People Survey 2016: Unions sound "wake-up call" on workload and pay

Civil service staff feedback underscores capacity issues and extent of job losses and pay squeeze, main trade bodies warn

By Jim Dunton

18 Nov 2016

Figures in the latest Civil Service People Survey demonstrate the additional workload pressure that officials are facing at a time when pay is essentially frozen, Whitehall’s three main unions have said. 

The 2016 survey results, out this week, show that the proportion of staff who feel they have an acceptable workload is at an all-time low, and while there has been one-percent year-on-year increase, fewer than a third of staff (31%) are satisfied with their pay and reward packages.

According to the figures, just 58% of employees felt they had an acceptable workload, down 1% on 2015 and 4% down from its 2010 peak. The survey’s streamlined score for general “workload and resources” engagement, which brings together several measures, was unchanged from 2015, at 73%.

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FDA assistant general secretary Naomi Cooke told CSW that while cabinet secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood had chosen to direct his concern at bullying issues spotlighted by the survey, ministers needed to take “careful note” of the workload and capacity issues flagged elsewhere in the data

“There are some alarming figures in this year’s People Survey results and not just the resolutely rock-bottom satisfaction figures on pay and reward,” she said.

“The headline figure of 73% on resources and workload obscures a much more sobering figure of 58% for ‘acceptable workload’ reflecting the results of the FDA’s own working hours survey that found that 59% of members regularly work the equivalent of an extra day a week beyond their contracted hours.”

Cooke said that while commentators liked to suggest that lack of skills was a key obstacle for the civil service, particularly as it balances the demands of getting Britain out of the European Union while continuing “business as usual”, the People Survey indicated the civil service’s real challenge was time. 

“Eighty-nine percent of staff believe they have the skills they need to do their job," she said. "What’s missing is the hours in the working day to do it."

The FDA's assistant general secretary added: “Civil servants embrace challenge, they are motivated by their work and a desire to do it well – government needs to acknowledge that and provide the resources to allow them to succeed.”

"Wake-up call"

Garry Graham, deputy general secretary of the Prospect union, meanwhile said the fact that 42% of staff did not believe they had an acceptable workload should be a warning siren to ministers ahead of next week’s Autumn Statement.

“At a time when the civil service is at its smallest since 1939, when the challenges faced are unprecedented in peace time, when the government is going to need all the specialist and professional skills it can muster to help get us through these uncharted waters, this is a wake-up call,” he said.

“Concerns about high workloads and low pay have been a consistent theme over the past number of years- and show little sign of getting any better in the face of Brexit.

“Simply asking the civil service to deliver more- is not tenable. As the facts change, so should the views of politicians and ministers. Investing in the civil service will be investing in our future."

Graham also pointed to the figures, unchanged from last year, that show one-third of survey respondents do not believe they have a good work-life balance.

The 2016 survey results showed 32% of staff felt their pay adequately reflected their performance, while 34% were satisfied with their total benefits package – both 1% increases on last year’s figures. 

While just 27% of respondents said they believed their pay was reasonable “compared to people doing a similar job in other organisations”, the figure was a 2% increase on 2015. 

Nevertheless, all pay and benefits measures were significantly down on counterpart measures for 2010.

“Ministers must start listening to what their staff are saying"

The PCS union said it was “no surprise at all” that dissatisfaction with pay was still a major part of the survey, because civil servants had suffered years of wage restraint.

It added that the measures of median pay in the civil service were also skewed by the disproportionate level of staffing cuts made among lower grades since 2010, resulting in the phenomenon of “grade shift”

A union spokesman said grade shift made it difficult to accurately compare historic pay levels in broad “decile” bandings across the civil service.

“The majority of jobs that were counted in the fifth decile of pay levels in 2010 were counted in the fourth decile in 2016,” he said. 

“So where median pay for the fifth decile looks to have increased by almost 11% since 2010, for some the increase will have been just 3%.”

He added: “Many in the lower and middle grades now can’t remember a time when their wages lasted to anywhere near the end of the month.

“Ministers must start listening to what their staff are saying and use the autumn statement to lift the pay cap and boost wages that will in turn boost the economy.”

The spokesman said PCS would be renewing its call for civil service unions to mount a joint campaign on pay in the coming weeks.

Prospect’s Graham said, taken together, the pay and workload concerns expressed in the survey would be extremely worrying for most HR directors.

“Only about a quarter [of staff] believe that their pay is reasonable compared to those doing similar jobs in other organisations,” he said. 

“It is little surprise that around a quarter of staff have indicated that they wish to leave their organisation either immediately or in the next year.”

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