Performance management may be discriminating against BME, disabled and part-time civil servants, warns Prospect

Written by Matt Foster on 14 April 2016 in News

Union analysis of Cabinet Office data on more than 280,000 officials highlights "statistically significant" differences in how different groups are treated

Trade union Prospect has urged an overhaul of the "arbitrary and potentially discriminatory" civil service performance management system, after new analysis suggested that BME staff, those with disabilities, and officials working part time are more likely to receive the lowest rankings.

The current model of civil service performance management was introduced in 2013 in a bid to help managers better deal with poor performance. Under a "guided distribution" model, leaders at departments and agencies are encouraged to rank 65% of their staff as middling, 25% as performing well, and 10% as poor performers. 

But unions have questioned the model, claiming that the requirement to identify poor performers has pressured some managers into "gaming" the system by filling the bottom 10% with new staff or those about to leave.

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New analysis of Cabinet Office figures provided to specialist union Prospect highlights the effect of the system on particular groups of staff, with the union warning that the outcomes could be discriminatory. 

Prospect is particularly concerned that BME staff are more likely to get a "must improve" Box 3 rating than their white colleagues, with 9.8% of BME staff being ranked this way compared to 6.9% of white staff.

BME officials are also five points less likely to be given an "exceeded" Box 1 ranking than their white colleagues, the data show. The union says BME officials appeared to have "a much lower performance profile than white staff, with we believe statistically significant differences both across the civil service and within departments".

Meanwhile, staff with a declared disability also appear to be more likely to be told to improve. More than one in ten staff with a disability (12.9%) were given a "must improve" Box 3 ranking, according to the data, compared to 7.7% for staff with no disability. Only 14.8% of disabled staff were placed in the "exceeded category", while 22.2% of staff without a disability made the top grade.

(Red = must improve; Blue = achieved; Green = Exceeded. Click image for view full-size version)

Prospect is also concerned about the impact of the system on staff aged over 50 and those working part time. The union's analysis shows that part timers were given a top Box 1 marking in only 14.1% of cases, compared to 21.4% for their full-time colleagues. 

Meanwhile, staff aged over 50 were seven points less likely to be given the top ranking, and three points more likely to receive a Box 3 than staff aged under 50. 

However, the analysis shows that there appears to be little difference in the respective rankings given to men and women – with women faring slightly better than men in Box 1 markings (20.4% compared to 18%), while LGBT staff and heterosexual staff also appear to have broadly similar rankings.

The Prospect analysis – shared in full with CSW – is based on data provided to the union by the government in early February. The data covers more than 280,000 officials across 17 government departments.

"Managers should be supported"

Prospect's deputy general secretary Garry Graham told CSW that while the union "supports good quality performance management systems", the figures showed a system "riddled with inconsistency" which was leaving civil service managers under pressure "to meet quotas rather than have a genuine and open discussion about performance".

He added: "Managers should be supported when they have to make difficult decisions – what we are seeing, however, are situations where managers feel forced to make decisions which are arbitrary and potentially discriminatory.

"Over the past number of weeks there has been much talk about ‘Talent Action Plans’ and the civil service being an engine for diversity and social mobility. Many will look at the most recent performance management outcomes and conclude that the maths does not add up."

The government's latest version of its diversity Talent Action Plan (TAP) says departments will soon begin publishing their performance management data "cut by protected characteristics" in a bid to allow greater scrutiny of the impact of the system on particular groups, but it says that work to pull that data together remains ongoing.

The TAP states: "Departmental data has been collected centrally and will be gathered every six months to monitor progress. Links to departmental annual diversity reports will be made available in one place on the website for the first time by Summer 2016.

"There will be a data summary for each report to make the figures more transparent and easier to understand. Departments will also publish their performance management data, cut by protected characteristics."

The Cabinet Office has not responded to CSW's requests for comment on the analysis.

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Matt Foster
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Matt Foster is CSW's deputy editor. He tweets as @CSWDepEd

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Anon (not verified)

Submitted on 14 April, 2016 - 13:27
This report is 100 percent true. I am an exceed. I was actually given an exceed in mid year and now in end of year I have been given achieved with no explanation whatsoever. If I show my work to a man who doesn't know anything about civil service even he will tell me you are an exceed but my manager has decided to ignore my mid - year marking given by another manager. Let’s see how fair is the validation process before I am left with no choice but to appeal, which is a total waste of time and energy for the management as well as myself but no one seems to understand that. Last year I as off sick because of the stress I was put through dealing with my PMR. It wasn’t just me, I know of other BAME colleagues who were suffering stress disorder because of PMR. How do you expect these people to become engaged hen their potential is not even being recognised. Unfortunately we are all talking about it but nothing is being done.

Cassandra (not verified)

Submitted on 14 April, 2016 - 13:52
In my Department no secret is made of the fact that the "guided" distribution must be achieved. I know of one group which was told to get back in the meeting room and not to come out until they'd done it. Action is taken in direct contravention of guidance and based on the most risible of reasons. Experienced managers who are nearing retirement are going early because they're sick of their careful appraisals being overridden in the quest for the right shape of bell curve. The regular statement that no one will have their marking changed in order to meet the distribution is an outrageous untruth, and those who end up being the victims of this pointless and counterproductive bean-counting are too likely to be in protected groups. Statistical analysis (specifically the Chi square test) has shown that outcomes are not independent of membership of these groups. But discrimination is denied on the grounds that the cause is not clear. The cause is bias - that is patent. But since bias, apparently, can't be tested for (I know - nonsense), this disgraceful twice-yearly bun fight continues, acknowledged only by mealy-mouthed expressions of "concern".

Anonymous (not verified)

Submitted on 16 April, 2016 - 02:01
While I agree that we shouldn't deny discrimination if it happens, we shouldn't jump to conclusions either. I used to work in a team where it was common practice to give someone a box 3 just because they were new to the role or got promoted. So the statistics could well be showing that the civil service is making an effort to promote/recruit BME. If so, what thank do they get? Their attempts to do good backfire where public perception is concerned. Let's live in the 21st century, and realise that we don't have major discrimination anymore. We don't have slavery, and we don't have the colonialism of the British empire. An armchair pinko might secretly enjoy inequality, as it means that they don't feel so bad about themselves in comparison. But unconscious wishful thinking aside, the truth is that society has gone far in making people equal, and we should celebrate this.

Cassandra (not verified)

Submitted on 19 April, 2016 - 09:24
Discrimination is alive and thriving. Don't make the mistake of thinking it is limited to BME colleagues - it is not. It affects the disabled, older and part time workers and other protected groups. They're protected for a reason - because they're targets. And the statistics show they are. The recent promotion/recruitment argument doesn't apply, for example, to the oldest age group, but they suffer just the same. Bias and prejudice are, unfortunately, normal human inclinations. It is a constant struggle to get people to recognise their own such inclination, and a harder one to get them to try to overcome it and act fairly. That requires swift and decisive action - even if only to properly investigate - when results indicate (as they strongly do) that bias is affecting outcomes. To date, nothing is being done. The system provides carte blanche for the sort of bad behaviour which disadvantages individuals because someone doesn't like them, or stereotypes them, or just wants to favour others instead. It's outrageous in this day and age, and it is quite dangerous to assume it may be something benevolent when no real evidence has been sought for either view.

William (MoD) (not verified)

Submitted on 14 April, 2016 - 13:57
I wish I saw as much effort in getting a pay rise for your members in the Civil Service. I'm taking home £30 a month than 2011 and you put you fees up 10.6% - Justify!

Anonymous (not verified)

Submitted on 14 April, 2016 - 17:52
We are not interested in performance management. The real stats are the bottom line stats: The stats that tell us who get promoted an who earns more. I don't believe any of the stats - how do I know they have not been rigged?

Alan Spencer (not verified)

Submitted on 16 April, 2016 - 06:30
Why is this a surprise? The civil service is shockingly poor at keeping a record of bad initiatives and every so often we see previously discredited initiatives return to the front door, bearing a new name despite failing previously albeit under a different guise. When you require another's chances to be determined by a subjective exercise then, 'the other' will always be picked on. Duh!

DWP EMPLOYEE (not verified)

Submitted on 27 September, 2016 - 20:56
I'm part time, disabled and from a Bme background. I was unfairly given a box three marking solely based on performance data where my part time working and disability were not effectively adjusted for. I work my socks off and feel I'm making a fantastic contribution to my organisation. My behaviours are textbook perfect. Yet a poor understanding of stats is pushing me into a box where eventually I will be unemployed; when the government wants more disabled people to work.

What's the mean... (not verified)

Submitted on 4 November, 2016 - 15:57
The cancer of the Civil Service is that those in authority with recruiting, progressing and promoting of people powers GENERALLY look for those to surround themselves with that they feel are similar to them. As a result, they tend to want to work more with people who are like them. Sadly this plague will NEVER change because it’s well guarded by the highest / upper echelon in the Civil Service. 35 - Years of experience in this institution sharing an insight.

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