CMS, Dragon’s Den, quiet rooms and bullying

We wrote recently about the issues around CMS performance highlighting the worrying revelation that Tom Mccormack, the CMG Director is actively trying to shift paying parents onto the “collect and pay system. You can read that piece here.

We’ll now cover off some of the more interesting revelations from the Operational Leadership Team (OLT) minutes that concerned the people who work at the CMS. What’s it like to work there? What are the issues?

Firstly, here are some quotes from the reviews left by current and previous employees of the Child Maintenance Service taken from Glassdoor.com

culture of hiring temps to clear workload as opposed to ensuring enough staff and that systems are working correctly

(Former employee, Hastings 2017)

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Caseworkers slow on their role of releasing claiments money to them. I can feel customers pain when they paying for our services to collect money and we dont give them it on time due to our poor systems and some workers.

(Former “intern” 2019)

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– Too much focus on achieving targets
– Demoralising work
– Low pay compared to rest of DWP and other Civil Service Departments
– Poor, complicated IT system which regularly locked up, crashed, error messages etc
– Staff leaving in droves due to low pay.
– Obsessed with telephony availability

(caseworker, Birkenhead 2018)

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Demaning (sic), too much focus on meeting absurd targets, if you’re a person that likes to help others this job is not for you.

(Administrative Officer, Falkirk 2017)

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The work itself was relentlessly demoralising – a combination of the nature of the situations you were getting involved with, and the emotions that people brought to you as a result. (employee, Stockport 2016)

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Low pay compared to the rest of DWP and for the amount of work involved.
Alot of Managers and staff are downright bullies, despite their supposed “anti bullying policy”. they say one thing on record, then take you into a private office and say what they like to you, which is often derogatory, threatening and intimidating. If you report it, it is either justified somehow by management, glossed over, blamed on yourself, swept under the carpet or just plain ignored.
Very harsh with sick leave: I know of at least one member of staff who was sacked for having too much time off sick because she had cancer.
They constantly threaten you with the sack or disciplinary action over the slightest mistake.

(former employee, 2016)

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There are no pros to working for Child Maintenance Service – they’re supposed to be there to help provide financial support for children but this very rarely happens thanks to inadequate IT systems that spend more time down than actually working. IT systems that never work properly and a management structure who have never actually worked on the front line yet introduce so called improvements that are supposed to make the job easier but make it ten times harder.

(anonymous, Plymouth, 2016)

 

Not the most encouraging endorsement for a Government Department that claims to be a “brilliant place to work”. But, has it got any better? What are the “people issues” plaguing their workforce now and what are management doing about it?

 

Bullying & Harassment

One of the comments above from 2016 focuses on what they describe as a culture of bullying and harassment in the workplace. Looking at the minutes of the “People OLT” meetings we can see that bullying is a problem within the workforce of the Child Maintenance Group (CMG) at the DWP.

For example, in July of 2018 the following passage occurs in the minutes

[redacted] then took OLT through some slides around bullying and harassment advising that IDE group (editor note: we’re not sure that IDE group is yet) have been looking at the levels within CMG. Tom (Mccormack) thinks we need to be careful; there is definitely an issue so we need to consider what to do about it

 

It would appear that there is indeed a problem with levels of intra-staff bullying at the Child Maintenance Group. Management are aware and have at least paid lip service to recognising it.

In October 2018, bullying and harassment makes another appearance in the minutes. It looks like they’ve been doing some work to try and understand the causes of their aggressive workforce. Then, in January, reference is made to a “People Survey” which shows that

the story coming out of the survey was that in CMG it (bullying) is less likely to happen, if it does then people are more likely to tell someone and then it is more likely that something will happen

 

They don’t actually say what will happen to someone who reports bullying in the workplace. You’d think they would just be able to reference an HR policy rather than the ambiguous statement that “it is more likely that something will happen”.

Absence & Attendance

This seems to be a big problem for the Child Maintenance Group. People not turning up to work; maybe it’s because they’re being bullied & harassed?

We can see that significant time appears to be spent trying to identify why their staff are not turning up and reasons why. Perhaps they are dissatisfied working there?

Reference is made in the July 5th meeting to “high level pulse survey results” with the minutes noting that

 

Tom (Mccormack) advised he was not surprised by these results although he was disappointed in the arrears and enforcement results, he expected more engagement as it feels like there is more of a community because there is the total enforcement framework

 

There are several points to the above statement that probably require further investigation but, taken at face value it would seem that the results of the survey were poor.

Clearly, if people don’t like their work environment they will struggle to find the motivation to turn up. Presumably, the salary is not motivation enough to turn up to an office on an industrial estate, staffed by people who bully you, to work at a desk with a computer that is so buggy it belongs in the insect exhibition at the local zoo. After taking all that into account, you’ve got to sit in a building that is probably a bit of a dump (which is referenced in the December 2018 minutes). To top it all off they are doing a job which in all likelihood provides zero job satisfaction. If you had an alternative; any alternative you wouldn’t be working at the CMS (as their internal transfers out of the CMG prove).

One suggestion advanced by the OLT was that their absence rates could be caused by the number of new recruits and what they describe as a “young culture”. Fixed term contractors are also cited as being potential causes of high absentee rates.

So, what is the leadership doing about the bullying and absentee rates?

It would appear that Tom Mccormack believes that he can rally his workforce around what is described as the “Total enforcement framework”. We’ll be looking  into this but taken at face value it appears as if the focus of the CMS is on enforcement and not, as they claim trying to encourage parents to work together for the benefit of their children. We’re not sure that “let’s bully as much money out of people with our broken computer system and hostile communication” is a recipe for a happy, engaged and present workforce.

We thought it was interesting that the CMG had what they describe as a “Dragon’s Den Competition”. We don’t know what the brief was for the competition however. We also don’t know what prize (if any) was awarded to the winner (perhaps a transfer to another less useless part of the Civil Service). This is what we do know:

The winner of the Dragons Den was x who proposed that were mental health refuge rooms. [redacted] had confirmed there were rooms which could be used in some sites but not all. In addition, there are some recommendations for a standard model. The ask was that these rooms should be available on all main sites and should be called “quiet rooms”.

 

Of course, spending time in a “quiet room” sounds a bit better than “hiding in a mental health refuge room”. It’s a shame that the CMS don’t seem to consider the mental health of the paying and receiving parents that have to speak to their bullying, absentee workforce.

On the sites where there is no space for a “mental health refuge room” perhaps the CMS could purchase a few of these  “thought boxes” for sale which could be used by their staff in need of a bit of quiet time. They even come with a stool to sit on.(https://www.notonthehighstreet.com/theformemporium/product/thought-box-with-stool)

 

If anyone reading this has ever felt bullied or harassed by their contact with this government “service” please feel free to comment with your experience or thoughts below.

 

Minutes can be downloaded here

People OLT Minutes august 2018

People OLT Minutes December 2018

People OLT Minutes January 2019

People OLT Minutes June 2018

People OLT Minutes November 9th 2018

People OLT Minutes october 2018

People OLT Minutes september 2018

 

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