Jeremy Heywood names tackling discrimination as top priority from People Survey results

Civil service People Survey results show engagement steady, but fewer civil servants believe they have the right tools to do their job

By Suzannah.Brecknell

17 Nov 2015

Cabinet secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood has called for a “zero tolerance” approach to bullying and discrimination following the publication of results of the Civil Service People Survey.

Of the 280,000 civil servants who completed this year’s survey, 11% reported that they had experienced discrimination in the last year – a slight increase on those reporting discrimination in 2014.  A third of people who reported discrimination (33%) said it was due to grade, pay band or responsibility level, while 22% linked it to their working pattern and 14% said it was age-related.

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The proportion of respondents who believe their organisation “respects individual differences” fell by two percentage points to 72%.

Writing in a blog about the survey results, Heywood (pictured above at the Civil Service Diversity & Inclusion awards this year) said improving diversity, inclusion and fairness is top of his “list of priorities”, adding: “The civil service board is clear that that all senior leaders must take responsibility for eradicating discrimination. Given these results, we now need to give this issue renewed focus over the weeks and months ahead.”

"Much more to do"

This year’s survey included new questions on leadership, following the launch of a Civil Service Leadership Statement in February this year. Civil servants were generally positive about their direct managers, with 57% agreeing that their managers model the behaviours set out in the statement, and 67% saying their manager inspires them to do their best.

However, when asked about senior managers just 35% of respondents said they model behaviours set out in the statement, and 37% said senior managers inspire people across the organisation to do their best.

Heywood said of these results: “This simply isn’t good enough, and illustrates that we have much more to do here.”

Overall engagement levels fell by one percentage point but are still higher than the 2010 and 2011 rates of 56%. Job satisfaction levels also remained stable, with 89% saying they are interested in their work. Heywood said that this “powerfully underlines the resilience and professionalism of civil servants and your dedication to public service".

Civil servants also appear to be more satisfied with their pay and benefits – 31% feel their pay adequately reflects performance, compared to 29% last year – but they are still less satisfied than they were in 2009 when 44% were satisfied with their total benefits package and 36% felt pay adequately reflected performance.

Despite stable engagement, the proportion of civil servants planning to stay in their organisation for at least three years fell by four points to 43%, the lowest level since the 2009 when the survey was first carried out. There has also been a three point drop in the proportion of civil servants saying they have the tools they need do their job effectively.

A spokesperson for the PCS union said: “It's no surprise to see dissatisfaction with senior leaders, who many feel have become too politicised in recent years, and civil servants not feeling they have the resources to do a proper job. Our major problem with the survey is that these issues come up time and again but are almost entirely overlooked. For staff to have any confidence in the process, they have to feel that when they give their views they will be listened to and acted upon.”

This view was echoed by Jonathan Green, head of the research section at Prospect who said that "disenchantment" with leadership is shown by the fact that “only 43% believe that senior managers will take action on the results from this survey, a fall of two points, and only 33% report that effective action has been taken on the results of the last survey, a fall of two points. Therefore it is no surprise that there is a significant mismatch between how local and senior managers are viewed. The government needs to take notice of these results by ensuring that the people who deliver our public services are listened to.”

FDA General Secretary Dave Penman challenged the view that senior leaders are becoming more political, noting that Ministers must also play a part in maintaining engagement. and said: “There is clearly a challenge to the managers of the civil service in the latest people survey results," he said. "However, the ministerial leadership also has to respond to the question of how these issues can be addressed in a context of a service being expected to deliver ever more with ever less. To suggest that the source of staff discontent is a politicisation of senior leaders is absurd, and ignores the realities of the present day civil service.

“With a further reduction in resources of 25% or more to be announced within days, and constant restrictions to pay, career development and training, it's no surprise that staff feel there is limited scope to address their concerns.  Any organisation facing cuts of up to 50% in resources over a decade faces challenges in demonstrating confidence and leadership. The fault lies not with the civil servants tasked with delivering these cuts but with those who seek to absolve themselves of responsibility.”

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