Angela Macdonald on how small acts of kindness and humanity can make a huge difference to colleagues during the fight against Covid.
It’s strange to think as I write this reflection on leadership, that a new year has begun. As we’ve entered the third lockdown – snow is currently falling in Yorkshire, a timely reminder that this national emergency approaches its 10th month and the long days of summer feels a long way off.
Whatever role we all play in the Civil Service, and however we are contributing to supporting the country through our service, we are first and foremost people living through this whole period.
Struggling from one day to the next
We are members of families, we are friends and colleagues, we might be caring for others or receiving help and support. We might be managing well through the ups and downs, or really struggling to get through from one day to the next.
I was asked to write this blog as a senior leader. I haven’t had the privilege to meet most of you.
So hello, I’m Angela MacDonald and I’m proud to be the Second Permanent Secretary at HMRC. As a leader, many people look to me for answers, tips and ideas on how to manage wellbeing through all of this. Or perhaps to provide reassurance that we have a plan to support people and make sure we deliver everything we need to do.
Reality is, that no individual ever has all the answers. When I look back throughout my career, and whenever I think hard about what has made the most difference over the last 10 months, it has been the support of the people around me and real strength of the team.
In terms of skills, capabilities and delivery we, the Civil Service and our colleagues across public service have really shown the value we add to the country. I realise historically, HMRC might not always be the citizens favourite part of government, but I’m proud of what we have delivered, and perhaps people may be seeing us in a different light.
Thousands of people pulled together to deliver the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS), Self Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS), Statutory Sick Pay scheme (SSP), Eat Out to Help Out (EOTHO). And that’s not forgetting the many easements and deferrals to help support customers through the pandemic.
Colleagues designed, built and launched IT systems in a month, complex work which would usually take a year. Dedicated policy officials, poured years, if not decades worth of technical expertise, to come up with creative solutions like the furlough scheme.
Colleagues on the front lines answered phone calls to business owners and individuals who needed financial help, many of whom were distressed and in dire need. Whilst Communications colleagues worked around the clock to inform media, stakeholders, social audiences, MPs, devolved administrations and the public about what they had to do and what support was available for them.
And this is before we even get to the heroic work carried out across government to deliver the end of the transition period, which in other times would have been the sole issue we were dealing with and talking about.
But actually, what I’m most proud of is the way we looked after each other through this - the individual acts of kindness that I’ve seen first-hand between so many people.
These acts of kindness helped me get through and keep moving forward.
Step back to March and April last year. Everything up in the air… changes happening every day, fear and uncertainty for all of us.
As a senior leader, I’ll confess to often feeling inadequate and fearful. Knowing people were relying on me, not just to make sure we answered the phones and sorted post, but for their personal safety and worries about their families.
On a day when I felt at a low ebb, I opened an email from Steve, a front-line colleague in one of our HMRC teams. Just a few simple lines saying, I must have a lot to worry about, and asking if I was ok and taking care of myself.
Meant so much
I cannot tell you how much that meant to think that I was being seen as a person and not just my job title.
I’m hopeful that all of you have a 'Steve' in your life, or indeed, perhaps you might be the person checking in.
What will sustain us through the months to come will be our tenacity, our dedication to public service, our skills and our ingenuity. But it will also be the acts of kindness and support that we give and receive from those around us.