Foreign Office hails staff wellbeing scores in face of Brexit pressures

Department highlights training of mental health first aiders globally as part of its efforts to improve further

Photo: PA

By Richard Johnstone

19 Jun 2019

A Foreign Office staff review has found that civil servants report higher levels of health and wellbeing than the Whitehall average despite what permanent secretary Sir Simon McDonald acknowledges has been a high workload in the last two years to implement Brexit,

The FCO’s first ever voluntary report on staff disability, health and wellbeing found that the department’s staff wellbeing was above the civil service average. Using the PERMA index, which measures staff happiness at work across five factors – positive emotion, engagement, relationships and a sense of meaning and accomplishment at work – the department calculated its "happiness percentage rating" at 76%, higher than the median score for the civil service as a whole (74%).

The FCO report, which is among the first individual wellbeing reports to be published by departments under new reporting plans, also found that the department’s stress index score was lower than the government average, at 27% compared to 29%.


The stress index is calculated using results from the Civil Service People Survey. The FCO index has remained unchanged since 2016 – the year of the referendum on EU membership – at 27%, having been at 28% in the four preceding years.

The report highlighted that the department faces “specific and unique challenges that could potentially impact on wellbeing, which other departments do not have to deal with”. These include staff working far from friends and family, in difficult environments, and with the possibility of moving anywhere in the world at short notice.

As a result, Sir Simon McDonald, permanent secretary at the Foreign Office, said that he was proud of the department’s work on wellbeing.

“For the last three years we have worked hard on the UK’s exit from the EU. This year we temporarily relocated some staff to key locations across Europe to support British nationals and business,” he said. “I am proud that we continue to improve our wellbeing scores. The wellbeing of staff throughout our global network is a priority.”

The report said that in 2018, 11.9% of FCO employees declared themselves as living with a disability. This is down from 14.3% in 2014, the last available figure. In 2018 the average across the civil service was 10%.

The department’s disability policy support team works closely with the civil service workplace adjustment service, and the FCO is an active member of the Business Disability Forum.

On mental health, the report said the department had produced management guides to empower staff to feel confident talking about mental health issues, and highlighted the development of a global network of more than 250 mental health first aiders at home and overseas.

Expansion of this network has been highlighted as one of the FCO’s initiatives to further improve wellbeing, which also includes continuing the rollout of the Developing Wellbeing Confident Leaders training for both senior leaders and the delegated grades.

“We will continue to raise mental health and disability issues through our internal blogging and staff events, highlighting inspiring personal stories which enable conversations to take place and reduce the stigma around these topics,” the report added.

“This the first year of reporting and we will be in a better position next year to measure progress and determine if our internal policies are having a positive impact.”

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