Public sector leaders continue to wrestle with financial constraint and increasing demand. The focus is value for money, balancing productivity with sustainable service delivery to meet increasingly complex demands and high levels of public expectation. For police forces and our prisons, scrutiny of performance data rightly remains an important part of any executive team focus. But what about those elements which are not immediately apparent? Irritants which collectively threaten to undermine the wider organisation. It is time to take a closer look at your corporate health.

Corporate health describes the overall well-being of an organisation, and includes:
  • its ability to operate not only effectively but brilliantly
  • how it supports its workforce; listening and responding to their ideas, suggestions and concerns
  • how the integrity of the organisation contributes to the ethical delivery of services and outcomes
  • the ability to proactively identify ethical and organisational risks, including effective and proactive management to stay ahead of issues which threaten public confidence

Good corporate health in criminal justice requires strong leadership, a determination to address problems and difficult issues and the humility to accept that mistakes are made. It also requires strong emotional intelligence from leaders at every level of the organisation. Making time to listen to your staff, staff associations or trade unions is a critical part of sound corporate health.

How does it work in practice ?

Good people are at the heart of public services and we spend a lot of taxpayers’ money recruiting and training them. Having them work effectively is important for productivity and quality of service. Yet the police service in England and Wales has lost more than one million working days to mental health related illness in the past three years. In the prison service, according to the Ministry of Justice, each officer loses an average of 2 days as a result of stress. This is a real and growing problem.

Reviewing attendance data is one way to identify trends and potential problems. High sickness levels for stress and mental health take a toll on the whole staff team. They need careful, empathetic and innovative handling to limit absence and identify any causes in the workplace. And as the Police Foundation said recently, policies designed to support staff through periods of sickness, need to actually mitigate the problem.

Policing and the prison service are both notoriously stressful and often macho environments in which to work. As one Deputy Chief Constable recently said about her forces stress and sickness levels, “day to day our officers and staff deal with the aftermath of violence, fatal road accidents, threatening behaviour – things that most people would naturally shy away from, but that we walk towards.” So how should an organisation intervene to support their staff, especially when asking for help or admitting you’re not coping is not professionally acceptable?

Staff need to be able to ask for help in a safe and confidential setting and organisations need to recognise and support those at risk of overload. Employee engagement programmes; a confidential 24/7 hotline, advice on alcohol abuse, divorce and mental health problems can be the difference between someone coping and recovering or going sick for a long time.

Key to good corporate health is also recognising and proactively responding to risks. Are you facing an ongoing recruitment freeze but with high numbers set to retire? Corporate health demands a proactive and regular strategic and tactical review of new and emerging threats. In many cases, these threats will be known to some of your workforce. That’s why it is so important to talk to staff, respond to concerns, and to allow managers to mitigate emerging risks before they escalate.

Effective, responsive and innovative corporate health measures benefit everyone. From your workforce you can expect increased effort,loyalty and commitment. Leaders will be empowered. Your organisational reputation will be enhanced. Improving public services relies on improving corporate health.

As a leader, you ignore your organisation’s corporate health at your peril. At Crest, we are able to help with gaining a better understanding of how you can best maintain good corporate health throughout your organisation.

For more information contact Heather on


Heather Baily

Associate Director of Corporate Performance

With more than ten years’ experience in senior executive roles in policing Heather brings a wealth of experience in criminal justice and in working to with local communities.

She has held senior management posts in the Metropolitan Police Service and was Deputy Chief Constable in Hertfordshire, heading an ambitious programme of change.

She led the start of the Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire collaboration programme which later extended to Cambridgeshire and has significant experience of ensuring change delivers the anticipated positive results.