People Survey 2016: Department of Health points to restructuring as staff morale plummets

Staff responses signal across-the-board plunge on all key measures, and make department Whitehall’s lowest employee-engagement performer


By Jim Dunton

17 Nov 2016

Staff at the Department of Health have replaced counterparts at HM Revenue & Customs as Whitehall’s least “engaged” employees as part of a dramatic downturn in staff sentiment spotlighted by this year’s Civil Service People Survey.

Uniquely for a central government department, every single one of DH’s 10 key staff ratings decreased for 2016, with employee engagement dropping from 57% last year to 45% now. Previous lowest-performer HMRC managed to raise its 2015 employee-engagement score from 45% in 2015 to 47%.  

This year's figures, published yesterday, give a civil service benchmark employee-engagement score of 59%. Border Force, which is part of the Home Office scored the lowest published employee-engagement score of 41%, however its parent department scored 53%, up one point from last year.

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DH’s People Survey problems come against a backdrop of job cuts, office consolidation and increased financial pressure within the NHS.

In February the department announced it would reduce staff numbers from 1,800 to “1,200-1,300” and relocate its London operations to a single site at 38 Victoria Street. The moves follow a government target to save 30% of administration costs by 2019-20.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, DH's latest People Survey figures show their biggest ratings fall in the “organisational objectives and purpose” category, where employees express their personal degree of clarity on the department’s role and how their work contributes. Ratings in the category dropped from 76% last year to 61% now.

In addition to finding itself bottom of the civil service league table for employee engagement, DH is now also the lowest-ranking department for “leadership and managing change”, which fell from a 38% rating in 2015 to 27% this year. The civil service benchmark rate is 43%.

DH's declining ratings also saw double-digit plunges in its scores for inclusion and fair treatment (77% down to 66%) and learning and development (53% down to 43%).

A DH spokeswoman said it was accepted that the changes the department was undergoing were likely to have contributed to staff morale.

"Whilst these are disappointing results for the department, the survey coincided with a significant restructure and consequently an unsettling time for our staff,” she said.

"We nevertheless recognise that we must do better and our priority now is to ensure we act swiftly on feedback and continue to listen to and engage with staff as we embed reform and transform the way we work."

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