Morale and well-being – Merseyside Police

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Stan Byrne, Health and Well-being manager, outlines how a survey helped them tackle the issues of employee engagement and low morale resulting in higher personal staff resilience and a greater commitment to the force

Key learning points:

  1. Research what others are doing in this area
  2. Create a well-being brand to identify all initiatives in this area
  3. Ensure managers have the facility to check their team’s responses online
  4. Create a framework that tailors actions to issues

We are one of the largest police forces in the UK. In 2007, poor attendance figures and difficulties with employee relations were seen as growing problems for us. We felt that improving the well-being and engagement of all staff in the force was central to tackling these issues, and would lead to improved performance and a better service for the local community.

Process and decision

Historically, attempts to tackle attendance within the force had resulted in initial improvements but proved unsustainable in the longer term. In an attempt to break this cycle we decided that as well as implementing previous examples of good internal practice, we would research what other forces and organisations were doing in this area. We discovered Kent Police had made significant improvements in attendance management performance following a staff survey. Learning from the Kent experience, as well as previous experiences within the organisation, a more holistic solution was agreed upon as the best way to tackle these issues.

In order to understand where we were with well-being and what areas needed to be improved, we realised we needed to survey staff. Previous surveys had been carried out but there was a real drive from the top to identify underlying causes and put in place appropriate solutions. Consultation with the Police Federation, UNISON and GMB was helpful in deciding that the best thing to do was to ask our staff in a confidential survey in order to get valid and useful feedback. In November 2007, we commissioned Robertson Cooper to carry out a force-wide audit of well-being and engagement.

How was it implemented?

The survey was offered to all 7,250 staff. We sent out quite a bit of communication encouraging staff to complete it, as well as worked with the managers of different workgroups to encourage responses. Staff with access to personal computers were asked to complete it online whereas staff that spent more time on the beat or were without access to a computer were offered paper copies. The survey was open for a three-week period and we received a satisfactory response rate of 45 per cent.


The results of the audit identified a number of barriers to well-being among our staff:

  • High levels of work overload
  • Poor physical and psychological health
  • Worrying levels of workplace bullying
  • Low levels of reported productivity

A considerable gap between the commitment of the workforce towards the force and how committed they felt the force was towards them.

As well as identifying these factors linked to well-being, we were also able to benchmark these results against surveys of 15 other police forces. This process was particularly useful as it enabled us to see how we compared with other police forces up and down the country.

As a direct result, we put together a strategic framework to improve well-being throughout the force. Our senior leadership team was engaged from the start of the process and the Merseyside Police Authority, Police Federation, UNISON and GMB were represented on the steering group. A series of action plans were then developed with the survey results as a baseline. We worked hard to create a strong well-being brand (including a logo), which we used to promote all of the work carried out in this area. This branding was a key step for us in developing a holistic approach to well-being and by using it consistently, we felt it really helped the staff associate all the well-being initiatives and appreciate our commitment to improving their

Working lives

Once we had defined the strategic approach, we introduced a number of initiatives for all staff. Our Cycle to Work scheme  and the ‘Lose one million pounds’ campaign were introduced to tackle the issues related to physical health. We followed up with further schemes, including ‘Red circle days’ and ‘Switch off your mobile phone’, to help reduce work overload.

Our managers were also able to review online the well-being levels of their staff specifically, and were provided with a framework that enabled them to tailor their actions to tackle the issues within their workgroups. Focus groups were held to add greater meaning to individual teams — this was a great opportunity for further feedback and to tailoring initiatives to meet the needs of all staff. In one specialist department this led to a significant improvement in perceived levels of well-being when compared with a survey in 2009.

Building resilience

Another very important element to improving well-being and engagement levels within the force was helping our managers acquire additional skills to develop their resilience. This was designed to help them deal with the pressures they faced personally, as well as teaching them how to support the resilience development of their staff. As part of these sessions, those taking part completed a personal resilience test and received the results as a personalised report; this explained where they drew their resilience from and how they might develop in the four areas. Our managers were then given help to translate results to set realistic and achievable action plans they could take straight back into the workplace.
Feedback from the managers showed they appreciated the chance to speak to their colleagues about well-being and resilience, as well as building up a skill base to help their staff. In November 2009, two years after the initial survey, we carried out an audit to measure the impact of our well-being strategy so far.

Key findings included:

  • All measures of well-being improved
  • A decrease (11.1 per cent) in reported work overload
  • An improvement (8.3 per cent) in physical and psychological health
  • A reduction (6.9 per cent) in reported workplace bullying
  • A six per cent increase in number of staff who are working at 80 per cent productivity or above
  • And the gap between commitment levels closed

The repeat audit also included a number of questions designed to measure the awareness and uptake of our well-being interventions since the previous survey. A direct relationship was found between the number of well-being initiatives staff were aware of, and their actual well-being and engagement levels. The strategy has also positively impacted sickness absence, which peaked in 2003 at 6.3 per cent. This has since reduced significantly year-on-year, with performance currently being sustained at under 3.5 per cent (March 2011).

In 2011, we are now working again with Robertson Cooper to run ‘train the trainer’ sessions so we can provide our own resilience training for staff and also offer their free i-resilience test to all our staff on an ongoing basis.
Now, more than ever it is important we focus on building the resilience of our staff and their engagement. With the ongoing cuts in public spending, we want to make sure all our staff will be given practical support to help them handle the pressures they face.

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