Last year, I wrote about how fortunate we are to have thriving networks, both in departments and across the Civil Service, providing a space for staff to have their voice heard and discuss the issues they face. Now, in the face of an unprecedented set of circumstances, our staff networks go above and beyond in providing invaluable support during coronavirus.
Our response to the pandemic has meant that we’ve all had to adjust to different ways of working and living, whilst continuing with the vital business of government. However, I know that it is not always straightforward and many of us are facing challenges in light of the new circumstances.
During these times many individuals will turn to their networks for reassurance, solace and encouragement; that sense of support and the familiar can be a real comfort during such unfamiliar times. One of the key strengths of employee networks is their ability to provide a space for members to vent their worries and be heard, and acting as an expert resource on key issues relating to the lived experience of staff at local and departmental level.
How networks are engaging
Across the Civil Service, staff networks are actively engaging with and listening to their membership on a whole host of issues that civil servants are having to deal with.
For example, we know that carers are reporting high levels of anxiety, especially around the vulnerability to coronavirus of those they care for. Disabled colleagues have been worried about getting the workplace adjustments they need at home. Muslim colleagues have questions about flexible working patterns, prayer rooms and observing Ramadan. LGB&TI networks are supporting individuals who are self-isolating within households where they are exposed to potential homophobia and transphobia. And gender networks have raised concerns about the impact on health and wellbeing of working flexibly and home-schooling.
We also know that staff from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds can have different familial and household set-ups and responsibilities, which can make working from home, self-isolation, and getting a good work/life balance just that bit more difficult.
Reassurance and protection
Departments and resources are stretched in dealing with core business alongside the coronavirus response. Supporting the needs of diverse staff is of course also a priority, and we should acknowledge the role of networks in providing reassurance for staff and a measure of protection for their wellbeing and mental health through the support they offer.
It’s great to see many networks doing exactly this: colleagues in the Carers Network and Fast Stream Forum are providing weekly catch-ups for their members to speak about some of the challenges they are facing; the Hindu Connection network is working to provide digital well-being sessions for its members; similarly, other faith networks are also hosting shared prayer calls and support chats.
These are just some of the ways that staff networks have stepped up their engagement to provide much-needed support and guidance, highlighting the difference in the lived experience of individuals across the Civil Service. It’s encouraging that at times like this, our staff have such fantastic spaces available to safeguard their well-being, find information, and gain support and encouragement.
Staff networks can also provide a nuanced picture of the experiences of staff, especially in relation to the specific needs of individuals with protected characteristics. It is vital then that managers and departmental leads ensure that they are engaging with their networks when developing policy and guidance on employee issues – especially when these are being developed at the pace we are now experiencing.
Reach out to your networks
As civil servants, the ongoing crisis around coronavirus has thrown up many challenges and obstacles to the way in which we work to provide an excellent service to the British public in these trying times. I hope this has served as a reminder that a huge part of what allows us to carry on so well in our work is the often-hidden and invaluable role our staff networks play in supporting us. I would ask you all to reach out and speak to your staff networks if you haven’t already so that they can support you during this crisis, and that we get a better idea of what you are going through and how we may in turn support you. A list of cross-government staff networks can be found here.
Finally, I wanted to give a huge thanks – once more – to the volunteers who run our staff networks. They do an amazing job and an immense amount of work to keep the networks running, particularly during these unprecedented times, on top of their day jobs. Thank you.
We are keen to hear from civil servants about their experiences during this time. If you wish to get in touch with us directly, please do so via the inclusion mailbox at email@example.com.
Comment by Nuzhat Ali posted on
Thank you Rupert for this blog recognising the positive contribution all networks make to supporting staff but also to the function of the CS as a compassionate employer in these extraordinary testing times.
Rob, your comments re. 'how do we professionalise networks' so they are not an after thought but actually a core part of CS business, helping us to serve our communities out there with love, care and passion.
We have an opportunity staring at us to think afresh of 'what could be' if we better resourced and unleashed the power of our staff networks
Comment by Tanya Lines posted on
Thank you Rupert, delighted to see this uplifting blog on the virtue of networks. We could not function as inclusively, and diligently as we do, without them. This period of time just proves how vital they are.
I also echo Rob’s comment on professionalising the role to ensure they can have the recognition they deserve and the best impact. In the meantime, it is great to see them being recognised and celebrated in our amazing Civil Service Awards. Long may that continue!
Comment by Ross Duncan posted on
As always very well put
I think that this could be a potential unifying moment within the Civil Service.
If we all work together and pull together, to help each other across the Civil Service (UK) then we will be stronger in the end and be proud to be part of the Civil Service.
Comment by Gavin Thomas posted on
I would agree with you Rupert that we are very fortunate within the Civil Service to have some really fantastic Staff Associations.
It should not be overlooked that despite having extremely busy core roles, Colleagues are still willing to step up and volunteer to manage these Groups. It should also be acknowledged the brilliant work that they have done or are continuing to do to ensure support for the underrepresented groups, to challenge and influence policy and create a workplace that is truly inclusive.
As the Chair of the Wellbeing Network, which is one of the 11 Staff Associations within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, I would concur that this is probably the busiest we have ever been since our launch in 2015.
However, what has been encouraging for me has been the level of camaraderie that we have seen and the way that colleagues have been willing to offer advice, guidance and support to others who are finding life during this current crisis extremely challenging.
Whether it has been here in the UK or throughout our Overseas Platform, colleagues have been able to manage these challenges in the knowledge that there is someone out there who cares. Such acts of kindness have been immeasurable!
Comment by Cherron Inko-Tariah MBE posted on
Comment by Jerome Williams posted on
Rupert, thanks very much for this article. It's a good reminder to us all of the valuable contributions staff networks make to organisations across the world and the support they offer to their members. It's very easy for their roles to be seen through the narrow lenses of "passionate advocate" and "enthusiastic volunteer". They offer so much more than that. Many businesses are now tuning into the benefits they bring to work and wellbeing and it’s really great to hear you and another positive advocate of the roles that they play.
Comment by Cherron Inko-Tariah MBE posted on
Thanks for this timely piece Rupert. It's during times of crisis that the power of staff networks really shines through. Their ability to provide support, encouragement and be a voice is crucial at this time.
Comment by Rob Neil posted on
Great blog Rupert and thanks (once again) for sharing your views about the power of staff networks via this engaging blog. You’re absolutely right, the added value that our diverse range of staff networks across the civil service offers is incredible and many of us, including those we serve, continue to benefit from their insights, creativity and care. Indeed, some of staff networks have been enriching the civil service for decades now. Our current challenge has shone a brighter light on the critical importance of ; connections, innovation and talent, three things which lay at the heart of any representative and thriving staff network. After reading your blog I was left wondering, what will it take for us to truly professionalise our staff networks? How can we lift the very best of what we have, out of volunteer status and into business as usual (?). Our staff networks are overflowing with people ready, willing and able to support our journey in becoming a brilliant civil service, my hope in the months ahead is that we find a way of pro-actively investing in our people with a passion to celebrate difference, meet the needs of the diverse communities we serve and, in so doing, protect us from the virus of traditional approaches which too often marginalise staff networks and render them an after thought. So, as we combine to lead our beloved civil service through the present crisis, let’s invest in our ‘networking’, let’s do this on purpose and let’s Involve to evolve. Stay well, stay safe & stay strong!!!