Lucy Salvage spent more than a decade in local government and after navigating COVID in comms she realised the love she had for her job had been replaced with something else. She has now left the public sector. Her post will definitely chime with many people.
After a digital clear out of files on my tablet, I came across this piece I started writing in May 2021. Very unlike me it looks like I didn’t finish it.
Anyway, reading it back I thought it was rather good and I’m sure it will still resonate with some of you today.
At the time I was still working as media and communications officer for my district council…
**Why I may have fallen out of love with the public sector** (May 2021)
When Dan posted “Working in the public sector despite everything is worth it because…” it was like he had looked into my soul and asked the very same question I’ve been asking myself these last few days.
Fourteen months ago, answering this would have been easy:-
– “I feel like I make a difference in my local community.”
– “The work I do might impact someone’s life for the better.”
– “I’m in a position to lead discussions, shift behaviours and have a positive influence.”
– “I am proud to work in Local Government.”
– “I am valued.”
One global pandemic, three close bereavements, and a semi-nervous breakdown later, and I’m struggling to answer Dan’s question. I don’t know if it is worth it anymore. In trying to unpack why, I’ve discovered that there are two main elements to my shift in thought over this time period.
1. The public and their attitude toward the public sector
2. The value given by others to my profession
Local Government has never been easy, and in the 11 years (nine consecutively) that I’ve been a Local Government Officer, I’ve come to accept that the public don’t really like us much and that’s been fine.
I’ve shrugged it off and still wanted to help people anyway. I’ve always worked to prove them wrong and win them round. We are good people doing good things whether they choose to believe it or not.
In my PA days, my greatest kicks came when riled up members of the public called to complain to the Chief Executive, and instead they got me.
They would spit words of fire down the phone because their bin collection had been missed, or their housing application turned down. By the end of the call I would have them in the palm of my hand, full of gratitude.
Although I dreaded those phone calls as much as I relished their usual outcome, that kind of interaction with the public made me feel valued. There was an equal balance of sh*t and shine. They gave me sh*t, and I shined. Now it just feels sh*t.
We’ve remarked on it a number of times in this group, particularly over the last six months; about how toxic people have become, especially towards those working in the public sector. Gone is the community ‘war-time’ spirit so is the ‘be kind’ mantra which lasted all of a number of weeks.
The online community, once a space that you came to expect and concede a certain amount of negativity from a minority, now feels overtaken by a gargantuan black cloud of hate and bitterness. One that casts an unwelcome shadow on pretty much everything we try and do for the betterment of others.
In a sector which once brought me genuine pride and fulfilment, now just consumes me with anger, frustration and despair on a daily basis and that’s just from having to suffer the members of the ungrateful British public.
That alone I may just be able to grin and bear long enough for the tide to again turn. But coupled together with a growing lack of understanding and appreciation for my profession is gnawing away at me deeper than any troll on Twitter.
I’ve always been very well supported at work, personally and professionally. I’ve been given opportunities in the public sector I wouldn’t have had anywhere else.
I’ll forever be grateful for that, and it’s very much the reason I’ve ended up in the profession I’ve always been passionate about.
However, I’ve always felt that my role as a public relations and communications professional has never been taken very seriously or valued as it should because anyone can do comms right?
In 2020 we were finally able to prove to others what we long knew. Our profession was and continues to be vital to the wellbeing and safety of others. It can be strategic and carefully planned, but also reactive, often in extremely pressurised circumstances.
It makes a real difference when executed by a trained and skilled comms professional. What it is not? An afterthought. I had hoped that the pandemic would shine a bright light on our skill and expertise. That finally, FINALLY, our profession would be given the respect it deserves. That we, as kickass communicators, deserve. Instead, the need to save money following the pandemic inevitably led to more cuts, and the opportunities for career progression that burned bright pre-covid were unceremoniously snuffed out.
Seven months after penning this I did leave Local Government in December 2021. Whilst I miss it fondly at times, I don’t regret my decision at all. It took far more from me that I was able to continue giving it. But it’s still by far the best job I’ve ever had. Keep on keeping on.