According to the Office for National Statistics there was a 3.9% increase in public sector wages in 2019. While this is moving in the right direction, the reality is that wages in this struggling sector are only just keeping pace with inflation and the cost of living.

With recruitment and retention issues being felt across the public sector, especially in education and social care, HR managers need to work harder to fill these vital roles. Here’s how they can do it:


When budgets are tight, there are ways to help improve the work/life balance for employees without any additional cost. For example, recent efforts by Nottingham City Council demonstrate how making work more flexible can reduce life pressures and things like childcare costs for staff. Through offering annual leave purchase where staff can buy extra holidays and hour reductions, they provide the option for more leisure or family time. As a further bonus, it also cuts the council’s national insurance bill at the end of each month due to the proportionately reduced salaries.

In comparison to the private sector, where employees are usually expected to pull extra hours as standard, flexible working hours and the freedom to take additional annual leave is a great perk to highlight during the public sector recruitment process.

Helping employees’ pay stretch further

Discounts for employees are a popular benefit option across both the public and private sectors. By providing access to discounts on lifestyle costs such as groceries, entertainment, and retail, employers can help salaries stretch even further.

The many applications of this employee benefit make it a hugely impactful option that appeals to a demographically diverse workforce. For example, Millennials would prefer experiential rewards, such as cinema tickets. In contrast, families with children may wish to use this benefit to reduce their weekly shopping bill – providing something that a diverse workforce can really benefit from.

Providing time to switch off

With 48% of employees in the public sector reporting excessive work pressure at least once a week, there is an irrefutable correlation between this issue and absence, presenteeism, leaveism and mental health problems. 72% of organisations surveyed by the CIPD have experienced presenteeism over the last 12 months, with a further 29% seeing an increase in the issue making it one of the biggest threats to productivity in the UK workplace. With the added pressure from technological advances, producing an ‘always on’ culture, many employees in the public sector are under a lot of stress from their roles due to the expectations put on them.

Introducing anonymous satisfaction surveys and implementing changes based on the feedback is a useful initiative which helps employees feel listened to. By developing a solid, evidence-based understanding of the causes behind these unhealthy practices, organisations will truly be able to look after the wellbeing of their employees in a meaningful way.

Reduce travel impact and environmental impact

The cost of commuting is an unavoidable and regular expense. However, employers who help reduce this burden are often the ones who enjoy greater engagement and productivity as a result. Organisations can show commitment to their employees and the environment by offering incentives for purchasing ultra-low emission vehicles. There are also benefits to both employer and employee from tax and national insurance savings. Employers could also offer a cycle-to-work scheme; perfect for a locally-based workforce. Plus, it also helps make the commute cheaper, greener, and healthier for all.

Jamie Mackenzie, Director at Sodexo Engage says:

“We wouldn’t be naive enough to think that an employee benefits scheme is going to cure all frustrations felt across the public sector’s stretched workforce. But, when done well, employee benefits can be a powerful tool, which if used in the right way can help to ease some of the financial and work/life pressures felt by public sector workers and encourage new workers to the sector.”