Top-down targets crush staff spirit

Never have the words of my old school motto “Esse quam videre”
seemed more apt than when I look at my ex-employer’s website
headline: “Hampshire is excellent -Êand now it’s official.”
This is how it was rated by the Audit Commission under the
government’s performance assessment programme. The motto roughly
translates as “to be, rather than to seem to be”.

Along with others, Hampshire Council has perfected the art of
putting ticks in boxes and being “seen to be” rather than “being”.

We now live in a culture where systems are more important than
people, and measurement and assessment processes can make weeds
look like roses. Assessment is top down, rather than bottom up,
with those who form the upper echelons of councils being so fixated
with targets and performance indicators that they have become
removed from the reality of their cash-strapped empire.

I had worked as a social worker for Hampshire for 10 years when I
was signed off on long-term sick leave with “stress-related
symptoms”, which I believed were entirely attributable to work.
Despite an impressive corporate stress manual, an absence
management policy and the Investors in People award, the reality of
my treatment differed hugely from the finely written words.

I had not received supervision for five months before going sick,
was not contacted for many weeks while at home and, when I returned
to work, the same problems existed that had caused my stress. There
was a huge delay in recruiting staff and, during this time, at
least two other team members were signed off with stress-related
problems. I eventually left my post when I realised that I was
going to be sick again if I didn’t leave. The strategies, policies
and jargon that had so impressed the performance assessors did not
help me at all.

This happened in the same council that paid more than £30,000
to train me and is currently offering golden hellos of up to
£3,000 in order to attract qualified social workers.

In large organisations there will always be pockets of poor
practice, but it is particularly worrying that this local authority
seemed happy to lose good workers while spending public money on
attracting new ones.

Staff retention can be improved by good management, valuing
existing staff and listening to their views – preferably before
they resign.

The name of the writer, a former team manager at Hampshire
social services, has been withheld on request.

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