The original blog by Rupert McNeill can be found on the HM Government website
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.
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.