Tax Administration Jamaica Wellness & Counselling Journey  

Tax Administration Jamaica Wellness & Counselling Journey  

BACKGROUND:

(Brief Introduction of Ministry/Department)

Tax Administration Jamaica (TAJ) Authority is the merger of  four tax related entities and  a change from  civil service status to a Semi Autonomous Revenue Authority (SARA) which took effect on November  3, 2014.  The  core functions of the Authority is managed through the leadership of the Commissioner General (CG). The main responsibilities of the CG include:-

  • the administration and collection of domestic taxes;
  • the administration and enforcement of laws relating to domestic tax.;

SITUATION ANALYSIS:

(What was the problem before introduction of the initiative?)

The organization went through a major transformation which also included:

  • New governance arrangements with the establishment of a management board;
  • The implementation of a new tax operating system (Revenue Administration Integrated system);
  • changes in structure, process and procedure;
  • Transitioning of persons (approximately 2300) from the old organization to the new (utilizing competitive selection for all supervisory and managerial positions)

TAJ recognized very early in the process that, if it was not properly managed, the stress associated with the major changes could adversely affect individuals’ well-being and ultimately TAJ’s productivity. Research as shown that pre-existing mental, emotional and physical challenges has the potential to be made worse by the stress of change.

Feedback from staff indicated a growing concern about what lies ahead and whether they would be able to cope. The HR team recognized early, the fears and concerns staff members would have with such a process, including loss of job or status in the organization at the end of the process. Consequently, it became necessary to establish a structured approach to treating with these concerns and to support the smooth and effective transition of the staff into TAJ Authority.

STRATEGIC APPROACH:

(What was the solution?)

As a pro-active initiative, Wellness and Counselling (W&C) was set-up informally in January 2012, to deal with personal & professional challenges employees might have encountered that could have been exacerbated by their inability to adequately cope with change.

W&C initially started with three (3) persons, two (2) Senior Trainers from Human Resource Development and one (1) Taxpayer Service Officer from Tax Operations. These individuals were selected because their qualifications included Psychology, Social Work, and Counselling. W&C function was eventually formalized January 2015, as an arm of Employee Relations in the Human Resource Management & Development Branch. The structure is currently staffed with a Manager and three (3) W&C Officers. In addition, the unit is supported by approximately forty (40) peer counsellors (employees with counselling experience volunteering) at various locations across the organization, plus there are formal arrangements with an external counselling organization and the Ministry of Health’s Mental Health Unit.

From Left to Right are Susan Rhoden-Smith, Gregory Bryan (Wellness and Counselling Officers) and Charmaine Grant-McKnight, Team Leader
Initial Wellness and Counselling Team. From Left to Right are Susan Rhoden-Smith, Gregory Bryan (Wellness and Counselling Officers) and Charmaine Grant-McKnight, Team Leader

At the start, the accommodation was not adequate nevertheless the team immediately began to address the need for support in the organization. Though small in number, they travelled to the more than forty (40) TAJ locations to conduct group sensitizations and individual counselling interventions as needed. Change-related issues such as anxiety, depression, anger, interpersonal conflict, poor attendance and punctuality, as well as recurrent issues including grief, physical and mental illness and financial stress were also dealt with on a weekly basis.

RESULTS:

Through individual and group counselling, the Wellness and Counselling Unit has created the environment for staff to express freely their concerns and challenges and receive the necessary support to successfully cope with the changes. Since inception, the Unit has conducted hundreds of sessions (Table 1) resulting in the improved productivity and well-being of staff as reported by the clients as well as colleagues, supervisors and managers. Wellness interventions such as tips, articles, training and sensitization sessions have also served to improve the appreciation of staff for the need for personal responsibility for health and wellness.

W&C programmes also include health promotions relating to lifestyle diseases, thus increasing staff awareness about the importance of diet, nutrition and exercise. This has resulted in several fitness activities being set up at TAJ’s locations across the island.  A highlight is the  hosting of ‘Wellness Fairs’ at each location.  These fairs usually feature varied services (e.g. reflexology, spa treatment, detox, blood pressure and sugar level testing, etc.) at significantly reduced cost to employees.

As the transition of TAJ staff is ongoing, so is the support of the Wellness and Counselling Unit. Feedback from staff has been mainly positive as the most powerful message received is that the organization cares enough about them to establish such a life-changing unit.  TAJ’s Wellness and Counselling Unit is sometimes called upon to assist external entities with crisis management and grief counselling.

Sessions Conducted by the W&C Unit

For the period January 2013 – April 2017

Table 1

Calendar Year In-office (including telephone) sessions Out-of-office    sessions Total Sessions Per Annum
2013 165 148 313
2014 221 269 490
2015 162 194 356
2016 183 406 589
2017 (end of April) 57 319 376
TOTAL SESSIONS 788 1336 2124

CHALLENGES:

(Include issues of implementation, financial management, human resources, performance culture, leadership, ICT etc.)

As TAJ employees became more aware of the Unit’s existence, it became clear that there was the need for more Wellness Officers to adequately manage the volume of issues being referred. The number in the area grew to a maximum of five (5) officers and a manager and, while this was a great improvement, there still remained the need for additional support. The Unit sought this support through the invitation for volunteers (peer counsellors) from within TAJ who would be first responders in cases where a Wellness Officer was not immediately available. This achieved mixed success as the substantive roles of staff (though willing) sometimes affected their availability to attend to wellness-related activities.

Additionally, there was the challenge of a suitable location to house the team, as well as, the desired resources to fully/completely give the optimum service that the team envisions.  In the early stages there was a level of skepticism on the basis that this was not core business for TAJ and the focus needed to be on core.

SUSTAINED IMPACT:

(What are the key benefits resulting from this initiative ?)

  • Free access to confidential counselling service;
  • Improved coping through personal and professional challenges;
  • Lower levels of absenteeism due to mental, emotional and health related challenges;
  • Improved relationship between staff and supervisors/managers;
  • Better time and stress management resulting in greater productivity — despite the comprehensive changes taking place, TAJ has surpassed its net revenue collection targets for the periods FY 15/16 and 16/17 (a target that had not been achieved for many decades);
  • Professional relationship established between TAJ and external public and private mental health facilities/providers;
  • Cost effectiveness, as TAJ has saved a substantial amount of money not having to engage the service of Private Counselling.

Whether you are a public sector agency in one of our Member States or an international institution looking to make a difference in our region, CARICAD can assist with your public sector transformation initiative