Civil Service People Survey reports record morale score despite pay gripes

Whitehall barometer notes continuing decline in salary satisfaction against ongoing backdrop of 1% cap


By Jim.Dunton

16 Nov 2017

The civil service’s annual staff survey has recorded increases in benchmark scores across all core morale areas except pay and reward, the Cabinet Office has revealed.

According to the just-published 2017 Civil Service People Survey’s headline results, the benchmark employee engagement index score is 61% – the highest in the survey’s nine-year history. This score is intended as a broad measure of employee satisfaction and morale, and is calculated as a weighted average of responses to the five employee engagement questions. These ask civil servants if they have a strong personal attachment to their organisation, if they are proud to tell others of their work and would recommend it as a great pace to work, and if it inspires them to do their best and motivates them to help achieve its objectives.

Approval in eight of the nine other themes examined in the survey showed an increase on their 2016 figures. The “leadership and managing change” category – in which staff indicate their confidence in their senior officers – measured the largest increase, up 4 percentage points from last year to 47%.

However, staff satisfaction with their pay and benefits was the one engagement index category was the only one to decline year-on-year, a decline, down 1 percentage point on last year to 30%.


At a time when most civil servants have pay rises capped at 1% but inflation as measured by the Consumer Prices Index is 3%, bosses will not be surprised at a decline in positive responses to the statements: “I feel that my pay adequately reflects my performance” (30%, down 2 points from 2016) and “Compared to people doing a similar job in other organisations I feel my pay is reasonable” (25%, also down two points).

Sentiment on pay and benefits as recorded by the People Survey was at its lowest in 2014, when just 28% of respondents either agreed or strongly agreed with the statements on pay.

Elsewhere in the survey's key themes, the 'my work' satisfaction score stood at 76%, up one point from 2016, while there were also increases in organisational objectives and purpose (82%, up one point), and in satisfaction with both my manger (70%, up two points) and my team (81%, up one). Satisfaction also rose in the survey's questions on learning and development (53%, up three points), inclusion and fair treatment (77%, up one point), resources and workload (72%, up one, the first increase since 2012).

The proportion of civil servants reporting they had experienced bullying or harassment at work remained flat at 11%. There was also no change in the 12% proportion of respondents who said they had been the victim of workplace discrimination.

Cabinet secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood conceded that the lack of progress in those areas was his “one disappointment” in the 2017 survey. Last year he had called on managers to “rededicate” themselves to rooting out bullying, harassment and discrimination in departments.

In a blog responding to the survey’s headline findings, Heywood said he was particularly heartened by the positive scores for leadership and managing change that came from 2017’s responses.

“Given the challenges that the civil service has faced over the last year, this result is especially encouraging,” he said.

“I am pleased to see further increases, on top of last year’s rises, in the number of people who believe that senior managers and their own managers actively role model the behaviours set out in the leadership statement.

“We know that the quality of leadership and change management has a big impact on how people feel about working in the civil service so we must ensure we sustain this improvement.”

Heywood made scant reference to pay and benefits, other than recognising that satisfaction had fallen.

On bullying, harassment and discrimination he said the survey results should prompt leaders to focus their attention on the area with “redoubled seriousness” to ensure that existing areas for raising concerns were fit for purpose.

“The recent allegations of sexual harassment in the media only underline the need for people to feel secure in reporting misconduct of any kind,” he said.

“Where people feel able to identify themselves, it is easier to investigate complaints fully and take action where necessary.

“But anyone raising a concern must be reassured that their confidentiality will be respected and that it’s OK to do so anonymously, if they prefer.”

Heywood noted that the survey showed a small increase in the proportion of staff who reported being bullied or harassed – up 2 percentage points to 36%, but that the overall percentage who felt their issue had been resolved remained the same, at 20%.

Responding to the People Survey’s headline findings, FDA general secretary Dave Penman said positive survey results on management, trust in colleagues and pride in their work could not hide the fact that civil servants were “being badly let down on pay” at a time when their expertise was needed more than ever.

“As the civil service grapples with the hugely complex challenge of Brexit while keeping vital public services running, ministers cannot afford to ignore the scale of dissatisfaction on pay any longer,” he said.

“The chancellor must use next week’s Budget to ensure that all public servants are given a fair, fully-funded – and long overdue – pay rise.”

Penman noted that that while politicians liked to refer to “generous public sector perks” enjoyed by civil servants that counterbalanced salary levels, the People Survey showed satisfaction with total benefits packages had fallen by 10 percentage points to 34% since 2009.

The survey was undertaken by a total of 294,905 civil servants working across 98 different organisations, a 67% response rate.

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