Case study

Employee engagement and wellbeing: Child Maintenance Group, Department for Work and Pensions

Examples of how the Child Maintenance Group in the Department for Work and Pensions improved staff wellbeing scores from 2012 to 2014.

Key ideas from this case study:

  • empower all staff to design, and own, an action plan
  • promote up-skilling staff
  • create a high-feedback environment and recognise good work

The Child Maintenance Group is part of the Department for Work and Pensions. It has responsibility for project delivery and a major change programme related to child maintenance. As part of this, the team has had to adopt new technology and processes, and there have been changes to their client services approach.

Despite these changes, the team have seen a 23 percentage point improvement in their wellbeing scores over 2012 - 2014, from 52% to 75%. The Cabinet Office’s Analysis & Insight team therefore interviewed them to find out about the approaches to drive this strong improvement. Here, we share their top tips, which they emphasised can be implemented in any team wishing to improve wellbeing and engagement.

Empower staff to design an action plan

In 2012, we had low well-being and our engagement score was 54%. Combined with structural changes to our organisation (in particular a reduction in size) we felt we needed to take action.

After each survey, we decided to organise team discussions. Senior leadership emphasised the importance of everyone being involved, stating that the survey belongs to all staff. We looked at ‘what the survey is telling us’, focusing on where improvement had been made and areas for further improvement. While various areas were identified, we felt it was crucial to focus on doing a few things well. We therefore asked staff to name their top five areas for improvement. We then created four survey action teams consisting of around sixty to seventy colleagues to develop and implement an action plan. Our leadership team took a backseat, promoting ownership and self delivery.

Include staff in discussions about business priorities

In 2012, staff said there was a lack of inclusivity and that they felt unable to influence the organisation’s priorities. The team has therefore worked together to develop and agree common SMART work objectives. They also introduced a ‘huddle’ every Friday - an informal meeting between senior staff and all managers which includes updates on strategic objectives, and provides the opportunity to ask questions. Each manager then replicates this in their team.

Promote learning & development

In order to demonstrate that the team was investing in its people at all levels and taking them seriously, a big share of their budget has been devoted to learning and development. Given the nature of the work, they particularly focused on developing project skills such as PRINCE2.

Create a high-feedback environment

Previously, team members said that there was no thorough and consistent approach for gaining feedback. We therefore implemented a system whereby people are expected to provide feedback and hold one-to-ones every four to six weeks. This includes feedback from an individual’s line manager and people manager, as well as customer feedback.

We also encouraged a culture of rewarding corporate behaviours, and penalising a lack of them. We also ensured that people were recognised and rewarded for their work, and the team have since reflected on how much having this system has positively impacted on wellbeing.

Focusing on wellbeing and engagement has wider benefits for the business

Compared to 2012, there is a much lower absence rate. While we continue to have an attrition rate of 20-30%, this is because team members are being promoted rather than leaving due to disaffection or poor performance, as was previously the case. As well as being more successful on promotion, our team members are now also overrepresented in internal and Civil Service-wide talent schemes.

Finally, this has meant that while delivery demands have remained high over the past few years, we have seen a 16 percentage point increase in our survey score for ‘I have an acceptable workload’ thanks to the positive environment around the office.

Published 18 February 2016