'Bad News' and its Impact on Engagement

Blog posts

4 Jun 2014

Dilys Robinson

Dilys Robinson

It seems that every week brings another bad news story to damage the reputation of many of our best-loved institutions. The NHS is still reeling from the body-blow of the shocking findings of the Francis Report on the failings in Mid-Staffordshire. The Co-operative Bank has been found lacking, and its chair is in disgrace. There have been high-profile care home scandals, our MPs are still not forgiven for dodgy expenses claims - and we even have horsemeat in our beef-burgers. To cap it all, there have been shocking stories in the press about how whistleblowers have been treated. Instead of their concerns being welcomed and addressed, they have been hounded and smeared, to the extent that their lives and careers have been shattered even when their claims have been upheld. Is it surprising that our trust in the establishment has been shaken?

What impact does all this have on employees - on the whole working hard and doing their best for their customers and clients - who are employed in these organisations and sectors? Public scrutiny has increased, and the press is relentless. Good news stories rarely make it beyond the local newspaper or radio station, but a sniff of a scandal attracts a national media feeding frenzy. In the public sector, the situation is not helped by the disparaging terminology used by senior government figures. It is incredibly demotivating, for a hard-working, committed manager in the public sector, to be described as a 'pen-pusher', a 'bureaucrat', an 'administrative tail', or a 'cost burden'.

Surprisingly, the impact of scandals and press/public/political insults is less than you might expect. In general, employees are still engaged with their day-to-day job, with their customers, with their immediate line manager, and sometimes even with their wider organisation. In the public sector, there is still a very high belief in the public service ethos. What has taken a drastic dive is their engagement with, and trust in, their senior leadership team.

IES has recently collaborated with the CIPD to produce a collection of thought pieces on the 'Future of Engagement' for the national Engage for Success movement. Our contributors are experts and thought-leaders in the employee engagement field. One of the key, recurring themes of the thought-piece collection is that trust will be increasingly important over the next ten years. People will seek employment in organisations (regardless of sector) that offer meaning and integrity, and whose leaders can be trusted. As the economy picks up, employees in battered and disgraced organisations - loyal up until now - might start looking elsewhere.

Perhaps we should all ask ourselves, is there a scandal waiting to happen in our workplace? What might this do to our reputation and our future supply of engaged, skilled, competent employees?

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