Recession: stop the recession witch hunting

These are difficult economic times, so let’s go witch hunting, have a few public executions, blame everyone for everything and fall out with each other. Surely such an approach will purify our souls and make our society a better place?

If we conducted a nationwide survey on this approach as a proposition for the country in the future, one would hope that the answer would lead to at least a more positive set of aspirations for long-term success. If that is the case, we need to first shake off the negatives.

As someone who has had a career in the public sector, you have to become immune to the constant criticism about, well, everything actually, and continue to lead and motivate people who live their lives in the public and media gaze.

Public services are a vital part of the infrastructure of this country, and for a long time now have been a main source of employment for many regions where work has been scarce. The people who look after the sick, elderly, run schools and libraries, maintain the roads, and so on, are not from another planet, do not have two heads, nor do they see their vocation as being pointless. They are normal people living alongside everyone else.

The latest set of pariahs come from the banking sector. We are now exalted to be outraged by the very people that not so long ago we were encouraged to fete. No doubt as the economy twists and turns, others will join the list of those we are meant to despise.

Reports suggest the antipathy towards bankers have put some people off pursuing a career in banking. The same has happened to those in child protection social work. We rely on talented and committed individuals to serve communities but run the risk of being unable to attract the best unless we can improve the level of debate. Challenge and improvement must play a part, but things seem to have got out of balance.

The current news stories, as well as measures in this week’s Budget, are focusing on the need to dramatically downsize the ‘back office’, as the hard-working folk that provide support services to organisations are now known.

The realignment of front-line support needs a flexible approach and will, from time to time, effect the number of individuals involved; but let us not forget that they are people who should warrant respect and sweeping statements about the ‘need for less of them’, seem to forget that.

Negativity and bad feeling tends to get in the way of creativity and innovation. HR folk have a reputation in some quarters as the ‘Abominal No-Men’. An over-reliance on caution and a wish to follow procedure and process can stifle new ideas and enthusiasm.

In the world we all now operate there must be an appetite for doing something different, we must behave differently, we must go beyond the ‘you are lucky to have a job mate’ mentality that can instil fear and then paralysis into managers and their staff. Those who think the best way to get out of a problem is to take a pop at someone else are misguided.

A good place to start is to jettison the blame and resentment mentality that seems to have taken grip in our society. Celebrate what we do well and apply the energy that goes into demolition into construction.

What are the stunning new ideas that are emerging from the HR community in the private and pubic sectors that can add value to the businesses we serve? How do we have a sensible debate about differences across sectors without trading insults?

At a personal level, how do we keep ourselves resilient and buoyant? Some tips picked up from professor Sonia Lyubomirsky’s research in the US could help: don’t equate happiness with money; take responsibility for your feelings and your life; and cuddle regularly – preferably with someone you care about (my favourite).

Those who do not want to raise their eyes above witch hunts will bump along the bottom and disappear from the world of work altogether. The more positive individuals will be in a better position to respond to new opportunities and therefore be able to survive and thrive.

Alan Warner is corporate director (people and property) at Herts County Council, and communications lead officer at the Public Sector People Managers’ Association (PPMA).

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