Civil servants reveal health problems caused by high workloads

FDA union’s latest working hours survey paints picture of understaffing, stress and reduced productivity  

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By Jim.Dunton

07 Dec 2018

Departments’ productivity is being dented and staff health compromised by increasingly unsustainable Whitehall workloads, according to a survey of senior civil servants.

The FDA union’s just-published 2018 Working Hours Survey found more than two-thirds of respondents reporting their departments’ effectiveness was “negatively impacted” by its workload and additional working hours.

Three-quarters of the survey’s 1,300-plus respondents said working excessive hours was a problem in their department or agency and 82% said they believed working excess hours has adversely affected their wellbeing – with stress, depression and damage to relationships frequently cited.


The survey, conducted among the FDA’s civil service membership in the spring, found what the union described as a “worrying trend” of working excessive hours becoming the “new normal” against a backdrop of understaffing – even though the civil service headcount is now rising.

One finding from the survey was that 69% of respondents agreed with the statement: “My workload is set with no correlation to whether it is possible to complete in the time available, because it is assumed I will complete the work no matter what.”

According to the survey, 48% of respondents worked up to six extra hours unpaid every week; 24% worked between six and 10 hours extra every week; and 11% of respondents said they worked more than 10 hours extra unpaid every week.

FDA assistant general secretary Amy Leversidge called on Whitehall leaders to make sure civil servants had the resources necessary to do their jobs, with a focus on recruitment and retention to ensure there were enough staff to complete work and meet deadlines.

“Civil servants are devoted to their work and to serving the nation, but they cannot run on pure dedication,” she said.

“Our survey results show that these vital workers are under real pressure. The current status quo of ever-increasing workloads and stagnant pay cannot continue if the civil service is to deliver on the significant challenges ahead.

“The government is taking advantage of civil servants’ commitment to their work, and gaining many extra hours of work for free but this is a false economy. Increasing workloads are increasing the strain on civil servants who have been trusted with implementing government policy at a time of national upheaval.”

The FDA report contained a selection of anecdotes from staff detailing the effect excessive working hours had on their lives – ranging from soaring blood-pressure levels, to nervous breakdowns and depression.

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “Civil servants work incredibly hard to deliver important public services and projects, including laying the ground work for the UK's successful exit from the EU.

“This is recognised by senior leaders, and all staff have access to a range of flexible working arrangements to help them manage their work life balance more effectively.”

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