Local Government zombies
I promise you that I wrote this piece before I got sight of this wonderful BBC Story. Nonetheless, don’t let that stop you enjoying both the BBC story about a bizarre FOI request and the below, slightly more serious, discussion of ‘undead’ staff.
It is one of the peculiar cruelties of the public sector that once staff have been notified of their imminent departure from their jobs they are then asked to stay on and continue working for three months until their notice has expired.
These people become the local government zombies; they are ‘dead’ and yet they are still here, walking around; ‘undead’.
The HR people in my authority would defend this state of affairs and claim that they are helpgin the zombies. The three months of notice give the staff affected a chance to get their life in order and to find alternative employment. What’s more we have a duty to these staff to offer them a new job through the council’s redeployment scheme. All good arguments that have a certain logic about them.
However, scratch beneath the surface and life for the local government zombie is not much fun at all and here’s why:
1) In order to receive your redundancy pay you are encouraged to apply for ‘appropriate’ roles through the redeployment pool. This can mean an endless cycle of job applications and supposedly ‘shortened’ job application forms. Obviously, if you get a job through this process it is great but I know people who’s confidence has been shot by applying for endless jobs that they are unqualified for and then not getting any of them.
2) Redundancies normally happen on the back of a restructure. Councils are slow moving but most of them will try and get that structure operational well before the three month notice is up. This means that the job you were doing no longer exists. You have NOTHING to do. This makes you the equivalent of the work experience kid; asking around for work and being given menial tasks to pass your time.
3) People know you’re going but don’t know when. A lot of the time they are too polite to ask when D-day is but equally they are too forgetful to remember what you told them last time. Thus, you have to answer the question: ‘so, when are you leaving again’ and react to people who are surprised to hear that you are still working for the council.
4) The leaving do is just awkward. Most leaving dos are celebrations of the fact that you’re off to better things. This leaving do is almost a wake and what’s more, you have almost three months to organise it.
5) You’re losing your job; you are being let go by your organisation. You’re reminded about it for three months straight. That’s just not good.
So what would I do differently? Well, you could shorten the notice period which might be unpopular or you could grant staff time off in lieu of their notice; the old fashioned gardening leave.
Either way being a local government zombie is not good for the staff involved and it’s not good for local government either. As we get an increased amount of restructures and forced redundancies we need to think of a better way to deal with those we have to let go.
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