Case study

Suffolk Libraries: staff engagement

Staff engagement during the process of becoming a mutual

Suffolk Libraries logo
Suffolk Libraries logo

Many staff feel very anxious about leaving the known territory of the council so it’s important to engage with them as much as is possible and help them feel part of the move.

The TUPE transfer process includes formal staff meetings with discussions which gives the new employer the opportunity to set out their vision for the future and offers staff the chance to ask questions.

Suffolk Libraries also held a number of well attended staff workshops after the TUPE meetings but before transfer to engage with over 100 staff. Areas explored during the workshops included:

  • what sort of organisation they wanted to work in and how they would like to be involved
  • what the new organisation could do to help them do their jobs even better, including what they wanted to leave behind and what they wanted to take forward from the in-house service

Suffolk Libraries learned a great deal from these sessions and was able to factor in many of the staff requests as part of its design for the new back office, for a new staffing structure and in its longer term staffing strategies. Examples included named people for all support services and help; much better HR, much better IT and a reward/recognition scheme. A good example is that it empowered a group of staff to completely redesign the staff appraisal scheme. It’s now on its third version.

Suffolk Libraries created a staff advisory group which still exists and acts as a sounding board, will focus on topics like communication or reward, and has observer status on the board. There is no fee paid and any member of staff can be involved. This doesn’t undertake collective bargaining on terms and conditions - this is the role of the trade union.

It has had mainly constructive industrial relations over the 5 years after a slightly bumpy start, mainly because the trade union thought it could stimulate increased membership at a time of uncertainty. Before transfer the union was an important part of staff engagement and it met with them throughout to agree a direction. Suffolk Libraries has resolutely taken the view that it works with the trade union as a partner and has invited them to join focus groups, or pieces of work on staff. In Suffolk Libraries IPS the membership is approximately 20% of the workforce. The trade union is especially useful when dealing with individual casework.

Lessons learned

It takes a while for staff morale and resilience to rebuild after transfer, even when you have done a lot of preparation.

It’s important at all times to be honest and straight with staff on the road ahead, even if tough decisions have to be made. Suffolk Libraries has invested in leadership development at every level and keeps its frontline managers switched on and engaged by bringing them together 3-4 times a year.

Every year it has a Staff Development Day which is for 100 people, with places allocated on a first come, first served basis. Anybody can attend and listen to internal and external speakers, take part in interactive sessions and get a chance to talk to board members and to senior staff.

Suffolk Libraries undertook its first Staff Survey in 2014 and have done one each year since. Since then the results have got better and better. Morale is high, with over 93% of staff proud to work there, and 92% proud to work for the community.

None of these are especially unique or creative; it’s the commitment to communicate proactively and listen, while providing an honest and realistic framework for staff to understand.

Building a culture of mutual trust takes capacity and a lot of effort. It’s a bit like washing… have to do it every day (!) to keep the momentum going, but it’s worth it as you reap a high dividend of staff commitment.

Published 28 March 2017