People Survey 2017: BEIS claws back some ‘purpose’ while HMRC staff unhappiest

Civil service poll shows a more engaged workforce but analysis of the figures shows up several pockets of dissatisfaction

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By Tamsin.Rutter

17 Nov 2017

In a civil service annual staff survey that recorded increases in satisfaction levels in all areas except pay and benefits, one stand-out organisation was the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, which has significantly improved morale since it was created following a merger last year.

In the 2017 People Survey, the BEIS score for staff understanding of organisational objectives and purpose was 75%, which is below the civil service average of 82% but 23 percentage points higher than its 2016 score.

The department, which was created in July 2016 following a merger between separate business and energy departments, also improved its rating for leadership and managing change (41% to 51%) and employee engagement (54% to 56%).

Engagement was still below the 61% average – and worst but one compared with other key departments – but BEIS has been candid about its staff retention problems this year. 

The details of the merger were still being ironed out at the time of last year’s survey, and BEIS has since drawn up a series of organisational values and set to work encouraging staff to internalise them.


The Department of Health saw similar improvements. Last year’s unhappiest department with an employee engagement score of just 45%, DH improved its scores on every theme compared with last year, and by 17 percentage points in engagement (now 62%). The engagement score is intended as a broad measure of employee satisfaction and morale, and is calculated as a weighted average of responses to the five employee engagement questions

The DH score for objectives and purpose was 82%, up from 60% last year when the department was facing job cuts, office consolidation and increased financial pressures within the NHS. On leadership and managing change, the year-on-year change was up from 28% to 49%. 

Happy Treasury

This year’s overall employee engagement score was 61%, the highest ever and up two percentage points on last year. It seems the happiest staff in Whitehall work in the Attorney General’s Office, which had an engagement score of 84%, while the least engaged employees work for the Defence Electronics and Components Agency, a trading executive agency of the MoD that scored 34%.

Most engaged among the main departments were the HM Treasury (74%), the Department for International Development (71%), the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (70%), and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (69%).

Despite this, DCMS, which was rebranded to include “digital” in its title earlier this year, had downturns over the year in its scores for understanding objectives (from 86% to 80%), managing change (61% to 59%) and my team (86% to 83%).

Unhappy with major reforms

At 50%, HM Revenue and Customs had the lowest employee engagement score of the main departments this year – though it's up three percentage points on last year and has increased its scores in most other categories – behind BEIS and the Home Office (both at 56%). HMRC is currently pushing through a controversial office closures plan, and a recent review flagged up poor staff engagement as the main concern to the project’s development. It came bottom for engagement in 2015 as well, but has improved year-on-year since scoring 34% in 2010.

HMRC also scored lowest for satisfaction with pay and benefits (22%), while the Department for Education had the highest pay satisfaction (44%). The civil service average is 30%, one percentage point lower than in 2016.

The Ministry of Justice had an engagement score of 63%, but that fell to 56% when its agencies were included. Staff in courts, prison and probation services – all of which are undergoing massive reorganisations – reported lower satisfaction ratings.

Also with low engagement scores were the National Crime Agency (53%) and the Charity Commission (54%).

More inclusive?

The Ministry of Defence’s employee engagement rating is a little higher, at 58%, but its scores are lowest among the main departments in five of 10 categories, including inclusion and fair treatment (73%, compared with a civil service average of 77%). 

Civil Service World reported earlier this year on calls from within the department for an “everyday sexism project” to combat the MoD’s “alpha-male culture”.

While still better than average, the Cabinet Office dropped a percentage point on inclusion and fair treatment in 2017, to 79%.

The civil service has ramped up its focus on diversity this year with the publication of the Diversity and Inclusion Strategy, and cabinet secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood picked out inclusion as one of the general success stories of the 2017 survey. That 77% average is one percentage point above what it was last year.

But Heywood also said: “In this very positive picture, my one disappointment is that the benchmark scores for discrimination and bullying or harassment have not moved.”

The score for understanding organisational objectives at the Cabinet Office jumped four percentage points to 73% this year, but it is still the lowest of the main departments. Its score for learning and development climbed five percentage points to 55%, having steadily increased each year since crashing to 39% in 2010, when reformist Francis Maude became Cabinet Office minister.

Progress in Brexit departments

Among the newest departments, the Department for Exiting the European Union has made significant progress on learning and development, which staff rated at 54%, up from 40% in 2016. It has improved its score for understanding organisational objectives, but at 81% it is still one percentage point behind the civil service average.

Amid high turnover rates there have been suggestions that some staff are using stints in DExEU as a springboard to gain promotions elsewhere – yet the department still came top among major departments on what staff think of their team, at 87%.  

The Department for International Trade, meanwhile, had increases across the board compared with last year and most sharply in leadership and managing change, where it scored 48% in 2017 and just 31% in 2016, not long after it was first set up. The civil service average is 47%.

Another ministry that will be increasingly focused on Brexit is the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which had an all-time-high scoring for employee engagement this year, at 61%. It has been steadily climbing since 2015 when the score was as low as 50%. The department’s rating for leadership and managing change is now 48%, up from 33% in 2015 and 42% last year. 

Clare Moriarty, who joined as permanent secretary in 2015, tweeted yesterday: “The #PeopleSurvey is such an important source of insight into how people in @UKCivilService are feeling. In very busy times it's fantastic to see engagement increasing."

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