DWP asks senior officials to lead 60% in-office drive

DWP perm sec says lots of planning will be needed to work out how the department can achieve the in-office mandate
DWP perm sec Peter Schofield in his office in London's Caxton House. Photo by Louise Hayward-Schiefer

By Tevye Markson

12 Jan 2024

Senior civil servants will be asked to lead the way in steering the Department for Work and Pensions towards the new 60% office-attendance mandate, permanent secretary Peter Schofield has said.

Speaking to CSW for an interview to be published next week, Schofield said it is his “aspiration” for his staff to reach the target.

However, he added that DWP is a “big and complex” organisation, and that working out how to achieve the target will require lots of planning given space constraints and the variety of roles among its employees. Jobcentre staff already work solely from the office, while those in hybrid roles have been working a “variety of patterns” with a 40% in-office minimum, Schofield said.

The government followed through on long-anticipated action to drive up office attendance in November, when ministers tasked perm secs with ordering civil servants to increase their in-office time to 60% of the week.

Schofield said his initial focus will be on getting senior officials to spend more hours in the office, to set an example and to be on hand to help new colleagues.

“What I have said is, from the end of January, senior civil servants need to just make sure they're in more than 60% of the time,” Schofield said. “Because I think it's really important that senior civil servants continue to demonstrate visible leadership. And one important way of doing that is being present in the office, so people can see you, people can learn from you.

“And particularly where we’ve got new colleagues coming in, often the best way they learn – I certainly found this when I enjoyed this sort of service – is by being there alongside an experienced colleague and [...] listening to their phone calls and just picking up their approach and what they do. And also, we've got multidisciplinary teams, so they often need to get together in person to collaborate and plan.“

This tallies with the letter sent by heads of department in November, following the direction from ministers, which asked for senior managers to provide “strong visible leadership” by spending more than 60% of their hours in the office, along with early-career officials and those on development schemes.

However PCS – the civil service’s largest union – has warned that the 60% requirement will exacerbate the department’s struggles to recruit and retain staff. It said DWP has already been having problems accommodating existing staff while they have been required to spend 40% of their time in the office.

The union said the stricter hybrid working policy “coupled with chronic low pay…will further reduce the department’s ability to recruit the much-needed extra staff”.

CSW's full interview with the DWP perm sec will be published on Monday 15th January. To ensure you don't miss it - along with all the latest civil service news - sign up for our daily newsletter here

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