Social Protection staff complain about ‘scruffy’ colleagues

Workers at the Department of Social Protection have complained some of their colleagues look "scruffy", and that a lack of an appropriate dress code creates an unprofessional image.

The concerns are contained in a hard-hitting internal report on transforming the culture of the 7,000-strong department, which also found that there seems to be a “reluctance to tackle poor or underperformance in a consistent or meaningful way”.

The report by Axiom Consulting Partners says “anecdotal evidence also seems to suggest ‘problem members of staff’ are moved from one area to another to minimise their impact and share the burden, rather than underlying issues being addressed directly”.

The consultants, who worked on the project for over a year and were paid €99,075, comment: “If true, an absence of a culture of accountability risks increasing the levels of apathy amongst the Department of Social Protection workforce.”

The consultants also interviewed key figures in several other government departments and Revenue to capture their perspective on the department’s culture and values, and reported that one of the recurring themes to emerge was that “some concerns were raised that Department of Social Protection operations might be at breaking point”.

The report also states that: “Many staff suggest that there is a general absence of personal accountability at the Department of Social Protection. This is seen in the lack of consequence for either good or poor performance. There appears little scope to reward good performance, while there is also little evidence of individual managers providing personal recognition and feedback to staff and teams for the good things they achieve.”

The consultants state that “it is suggested by some staff that the most damaging aspect of the lack of accountability is that staff who are performing well are left frustrated that colleagues who choose to ‘coast’ are never meaningfully challenged”.

“Managers in turn are increasingly frustrated, as they have little authority to deal with poor performance themselves, without having to call on centralised personnel support.”

As a result, the consultants have recommended to the Department of Social Protection that underperformance of a minority be addressed.

The report’s findings have been informed by multiple interactive workshops with department staff, customers and employer representatives along with an online survey completed by 4,234 staff and 42 branch managers.

The report states: “Several members of staff indicated that a lack of realistic career options means people switch off, disengage, lack motivation, and perform below their potential.”

The consultants state: “If true, this represents a significant cost to the department in terms of organisational productivity and performance.”

On the positive side, the report found that staff take pride in the work they do; are incredibly conscious of their duty to the taxpayers and citizens of Ireland; that integrity and fairness are central to the department’s culture and that work is often very rewarding on a personal level.

A department spokeswoman said “the report’s findings have been communicated to all staff in the Department of Social Protection”.


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