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Employee Engagement in the UK’s Public Sector – Reflecting the voice of the citizen

Cathy BrownCathy Brown·

When we look at employee engagement in the private sector, we often link it to customer-based business metrics. Have we made a customer more satisfied? Is the customer happy with the products and services our employees have provided?

In the public sector, the end recipient is us, the public, as citizens. The patient, the pupil, the passenger. The tax payer and the traveller.

The impact we can have on improving outcomes for citizens can be great when we first consider how we improve workplaces and working lives for our employees.

The case studies in our recent paper reflect a cross section of the broad UK Public Sector, with studies from across the UK, large and small organizations, Civil Service Departments, Education, Transport and Health.

Some are organizations that have been on the ‘engagement journey’ for many years and are able to demonstrate maturity of approach and a clear connection for them in terms of engagement and their service delivery.

Others are at different stages, with a focus on engagement but not yet reaching the point where for them the connection is clear. This reflects the reality across the UK economy as a whole, with organizations at different levels of understanding and implementation.

One of the clearest themes running through is the natural drive people have within the public sector to serve. It’s a great basis on which to build the sustainable, engaging, healthy workplace cultures that we see in our case study organizations.

None of the featured organizations have taken the same route to improvement – all their interventions are different and all their starting points are different.

And yet through sharing good practice with each other, listening to their people, creating clear visions and values, managing well and building trust, they are evolving into organizations that service the citizen with clarity of purpose, efficiency and enjoyment.

They have approached their problems (whether those be dealing with change, needing to innovate, poor engagement levels) by involving their people in finding the solutions, seeking out and listening to Employee Voice, most notably in the Land Registry, Network Rail, WWL, the Home Office, HMRC and Cranmer Primary School, but in general this was present throughout the featured case studies.

At the Land Registry for instance, they are recovering and rebuilding trust through open and honest communication after a period of turbulence and uncertainty. At Network Rail, we see the perennial issue addressed of a lack of faith in the staff survey. Employees could not see action being taken as a result of their feedback. Thanks to their sustained campaign, ‘You said: We Did’ to turn that around, 4,000 more staff participated in the most recent survey.

Their message is: “We want you to talk to us. We value your suggestions. We are taking action. And we are listening.”

At Glasgow Caledonian University we see highlighted the understanding that Integrity is vital – “The GCU Values on their own are just labels and it doesn’t matter how many posters, mugs or t-shirts they are emblazoned on they will not affect change” – they know that the purpose and values determined within the Strategic Narrative of the organization must be visibly and authentically demonstrated.

We see this in the work done by Kingston Met Police, and the Passport Office too.

Engaging Managers are the focus of the work done at East London Mental Health Trust and the Northern Ireland Office, with them being a strong component of many of the other studies including Kingston Met Police.

The full paper highlights the great practice already underway in the UK’s public sector organizations. There is an immediate imperative to change ways of working and working culture in order to continue to provide public services, against a background of rapid technological, political and societal change. The stories told here make it clear that keeping people at the heart of what we do at work benefits our employees, our citizens, our societies and our economies.

The organizations featured have all recognized that building and sustaining better working cultures is not a one off exercise, but an ongoing journey.

They are all at different stages of that journey, with some having a very clear understanding of how engagement is creating better outcomes for the citizens they serve, and some at the start of the journey in improving engagement within their organizations. We hope the compelling stories inspire you to make changes within your own organization.

In the words of the Department for Transport:

“It’s not something that ends but something that we continually invest in – seeking to improve the organization and the way people feel about working in it. Having strong leadership and enabling managers who listen and give people a voice will sit at the heart of future change and improvements”

You can download the full paper here Outcomes Through Engagement: How the Public Sector Improves Citizen Outcomes Through Employee Engagement

Further Engage for Success publications are also available covering the Four Enablers of Engagement, the evidence for Employee Engagement, Engagement and Wellbeing and many other topics.

 

More about Engage for Success: Engage for Success is a growing, dynamic, voluntary movement promoting employee engagement as a better way to work that benefits individual employees, teams, and whole organizations.

Led by industry and sponsored by the UK Government, we aim to raise awareness of the benefits of engaging workplace cultures, and give people and organizations the ideas, tools and techniques to make a positive difference to their business performance.


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