Six ways to help the Public Sector workforce thrive

Keith Joughin

By Keith Joughin

Public servants in the UK have faced a demanding few years, with Brexit, COVID-19, and the conflict in Ukraine leading to increased stress and uncertainty. At the same time, the political climate remains changeable and highly charged, and debate continues around the size of the state, which saw the UK Civil Service grow by around 24 per cent between 2016 and 2021.

However, what is not being discussed with as much emphasis, is how the governmental departments can invest in their people to help the public sector workforce thrive. It’s time to re-establish the sector as a place for people motivated by public service to thrive in their careers. Without action, the public sector will lose some of its most capable and committed people, and fail to engage the next generation of talent.

There are many ways to support the public sector workforce and a number of initiatives are in-flight and planned. The following six areas of focus will have a significant impact on how leaders approach the workforce challenge.

Government departments, with the Cabinet Office at the forefront, will need to:

1. Examine the end-to-end employee experience

From application to exit, determine the ‘moments that matter’ for individuals to understand what creates frustration and impacts job satisfaction. A civil servant recently shared job adverts were written with such jargon that nobody outside their department would understand what the role entailed. Another said their onboarding process was so administration heavy, that it creates a poor start for new joiners, who should be energised by their purpose. By getting the basics right, and re-designing talent processes through a user-centric approach with employees, a significant impact on engagement and satisfaction can be made.

2. Develop a strengths-based culture, which focuses on why people want to be in the public service

Using a strengths based approach involves people understanding how they can make their best contributions, build on their strengths and manage their weaknesses. In the Civil Service, many people are motivated by their contribution to society. Taking steps to adopt a strengths approach could lead to an improvement in retention and attract new talent. Leaders can leverage team strengths to reach departmental goals.

3. Build a learning culture

With employers facing skills shortages, recruitment challenges and a working environment that is rapidly changing, a strong learning culture could be a key differentiator. Smart government learning functions need to promote training that considers intelligent experimentation, curiosity, and informal collaboration. They need to offer learners resources that will help their personal development and ensure learning is embedded into daily working practices. In the future, formal learning events will focus on driving the learning culture and a growth mindset. Training will provide the opportunity to connect individuals, align on purpose, promote wellbeing, and reflect on strengths.

4. Reframe the conversation around Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI).

Too often, there is a perception that EDI events are tokenistic. However, it is crucial that HR and talent processes are designed with good EDI practice at the heart. This ensures barriers to entry and progression are identified and broken down. Assess processes against an EDI maturity framework, so issues can be identified and action taken. Departments must measure their performance and improvements over time to demonstrate impact and drive change. Applying an EDI lens to talent processes is not just the right thing to do but also key in the war for talent, ensuring the public sector has access to a diverse talent pool and is representative of the UK.

5. Develop leaders through bespoke multi-year programmes

Equip leaders to operate for a modern civil service, focusing on resilience, collaboration, inclusion, and wellbeing. This needs to be considered across different dimensions and clearly tailored to levels, including leading self and leading teams. Bespoke programmes should enable the change leaders need to make to grow within the civil service. This should consider heads (how they think), hearts (how they feel) and habits (how they act and role model). This isn’t just about the SCS grade, where there are several programmes available, but targeting cohorts of future leaders, especially where groups are not currently well represented, to give them an impactful and personalised experience, and to increase their commitment to the public sector.

6. Strengthen internal change capabilities

Recognise that business change is a profession and requires skilled people and an overall methodology to manage the continuous and unprecedented change facing the public sector. It’s no longer adequate to rely on external support for transformation projects. A holistic and strategic view needs to be taken within each department to plan and manage change. In addition to a core specialist capability, departments need to enhance change skills and learning across more of the workforce, to help them embrace changes to future working practices. Those whose strengths are connecting with people, empathy, determination, and a desire to make a difference, should be used as agents of change to help build momentum.

With unpredictable economic conditions on the horizon, it is more important than ever that the Government prioritises its people. By fostering talent, driving inclusion, and focusing on strengths, the public sector can build a thriving workforce ready to meet future challenges and opportunities head-on.

About the authors

Keith Joughin
Keith Joughin PA public sector and change expert

Explore more

Contact the team

We look forward to hearing from you.

Get actionable insight straight to your inbox via our monthly newsletter.