As federal government managers deal with the results of the recently tabled budget, there is mounting apprehension about the impact of these decisions – on them, their teams and their operations.
Managers are concerned about having to lay off staff, maintain operations and provide services to an increasingly diverse Canadian population that has high expectations of quality and timely service. They are striving to remain positive, engaging and motivating employees in this uncertain and unsettling climate that has many employees concerned about the possibility of losing their job.
This is not the first time that the federal government has gone through an exercise to reduce spending and stabilize the public service. Many of us recall the Program Review period in the early ’90s where a number of measures were implemented to reduce its size. There are a lot of lessons learned from that experience that are being applied to the current situation. So what are they and how are managers preparing themselves to manage in these challenging times?
First, managers are taking steps to plan and get a better handle on their workforce. Who is planning to retire? What are the skill sets and competencies that employees need today and for the future? What are the learning, development and recruitment needs of their organization? These questions are fundamental to ensure that future organizational needs are addressed.
Second, they are equipping themselves to be able to manage workforce adjustments.
Finally, they are preparing themselves for the most difficult aspect – having to tell employees that they are affected by workforce reduction, or tell them the even more difficult news that their position is surplus to requirements. Dealing with the resulting emotional trauma and disruption in the workplace is extremely difficult, and many managers are now attending sessions and courses to better equip themselves for this daunting responsibility.
In situations where there is some downsizing, managers will need to be able to support the employees who remain and keep the workplace as positive and upbeat as possible at a time when employees are dealing with the loss of their colleagues, feel pangs of guilt that they still have a job, and remain concerned about their own long-term job security.
Over the last several months, the National Managers’ Community has been active in helping to identify the needs of managers and getting them better informed and equipped to manage the many complex situations associated with the current and pending changes.
The Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer and the Canada School of Public Service have been offering sessions on workforce management and workforce adjustment across the country and the NMC has been actively promoting and getting managers out to these sessions. In every region of the country, the NMC has offered tools for engagement and coaching sessions, along with workshops on stress management, mental health in the workplace, and having difficult conversations. Managers have shown a keen interest in these sessions, which have been full to capacity with waiting lists.
In addition, NMC’s upcoming annual forum will focus on preparing managers to implement the changes announced in the budget and lead in a transformed environment. The forum, “The Leadership Journey: Managing in a New Era,” will take place in Winnipeg from May 7-10. Wayne Wouters, Clerk of the Privy Council Office, has confirmed his attendance along with several deputy heads who will participate in discussions with the anticipated 1,200 managers about the future public service.
In the last several months, Suzanne Vinet, champion for the NMC, has been meeting and speaking with managers across the country. A key message that has resonated with managers is about the importance of resilience. As she explains, “as difficult as the next few months may be, it is likely that we are heading for a prolonged period of change and downsizing. You will need to be able to deal with change not just for a week, a month or even a year. Change is our future.”
Cathy Mercer is acting executive director of the National Managers’ Community.