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Case Study:
Re-orientating the Employee Relations approach towards Just Culture

Dearden provided a consultancy service changing the culture in the organisation from one of blame and criticism to kindness, compassion and learning. As part of this culture change Dearden worked with the Trust to radically change its approach to employee relations.

The Trust had been characterised by a poor culture of staff engagement evidenced by extremely low staff engagement scores, high turnover and difficulties recruiting. It had been rated as inadequate by the CQC and placed in special measures since 2017. In particular the Trust had a high number of disciplinaries with a considerable number of staff suspended or on restricted duties and an unacceptable length of time for investigations to be completed. Many staff felt bruised and were left angry by their experience of employee relations, whether cases were founded or not.

What We Did

We established and facilitated a multi-disciplinary culture steering group which provided the oversight and steer on all culture change programmes throughout the organisation. One element was the need to focus on employee relations and a ‘People Before Process’ team was created which involved staff side and other key stakeholders re-engineering the Trust’s whole approach to managing employee relations starting with disciplinary cases.

This work included:

● Re-orientating the whole approach to ER management with a root and branch review of policy and process and a heavy emphasis on a ‘just culture’. Learning is at the heart of the new approach and the formal ER process is only engaged where absolutely appropriate and necessary

● Investment in dedicated investigating officers with an initial business case to establish the cost/benefit analysis and which was reviewed at 6 months and shown to provide a return on investment from reduced agency expenditure

● Refocussing on kind, compassionate and timely ER case management including a new role of designating ‘wellbeing support’ for individuals going through formal processes

● Monthly meetings with Chief Nurse, Chief Operating Officer, Head of HR Business Partnering and ER Manager to provide oversight and review of key cases and support with cases progressing.

● Training for managers and leaders on the new ‘People Before Process’ approach

● Case ‘Learning Reviews’ being completed after each disciplinary and actively sharing learning directly with Care Groups and Support

● Introducing fortnightly ER Huddles with the team to concentrate on priority cases and actions

● Rigorous decision-making methodology

● Improved reporting and oversight

This was all framed within the creation of a psychological safe environment where people can admit to issues and take reasonable risks in the knowledge that they won’t be criticised or blamed for mistakes so long as their intent was good.

What We Achieved

As a consequence of our involvement, the number of disciplinary cases has halved and the length of time for investigation reduced by over 25% with firm and active plans to further reduce this still further. Staff-side, who at the outset had threatened a dispute with the Trust over its management of employee relations, now describe their relationship with HR as the ‘best it has ever been’.

Disciplinary Process Timescales & Employee Relations Cases Managed graphs

Grievances slightly increased as people felt able to raise concerns with bullying and harassment issues remaining static (with the exception of one specific issue on a ward).

The length of time for investigations continues to fall and, whilst retaining a grip on this, the increasing focus has been on ensuring how people feel about how they have been treated improves.

Our work on this project was recognised by Personnel Today in November of 2021, when we won HR Consultancy of the Year!