring in extra help even for a short time? Will they ensure that people can, and do, take holidays and days off? Giving support in these difficult times is the most important thing. It will mean the difference between pressure that is manageable and demands that will push people to the edge and possibly out of the door.
Public sector communication is still something that is close to my heart. It gives so much to help organisations and not just at a time of crisis. Now is the time for those organisations to make sure that they are able to give something back and ultimately keep people working in public sector communication.
*If you are reading this and you are a public sector communicator then thank you for all you have done and continue to do. And if you are feeling the pressure please get in touch and perhaps make time for a 20minute reset with a #thinkthroughbrew .