How to Solve Engagement Challenges for City Workers

How to Solve Engagement Challenges for City WorkersWe don’t often think about cities and towns having employees, but we should. These employees provide services to customers: the general public. And as employers, municipalities face many of the same challenges as private employers in engaging employees. To be sustainable, cities need to have employees who are engaged at work. Here are several factors to keep in mind.

A Bigger Customer Base

There aren’t too many differences between private employers and municipalities, but the differences that are there are big ones. For municipalities, the general public — everybody — is a customer. Leveraging your employee base to effectively and efficiently serve a broad customer base is a challenge.

One of the ways you can build a strong employee base is to hire for diversity in an effort to have the employee population reflect the general population. Doing so can help create strong and empathetic employees who can deliver top-notch results. In addition, communicate with employees on the importance of providing a great customer experience — when they do so, citizens stay, the tax base is stable and tourists come to have a good time.

Communicating the Mission

The challenge cities have in serving everyone is also a strength: The mission of municipal employees is simple and clear. We talk a lot about the role that mission plays in engagement. Municipalities are in some ways ahead of the game because the mission is easy to understand. Leaders just need to make sure the mission is communicated clearly and regularly, and that people understand how their work supports that mission.

Using the Right Survey Tactics

Municipal employees can pose a challenge for employer surveys. Many of them work in the field: repairing streets and sewers, repairing buildings, planting or maintaining gardens and trees, and so on. Many city employees aren’t in front of a computer every day, so you’ll need to carefully consider your surveying options to make sure everyone’s voice is heard.

Some of the options include mailing out paper surveys or establishing temporary survey kiosks that field workers can visit. No matter what options you pick, you’ll need to activate your communications channels to ensure employees know when and where they can fill out a survey.

Working with Contracts

Many municipal workers are covered by collective bargaining agreements. Be mindful of the questions and content you use in the surveys; don’t ask questions around things you can’t change unilaterally, such as working hours or job duties. In addition, ensure they have time to take the survey when they are at work; asking them to take it at home on their own time could trigger overtime pay.

Understanding Transparency

Some municipalities fall under so-called sunshine laws that are meant to increase transparency for taxpayer-funded operations; in addition, open-records requests under the federal Freedom of Information Act may apply to any communications you have with city workers. Keep these factors in mind as you prepare survey materials, answers and reports.


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