Bad morale at city? No big surprise - Dooley PR

What have you done for them lately? 

When even the human resources managers are griping, you know you have a morale problem. That’s just the case at the City of Winnipeg according to the city auditor (Mass retirements expected to hit city, Winnipeg Free Press, May 7, 2008) and it doesn’t appear that it’s going to change any time soon.


A vibrant, energetic workplace needs leaders to provide a vision for the future and to give direction on how the organization will achieve that vision. I don’t know if Mayor Sam Katz has that vision or not, but I do know he and the senior bureaucrats at the city are doing very little to communicate it.


In fact, the City of Winnipeg has done the opposite by gutting its corporate communication function in recent years. In 2004, there were more than 20 people working in communications for the city. Today, there are four.


Morale is not solely dictated by the skill of your corporate communications activities, but employing good communications practices is one important way that successful organizations get their employees moving every morning. Business objectives should be distilled into concrete messages that organizations repeat until they become part of their corporate cultures. Long range goals need to be broken down into increments and milestones celebrated along the way.


Don’t let your employees start asking what have you done for me lately? Tell them what you’ve done; tell them what you will be doing; and tell them why you’re all doing it together.


If you have a highly motivated workforce, then I’d bet dollars to doughnuts you have strong corporate leaders and an active and accomplished corporate communications department. Part of the job of communications and public relations is to emphasize the key goals of an organization and to persuade people of the importance of those goals. Our tools for internal communications are Intranets, email, department meetings, special events, videos and even the lowly corporate newsletter. Today, we’re also seeing progressive use of blogs and chat rooms within workplaces to help ensure problems are resolved and that everyone is marching towards the same goals.


But if you don’t have anybody working in communications, you don’t get those things done. Workers are left wondering what’s going on. Nobody knows what the goals are. Programs flounder. Policies are ignored. No success stories are highlighted. No milestones are celebrated. All of that invariably creates a vacuum into which steps low morale.


In the city’s case, its decision to slash its roster of communications personnel means that taxpayers have been left in the same situation: no one is telling them what’s going on. Important programs are left under-promoted and poorly explained. Complaints multiply and staff morale plummets further.


I am not saying that communications is a salve for all wounds, or that it can create well-oiled workplaces all on its own. You need substance behind policies and you need credibility behind announcements. Imaginative and well-executed communications campaigns are tools that make sure good policies are supported, announcements are welcomed and, ultimately, visions are achieved.


The City should be a place of high morale. It should be a place where people are proud to work. As a starter it would be nice if the city began to see communications for what it is: a vital component of the organization. Then maybe it could start reminding its employees about some of the good things it does – and there are many. Perhaps a little bit of optimism might creep in. But then, you need a communications department to do that.


Adam Dooley.

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