Smarter social work
As Cafcass reports a 70% drop in stress-related absence despite public sector cuts, Daryl Maitland reveals what the organisation has done to boost engagement.
Cafcass is an independent voice for children in the family court system. We are the UK’s largest employer of social workers, with 1,600 staff plus 400 who are self-employed or hired through an agency.
Innovation is integral here. Over the past four years this has included moving from paper to e-records, giving BlackBerry devices to frontline staff, introducing new practice models, proportionate working and 4G-enabled laptops/tablets.
Our strategies have focused on improving our service to children and families while absorbing a 64% increase in demand for services in the face of falling public sector budgets. These include:
- An online self-service HR system launched in 2012, achieving £200k in annual savings and reducing the time social workers spend on admin
- Revised service standards for all roles in 2013
- The 2008 launch of a performance management culture that embeds service standards, resulting in a 50% increase in the number of social workers assessed as ‘good’ in the past three years and a 20% increase in productivity.
- Resilience training for more than 300 staff in 2012-13.
- Targeted health and wellbeing support resulting in the average number of sick days per person falling from 16.2 to 5.8 days in 2012-13.
Talent management and communication
Our strategy uses a strengths-based approach to development. We’ve trained 50 staff to use the Strengthscope assessment tool and be accredited as coaches. All our people have access to healthcare benefits, an employee assistance programme and career coaching sessions, while individualised scorecards measure their productivity, quality of work, absence and training & development.
We support staff to get involved in charity events and gain national recognition for their broader impact on society. Three of our social workers received an MBE this year.
We publish an internal and external newsletter and meet with our trade union partners regularly. Staff surveys are supplemented with analysis of other metrics, such as health and wellbeing, and we’ve recorded a 70% drop in stress-related absence among our social workers in the past three years. Alongside this, formal employee relations cases have fallen by 80%.
senior HR business partner, health, wellbeing & engagement
Daryl looks after policy, strategy and staff engagement & wellbeing, and leads on key staffing initiatives.
Southend-on-Sea Borough Council is focusing on targets and figures to make sure staff deliver on its values. Joanna Ruffle explains.
Our people strategy is aligned to our corporate plan which enables us to focus resources on what will make the most positive difference to people’s lives – residents, staff and visitors. If the link between the people actions and the business strategy can’t be made, we simply don’t do it.
Engagement targets and themes
With dwindling resources and higher customer expectations, we rely heavily on the discretionary effort of our staff. The values that brought them into public service in the first place give us a good start but we are not complacent.
Senior managers have engagement targets in their annual appraisals and we invest in line manager performance, which research tells us is a critical driver for engagement. Targets vary but might include actions such as involving teams in service planning or undertaking ‘back to the floor’ sessions.
Our staff survey is built around our top 10 engagement themes and we produce scores at an organisational, department, service and team level. This allows for benchmarking across and outside the organisation, trend comparison year-on-year as well as simple ‘highlights/ lowlights’ sections. This is also cross-referenced with other HR data such as turnover, sickness, disciplinaries and grievances as well as performance figures including complaints and compliments.
They also provide demographic analysis by gender, sexual orientation, race disability, age and religion. In this way we are able to identify our highly engaged, engaged and less engaged groups and analyse which themes are the most significant for them. We are then able to target interventions to make maximum impact.
Universal connection to vision and values
Our workforce is diverse, consisting of social workers, planners, lawyers, gardeners, environmental health officers and pier train drivers. Each can link their contribution directly to our corporate vision – ‘Creating a better Southend’ – and identify how what they do makes a difference.
The size of the organisation also allows for conversations between services so they can be designed around the people who use them and not those who deliver them.
Our partners – private, public and voluntary – know we will be honest, open and willing to think and work in a solution-focused way.
Customers trust they will be treated with dignity and respect and that we will be honest in cases where we can’t deliver what they want. In a small council, these relationships are critical – we invest heavily in fostering these and making sure our staff have the right skills.
head of policy & performance, Southend on Sea Borough Council
Joanna is responsible for HR and OD across the council and its schools.
Local impact attracting young talent
East Sussex council has united with competing employers to attract community-focused young talent. Leatham Green discusses retention, social media and metrics.
We employ more than 15,000 employees covering more than 250 roles. Finding a systematic way of helping employees and managers map out their career pathways has been a challenge. During performance appraisal interviews every employee is asked about their career aspirations and encouraged to have an open and honest conversation. While we recognise that not everyone seeks promotion, we expect employees to grow and develop in their roles and ensure we all deliver to the best of our abilities.
Career and development opportunities – including training courses and formal qualification through to coaching, mentoring and job swaps – are published on our intranet.
Our online ‘Campaign for Worthwhile Work’ won Recruiter magazine’s Employer Branding Award. Talented people apply to work with us because of the positive impact they can make on the local community. We use Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter to keep our reputation current and strong and, with the exception of a few specialist jobs, all our recruitment is done online.
Usually we will attend several graduate recruitment fairs, sharing opportunities in teaching and social work. We have a strong relationship with local universities where we promote legal, accountancy, finance or HR careers.
Attraction & retention of young talent
We are the largest employer in East Sussex and our key competitors are neighbouring councils.
Increasingly we are partnering with these to promote career opportunities in specific professions such as social work, rather than embarking in a local talent war which benefits no one in the long run.
We are striving to encourage younger people into the workplace, through the use of apprentices, and are in discussion with neighbouring councils to create an online ‘opportunities board’. This would enable talent to move between partnering councils on secondment, boosting development in areas such as legal, HR, finance, planning and trading standards.
Talented employees are less likely to resign if they have the opportunity to move to one of our partners.
Using data and metrics
We identify top talent and potential using data relating to the performances of our managers, but this ignores most of the organisation where employee development and talent sharing is less structured or planned. We are working on finding the best way of overcoming this lost opportunity.
assistant director HR, East Sussex, County Council
Leatham is responsible for all aspects of people management covering recruitment, development and retention of employees.