Is staff turnover a challenge at your council?

Is staff turnover a challenge at your council?

Andrew Hedge 29 Aug, 2019

Today we’re launching a new resource for strategic planners and community planning managers, to help them with a significant challenge they face in their day-to-day work.

It’s called the starter guide – a step-by-step guide to preparing a report about the state of housing (specifically housing affordability and the suitability of supply) in your local government area. We’re releasing the guide next month, but you can pre-register for a copy here.

This blog tells the story of a conversation that triggered this project. A frank chat I had with a planning manager about the biggest challenge facing him and his strategic planning team.

Earlier this year, I attended an event with LG Pro – the peak body for local government professionals in Victoria. At dinner, I was speaking with a planning manager from a regional Victorian council. I asked him directly about the biggest headache his team faced in their day-to-day work.

“Honestly…”, he said, “Turnover”.

“We get brilliant new people in, they’re here for a few months – long enough to learn the ropes. They’re just getting to know the council area and how it works, then.. they’re gone! Off to another council, another sector… or another country!”

This really struck us. And in the following months, it was a story we heard over and over again.

(If you’re wondering why this is appearing on a blog that is usually focussed on demographic, economic and population pieces – stay with me. And don’t worry – this isn’t a guest post from an HR firm.)

A tricky challenge in an already difficult job

This planning manager loved his job, but I can’t say I envied this position he was in.

Housing affordability was (and is) consistently front-page news; population growth and demographic change an accepted reality. The State Government have asked local councils to present housing strategies that respond to our burgeoning population and address the affordability crisis, while community groups demand these same councils implement policies to maintain the character of the neighbourhoods where they made their homes.

And what was the thing really bothering the manager at the centre of all these competing priorities?

Staff turnover.

This manager’s team were hampered and hamstrung by the time and energy they had to invest to get people up-to-speed and performing in planning roles. At a time when they were facing serious challenges, turnover was killing their momentum.

Is this problem specific to the local government sector?

The Local Government sector employed just over 187,000 Australians in 2018. This is a significant number of people working to shape our communities at a local level, bringing knowledge and expertise from a range of fields, from community development to horticulture, engineering to strategic planning.

From what we’ve heard from working with local councils over the past 20 years, it’s a rewarding sector to work in, offering challenging work, a supportive workplace and the opportunity to make a difference in the local community. However, we’ve also heard that staff changes can slow the work councils are trying to do in our communities.

A 2018 report from the Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) cites an ‘unplanned turnover rate’ of 8.3% per annum in the sector. A separate report from the Ai group shows this is only slightly above average for the Australian workforce (8.1% p.a.).

So while it’s fair to say this isn’t an issue that disproportionately affects the sector, councils are clearly conscious of the impact turnover has on the effectiveness of their organisation (as evidenced by this project by LGA SA that helps councils quantify the cost of staff turnover).

The good and the bad of staff turnover

Staff turnover is a double-edged sword that benefits councils, but also presents challenges.

New staff bring with them new ideas – from other councils they may have worked for, the private sector, and even other industries. They can also come in with a ‘beginner mindset’ and can challenge the ‘way we do things’ thinking or long-held assumptions.

However, one of the downsides in many cases can be their lack of local knowledge – new starters may not know much about the local area. This sort of knowledge is vital to the work that councils do (which is obviously specific to their local area). One of the major investments in hiring new staff for councils is getting them up to speed on the history, current state, and future of the area.

So how can we help?

This anecdote prompted us to think outside the box – we’re population experts, not HR people! If turnover is an inevitable part of any organisation, how could we help?

What if we could help recruits get up to speed faster?

We decided the best thing we could do was make it as easy as possible for these recruits to get the lay of the land (or, more specifically, the people and houses on that land). We decided to share the framework we developed when building, and pointing out where people can find basic data about housing and the local population.

We are now sharing those things in the starter guide – a step-by-step guide to finding the relevant data, and a framework for preparing the report.

Following the steps in the guide, you will achieve two things;

  1. Your newest team member will have a working knowledge of the factors that impact housing and affordability in your area
  2. Your team will have a clearly structured document telling the story of housing in your community that can be shared with other stakeholders such as elected members, other council departments, state government and the community

Why are we sharing this framework?

At the highest level, we’re publishing this guide because we believe it will help councils use the rich data available to make the best possible planning decisions – decisions that benefit us all.

We’re also sharing this guide because we can help more directly.

In recent months, our housing team have been working very closely with local councils to understand the challenges they face in preparing an evidence base for housing policy and their housing strategies. While many councils told us they have access to some data (albeit patchy and inconsistent), many said they found it difficult to combine these disparate sources of data in a coherent narrative about housing.

That’s where we thought the framework might help.

While the guide doesn’t provide the level of detail available in, it uses the same framework to present publicly-available data in a way that clearly shows how well the current supply of dwellings meets the needs of the local population.

Get your copy of the guide

We will be releasing the guide next month – head over here to pre-register for your copy of the guide.


If you’d like to see if is the right evidence base for your strategic planning or community planning work at your council, learn more about the tool or find a time to speak with our housing team here.

Also published on Medium.

Tags: Housing
Andrew Hedge

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