People Survey reveals work-life balance improved despite Brexit

Written by Jim Dunton on 30 March 2020 in News

But HMRC and Border Force workers are still among the most stressed parts of the civil service, according to poll data

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The Civil Service People Survey’s key stress index and staff satisfaction with their work-life balance have both made positive movements over the past 12 months – despite the political turmoil and organisational challenges of preparing for successive no-deal Brexit dates, it has emerged.

Data from the just-published 2019 survey reveals that respondents were slightly less stressed than was the case in October 2018’s poll, and happier with the manageability of their workloads too.

More than two-thirds (71%) of civil servants agreed with the statement “I achieve a good balance between my work life and my private life”, up two points from 69% in 2018; while 63% of respondents said they had “an acceptable workload”, up from 60% the previous year. Both represent the most positive responses to the questions in the People Survey’s 11-year history.


Last year, the People Survey included a new proxy stress index, pulled together from responses to existing questions in the survey – including those on workload, motivation, empowerment, team spirit, and harassment and bullying – and aligned with the Health & Safety Executive metrics.

The scores were inverted so they served as a measure of factors that added to stress rather than those that alleviated it – and meant that the departments and agencies with the highest scores were indicative of more stressful environments.

The 2018 Stress Index gave a civil service benchmark of 29% – and named HM Revenue & Customs as the most stressed, with an organisational “score” of 33%.

According to the 2019 data, the civil service-wide Stress Index benchmark is now 28%. HMRC is still the most stressed department and has failed to push down its 33% score.

As with the 2018 data, EU-exit related activities were a factor for many of the other more stressed parts of government.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Department for Exiting the European Union saw its Stress Index score rise year-on-year, up from 26% in 2018 to 28% in 2019.

The Home Office Group stayed at 32% on the index across both years, but Home Office Border Force saw its index score drop from 38% to 35% while colleagues in Home Office Immigration Enforcement saw their score ease from 34% to 33%.

At the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – often cited as the department with the biggest Brexit burden – stress scores remained high but unchanged year on year at 29%.

The same was the case at Defra’s Rural Payments Agency, which was stable on 33% and the department’s Animal and Plant Health Agency, which was stable at 34%.

In a change for 2019 the most stressed civil servants, according to the survey data, are at the Scottish Public Pensions Agency, which scored 40% on the index, up 5 percentage points on 2018.

Last year’s highest scoring staff worked at the Defence Electronics & Components Agency, but its 41% score reduced to 37% this year.

The least-stressed staff in 2018 were at the Attorney General’s Office, but – possibly owing to the pressure around September’s quashed prorogation of parliament – the department’s Stress Index score for 2019 was 25%, up from 17% the previous year.

According to the 2019 data, government’s least-stressed civil servants are now to be found at HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate – which is also one of the Attorney General’s Departments – where the score was 18%, down from 22% in 2018.

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Jim Dunton
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