Two in five civil servants mull exit over 60% in-office mandate

Thousands tell union survey hybrid working has made them more productive
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By Tevye Markson

30 Nov 2023

Two in five officials are considering leaving the civil service over the new 60% in-office mandate, according to a survey.

A survey by the PCS union, which is still accepting responses, asked civil servants how the government’s drive to get officials to go into the office more often will impact them.

Of the more than 13,000 PCS members have completed the survey – launched a week ago in response to the mandate – 39% said they are thinking about quitting over the move to get civil servants in the office at least three days a week.

A third of respondents said it hadn't made them consider leaving, while 23% said they weren't sure.

Departments began announcing changes to flexible working rules to staff last week, after CSW revealed ministers had directed senior officials to “set and implement an expectation of increased office-based working". 

Under the new policy, civil servants will need to spend a minimum of 60% of their hours working face to face with their colleagues, either in offices or on official business. Some staff – including senior managers and early-career officials – will be asked to work from the office even more often.

PCS asked 16 questions, on topics including the impact on people with caring responsibilities and other ways the directive would affect work-life balance. Some 82% said hybrid working had made them more productive.

Of those with caring responsibilities, 59% said the rule change would place them under more stress and mean they would be less able to look after those they care for. Overall, 40% of respondents said they felt that being forced to attend the office more frequently would disadvantage them because of their sex, disability or age.

More than 13,000 PCS members have completed the survey – which was launched a week ago and runs until 8 December – with 39% stating the move to get civil servants in the office at least three days a week has made them consider if a future outside the civil service. A third of respondents said it hadn't made them consider leaving, while 23% said they weren't sure.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “Ministers should be very worried by the results of this survey. To have more than 13,000 responses already – the vast majority of them opposing the move – shows just how deeply and widely this issue is felt by our members.

"Already we’re hearing stories of how this would adversely impact upon our members with caring responsibilities. We believe staff should be allowed the maximum possible choice and maximum degree of flexibility over how and where they do their jobs, and our response to the Cabinet Office when our survey has finished will reflect this.”

Civil servants also shared more detailed comments with the union on how the plans will affect their lives. 

One official told the survey the mandate would limit their “ability to look after a relative who has been receiving treatment for cancer and has frequent doctor’s appointments and other care needs”.

Another said: “I will have a newborn child from January and the current three days working from home put me at ease with childcare arrangements and supporting my wife on maternity leave. 

“Going into the office 60% of the time not only makes that a lot more difficult, as well as childcare arrangements once the baby is in nursery, but adds extra financial costs in train travel.”

Another official said: “As a peri-menopausal woman, I may struggle to meet 60% as there are certain times of the month I would be much more comfortable working from home.”

A separate survey by the FDA union, published last week, found pay is one of the key factors driving a third of senior officials to look for jobs outside the civil service.

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