Why civil servants are leaving and other concerning scores: What we’ve learnt from the 2022 People Survey

CSW digs into the latest Civil Service People Survey results
Photo: Adobe Stock

By Tevye Markson

31 Mar 2023

The 2022 Civil Service People Survey results have finally been published. Anger over pay is the standout reaction in the poll: salary satisfaction has dropped by more than 10 percentage points to the lowest level in the People Survey's 14-year existence.

But there are plenty of other areas of concern. As cabinet secretary Simon Case said in an internal communication to officials after an initial crunch of the results, “the situation has worsened on many counts”.

Here are some other things we’ve learned, including additional areas where civil servants think things have worsened, why staff want to leave their jobs, and some positive signs in the reporting of bullying and harassment. 

It pays to leave: why civil servants want out

Turnover is at its highest level in a decade, with 13.6% of the civil service workforce – 67,880 staff – either moving between departments or leaving the civil service entirely in 2021-22.

This desire to change jobs is reflected in the survey, where just 42% of respondents said they want to stay in their job for at least three years, down from 47% in 2021. Meanwhile, there were small increases in the proportion of civil servants who want to either: stay at least one year; stay less than 12 months; and leave immediately.

For the first time, the survey asked officials why they want to leave their jobs. Perhaps unsurprisingly given the huge dissatisfaction with pay, a majority – 54% – said they want to change jobs for a better pay and benefits package.

The second most popular option – officials could pick more than one – was leaving for a promotion or career progression within the civil service (33%). There were 23% who said they were looking to move to a career outside the civil service.

A significant proportion also said they want to leave for more interesting work (29%) and a quarter said they wanted a new job due to poor leadership.

Thirteen percent said they wanted to leave because of a lack of inclusion and fair treatment.

Departments where officials have got pay boosts are more happy – but that might not last for long

The departments most happy with pay this year are those which secured bespoke pay deals – the Ministry of Justice and HM Revenue and Customs.

But there are signs the higher-than-average satisfaction in these departments may not last for long.

The 2021 pay boosts coincided with a big rise in happiness with pay in the Ministry of Justice (excluding agencies) from 38% in 2020 to 46% 2021. In HMRC, the increase was even bigger, going up from 22% in 2020 to 49% in 2021.

This year, both departments remain the most satisfied among major departments but pay happiness has dropped significantly – back to 38% in the MoJ (excluding agencies) and down to 26% in HMRC.

Trust in leadership falls in year of turmoil

In a year where two prime ministers quit, dozens of ministers resigned and the Treasury’s permanent secretary was unceremoniously sacked, it is no surprise to see a drop in confidence in senior leadership of the civil service.

Overall satisfaction with leadership and the management of change – in a year of lots change – has dropped from 58% to 54%.

Civil servants are less confident that their senior leaders have a clear vision for the future (down from 60% in 2021 to 55% in 2022) and have less confidence in the decisions made by their senior managers (down from 62% in 2021 to 58% in 2022).

They are also less likely to feel change is managed well (41% in 2021; 38% in 2022) and to feel, when changes are made, that they are usually for the better (41% in 2021; 36% in 2022).

The mass resignations of ministers that led to Boris Johnson stepping down as prime minister was one of the biggest leadership shake-ups in 2022, but another eventually-convinced-to-resign PM may have had more influence on the survey results.

The survey was conducted from 22 September to 31 October, during part of Liz Truss' short-lived and chaotic term in No.10.

Just two weeks before the survey began and just days after Truss appointed her cabinet, her chancellor fired Treasury perm sec Tom Scholar. After spooking the markets with a disastrous “mini-budget”, Kwarteng got the boot himself, and Truss was eventually persuaded to call it quits, all before civil servants had finished ticking boxes in the poll.

Civil servants are less convinced that People Survey answers will lead to action

In recent years, officials have expressed less confidence that their senior managers will take action based on the results of the survey: 57% in 2020, followed by 54% in 2021, and now 51% in 2022.

This has come after a decade of mostly improving confidence in this area from a low of 36% in 2009.

MPs launched an investigation into the Civil Service People Survey last year amid concern at departmental "inaction".

The FDA union, which represents senior civil servants, told the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee earlier this month that the data from the People Survey is not always used to achieve results, as the input does not lead to the government taking action.

In his December message, Case told civil servants: “We can’t promise immediate solutions to the problems you’ve highlighted. But we do want to say that you have been heard and that we commit to do everything within our power to make your working lives better. It is only by improving that we will be able to rise to the challenges of the future and achieve what the nation expects of us.”

Officials more likely to confide about bullying or harassment

One area where there was a positive uptick was the increase in staff confiding in others about bullying and harassment.

Some 35% of respondents who reported experiencing bullying or harassment said they had told another person, such as a colleague, about the problem compared to 29% in 2021. This uptick came alongside a similar fall in those who said they had reported bullying or harassment "in another way" – down from 12% to 6%.

Civil servants are still most likely to complain through more informal means (67% did this), but there was a small increase in the proportion of officials making formal complaints: from 15% to 17%.

The proportion of civil servants saying they have been bullied or harassed in the last 12 months has stayed almost the same as in 2021, at roughly 7%.

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