Staff resilience and council austerity: HR lessons from Grenfell

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Austerity needs to soften as we are at a crisis point, says PPMA VP

Public sector HR must build resilient workforces in order to effectively respond to distressing incidents such as the Grenfell Tower fire, according to Karen Grave, VP of the PPMA and former interim head of HR and OD for Gloucestershire Country Council.

Resilience is often seen as a way of reducing or managing absences, but it goes beyond that,” Grave told HR magazine. “When you have a resilient workforce, they are better equipped to cope with periods of extreme stress, such as the incident last week. Good resilience creates a long-term positive effect."

She said organisations need to ask themselves how confident they would be in dealing with such an incident in the long-term. “After this fire and multiple terrorist incidents, London in particular is experiencing a lot of stress at the moment,” she said. “You need to be thinking about how to help employees who may be caught up in these situations, and your long-term response to trauma.”

Grave highlighted the role local council austerity may have played in concerns around Grenfell Tower being ignored, and in relation to accusations from some quarters that Kensington and Chelsea London Borough Council are inadequately staffed to respond to the aftermath of the Grenfall tragedy.

She said cuts to local authority budgets had created silos in some local councils. “When budgets get cut, you sometimes see a loss of leadership that brings different areas together,” she said. “People don’t see how their department fits into the whole, and that can cost lives. Austerity needs to soften, as we are at a crisis point.

Gillian Quinton, executive director of Buckinghamshire County Council, told HR magazine that her organisation had already stepped into action with a practical fire plan.

“My key priority has been to ensure the health and safety of all our employees and residents across Buckinghamshire,” she said. “We have carried out an immediate audit of all our buildings to see if we have any specific risks. Our HQ is a 1960s 13 story tower block with no sprinkler system, so we are thoroughly reviewing fire safety in this building.”

Danny Clarke, group operations director for the ELAS Group, said that he expects changes to health and safety legislation in the wake of the Grenfall Tower fire. "The government has promised a full and thorough investigation into the Grenfell Tower fire and, it's safe to say, there may be changes to health and safety and fire safety legislation as a result of this investigation,” he said.

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