Boosting morale on a budget

Post by Border Force Internal Comms Team

Wednesday 14 February 2018

Photo of border force officers

Little did we know what that call from the Border Force Heathrow Director would lead to….

In September 2016 – we (the Border Force internal communications team at the Home Office) were mid-way through the final push to encourage Border Force staff to complete the people survey. It was all hands on deck – in amongst business as usual intranet articles, staff events, leadership blogs, etc. – when we received a call from the Heathrow Director. He needed help. And quickly. We already knew we had a big challenge on our hands, with Border Force engagement scores the lowest in the Civil Service. However, the challenges at Heathrow were vast:

  • Lack of confidence and trust in the leadership
  • No collective understanding of mission, role and purpose
  • Customs and immigration staff feeling they were part of separate teams
  • Disparate staff cultures across the terminals
  • Few functioning communications channels

These factors contributed to low morale and affected productivity and performance. The Heathrow leadership team needed our advice and support. Could improvements in internal communications help increase morale?

Moving home: embedding ourselves within the business

We set an ambitious communications objective – to increase engagement, morale and pride, among Border Force Heathrow staff. Specifically, to increase the people survey engagement scores by 5%.

We moved from our home in Marsham Street down to Heathrow airport for what we originally thought would be 4 weeks. It turned out to be 12 months and still counting…

We conducted a communications audit to drive insight into communications messages, channels, tone and staff sentiment. We consulted with staff across all grades and functions and produced a detailed insight report which showed that staff felt overwhelmed by corporate messages, questioned the credibility of communication and were frustrated by the lack of ability to feedback and respond to leaders. Border Force staff at Heathrow do incredible work and there was very little recognition for their efforts.

Based on these insights we developed a communications strategy to help staff feel valued. We worked hard to win over a sceptical Heathrow senior leadership team who each had their own ideas and priorities and launched a new, locally-led campaign with Border Force officers at its heart – showcasing the everyday heroism that keeps our border secure.

We are Border Force

The WABF-branded, interactive Heathrow weekly bulletin

The multi-channel ‘We are Border Force Heathrow’ [WABF] campaign was designed in-house at no cost. It included posters with powerful imagery placed at strategic locations across the Heathrow estate, case studies in a ‘We Are Border Force’ branded interactive weekly bulletin, and impactful video content for digital TV screens in staff areas. The campaign was rolled out in phases, with feedback sought from staff throughout. All of which was supported by an intensive leadership engagement programme.

To measure the success of the campaign and of our work at Heathrow, 2017 People Survey scores were compared with 2016, and a further intensive period of evaluation took place in September 2017 (across every terminal in Heathrow. Who knew it could take 45 minutes to travel between one terminal and another!) to compare communications and staff satisfaction with the 2016 audit report.


The results

The impact of the campaign exceeded even our highest expectations. Staff engagement scores increased by 8%. People Survey response rates at Heathrow rose 10 percentage points. And staff evaluation showed that Border Force officers were positively engaging with the campaign – with many describing it as “professional” and “giving you a sense of pride”. Recall rates for the campaign stand at 76%, while 78% staff said they felt more informed about changes taking place across Heathrow.

We were honoured to receive the GCS campaign of the month award for all the hard work.

Lessons learned

Our work at Heathrow has been an invaluable learning experience. It has underlined the value of speaking to staff directly in informal, anonymous conversations that take place in their work environment. Not only did this approach enable us to gather honest feedback from staff, it enabled us to make a more accurate assessment of the underlining problems at Heathrow.

The story continues…

But the hard work is far from over. We need to maintain campaign momentum and the improvements in channels. We learnt this will only be achievable with commitment from Heathrow leaders and a communications lead based permanently at the port. Luckily, we have achieved both (for now!).

We are ambitious for the future. We plan to roll the campaign out to other Border Force regions. We designed the brand to be flexible and in phase 2 we’re hoping to launch ‘We are Border Force Manchester’ and ‘We are Border Force Central Maritime.

Watch this space…


If you would like to find out more about the campaign please contact the Border Force comms team at

The team behind the campaign were:

  • Louise Fulton – Head of Internal Communications, Border Force, Home Office
  • Faye Wilson – Senior Communications Advisor, Border Force, Home Office
  • Samuel Dodson – Communications Advisor, Border Force, Home Office
  • Vicky Pennington – Communications Advisor, Border Force, Home Office
  • Cliff Wiltshire – Design Manager
  • Tahira Shah – Chief of Staff, Border Force Heathrow
  • Ravinder Soodi, Communications lead, Border Force Heathrow