People Survey 2018 analysed: Pay satisfaction posts surprising increase but so does workload woe

HMRC remains unhappiest major department, according to figures

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By Jim.Dunton

07 Jan 2019

HM Revenue & Customs has retained its position as Whitehall’s unhappiest department as measured by its employee engagement score in the Civil Service People Survey.

The employee engagement index reflects the proportion of staff who answer positively to statements about how motivated they feel and whether they would recommend their organisation as a good place to work.

HMRC racked up an engagement score of 49% in the latest People Survey, down one percentage point from the previous year and reversing a trend of progressively increasing scores since 2014, while the Ministry of Justice and the Department for Work and Pensions also saw their scores drop by one point for the 2018 survey.


Across the entire civil service, engagement rose one point to 62% and most departments saw a modest uplift in their scores. Among those adding most points were the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, which rose from 56% to 62%, while the Department for Exiting the European Union rose from 63% to 68%. The Attorney General’s Office – a department in its own right – maintained its position as most-engaged department, with a score of 86%.

In terms of individual departmental bodies and agencies, Defence Equipment and Support and the Valuation Office Agency racked up the lowest employee engagement index scores – 44% for both. Border Force and HM Courts and Tribunals Service each scored 49%.

Bullying and harassment

As cabinet secretary Sir Mark Sedwill noted in a blog accompanying the release of the 2018 People Survey, the civil service has struggled to make headway with reducing bullying and harassment. For the third successive year, the pan-Whitehall proportion of staff reporting they had been a victim of bullying or harassment was 11%.

“The survey demonstrates that, despite our efforts, 11% to 12% of us are still experiencing this kind of behaviour,” Sedwill said. “Tackling this must be a common endeavour: if you are aware of, let alone experience, an incident of unacceptable behaviour, please report it, ensure action is taken and support the colleague involved.” 

Survey respondents suggested that they were more likely to report being a victim of bullying or harassment than in previous years, however: 40% said they had reported incidents – up from 36% in 2017 and 34% in 2016.

According to the survey results, 14% of respondents who work within the Home Office group were harassed or bullied at work during the year. The proportion was the same at HMRC, the Food Standards Agency, the Crown Commercial Service and the Government Equalities Office. 

The highest score in the category went to the Ministry of Defence’s Defence Electronics and Components Agency, where 21% of respondents reported being harassed or bullied. While the Department for Digital, Media, Culture & Sport's score was 10% in the latest People Survey the proportion is double the 5% from 2017.

In a year when Whitehall’s main unions have made much of the civil service’s ongoing exposure to the public-sector pay freeze, the latest People Survey has somewhat surprisingly recorded increased satisfaction with pay and benefits levels.

Across the whole of Whitehall, 31% of survey respondents said they felt their pay adequately reflected their performance, up one point from last year. Thirty-six percent of respondents said they were satisfied with their overall benefits package, up from 34% in 2017, while 27% said they felt their pay was “reasonable” compared with people doing a similar job in other organisations, also up 2%.

The Department for Education had the highest proportion of staff who believed their pay adequately reflected their performance of any Whitehall ministry (48%). The figure was the same across the Scottish Government, and 53% among respondents who work for the Welsh Government.

At the other end of the scale, just 21% of survey respondents at HMRC believed their pay adequately reflected their performance. Despite their department’s stellar engagement score, just 21% of staff at the Attorney General’s Office were happy with their pay. The proportion was the same at the Ministry of Justice. 

Just 15% of staff at the Government Legal Department felt their pay adequately reflected their performance, while at MoJ executive agency the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority the proportion was 10% – the lowest of any organisation in the People Survey.

Institute for Government programme director Gavin Freeguard said there would be a combination of factors behind the 2018 People Survey's improved scores for both engagement and pay – but an important one was likely to be the fact the civil service was growing in numbers and that some of 2018’s responses would be from new recruits.

“Senior managers are obviously using the People Survey as a leadership tool and putting in effort in areas where scores aren’t as good as they could be,” he said.

“It’s all speculative, but it may also be that some of the departments where there is a new cohort of people the influx of new staff is significant.”

Freeguard said that new recruits and relatively young staff in general were likely to be happier about their pay and workload than older, longer-serving counterparts.

In the face of recent reports of rising stress levels among civil servants and – particularly in the case of senior managers – unreasonable workloads, the 2018 People Survey reported a small uplift in sentiment  in the benchmark “resources and workload” index, from 72% last year to 73% this year.

The measure brings together responses to questions about tools, support, workload, the clarity of objectives, and work-life balance. HM Treasury topped the list of large central departments with a score of 75%, the same as last year. DExEU scored a nine-point increase in its score from last year, which rose to 70%.

The IfG's Freeguard said that some of the components of the benchmark were the kinds of areas that leaders could positively contribute to, even if they did not have additional financial resources.

However the benchmark's individual component relating only to workload registered a one-point dip in the proportion of respondents stating theirs was “acceptable”, dropping from 61% to 60%. Despite the overall fall, the proportion of staff at big central departments who reported their workload to be acceptable generally either rose or stayed the same.

Departmentally, Defra scored the lowest in that category with just 53% of staff saying they had an acceptable workload. At sub-department level, only 52% of staff at Border Force, the Government Equalities Office and the Crown Prosecution Service said they had an acceptable workload.

The lowest scores in the category came from within the MoD, where just 48% of staff at both the Submarine Delivery Agency and the Defence Electronics and Components Agency declared that they had an acceptable workload.

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