HMRC issues behaviour guide to improve workplace culture

Commitments based on wide-ranging review of ‘what it feels like for colleagues to work in HMRC, and how to make it better’

Photo: HMRC

By Richard Johnstone

09 Jan 2020

HMRC has published a cross-department behaviour guide that sets out a series of commitments intended to ensure staff treat each other with respect.

Five statements have been developed after consultation with almost 17,000 people, who have provided input to HMRC on how departmental staff should commit to treating each other.

The pledges are: we will be fair, kind and human; we will not create fear in others; we will include people, regardless of difference; we will work together, recognising our common goal; we will have honest conversations with respect.


Setting out standards of behaviour for staff more clearly was among the recommendations of a review of HMRC workplace culture by former John Lewis personnel director Laura Whyte in February. Whyte found that staff faced both abusive and abrasive behaviour but did not have confidence in measures to improve conditions.

Whyte called on the department to make a series of reforms after finding that although HMRC had a set of organisational values in place, “swearing, breaching confidentiality, mocking colleagues, seemed to be unremarkable". She also found some staff's behaviour meant “not everyone working in HMRC feels respected at work, all the time”.

The pledges, which were distributed to HMRC staff yesterday, are among a series of changes planned to implement the recommendations of the Whyte review, which also include updated HR policies and increased mediation training across the department.

The commitments were created based on HMRC-wide engagement about “what it feels like for colleagues to work in HMRC, and how to make it better”.

After the Whyte review, the department asked all staff to contribute to the development of the behaviour code, with exercises run within teams about what good standards would be, as well as regional events and an online portal to contribute anonymously.

Around 17,000 HMRC officials contributed, and the views were collated so the pledges mirror the language used by staff. Each of the five pledges is accompanied by statements in officials' own words about why it is important.

‘How we want to treat each other’

The document said the commitments “reflect how we want to and should strive to treat each other every day at HMRC” so that, as one contributor said, “people will feel happy to come to work, feel anxiety free and positive”.

It also included a pledge from HMRC’s executive committee to ensure a safe and respectful workplace.

The statement by the nine-strong management group, which includes HMRC permanent secretary Jim Harra, chief people officer Esther Wallington and customer strategy and tax design director general Ruth Stanier, said: “We are clear that it is never acceptable to bully, harass, discriminate or victimise in HMRC. Our commitments sit alongside the policies that set out the clear standards of conduct expected of us all that we must uphold.”

The policy sets out ways to nip poor behaviour in the bud, including speaking to the offending individual or to their manager. However, the committee acknowledged “there will be times when having a quiet word doesn’t resolve the situation, or when the misconduct or inappropriate behaviour is too serious or persistent”.

It added: “Our commitment is that when anyone sees, hears or experiences something that causes them concern, we want them to be able to tell someone in HMRC and be confident that something appropriate and proportionate will be done about it.”

The impact of the strategy will be measured through the department’s rating in the annual Civil Service People Survey, as well as through employee retention figures  and the number of internal disputes and complaints. HMRC had the lowest engagement score of any major government department in the 2018 survey, with the 2019 version expected imminently.

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