People Survey reveals work-life balance improved despite Brexit

But HMRC and Border Force workers are still among the most stressed parts of the civil service, according to poll data

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By Jim Dunton

30 Mar 2020

The Civil Service People Survey’s key stress index and staff satisfaction with their work-life balance have both made positive movements over the past 12 months – despite the political turmoil and organisational challenges of preparing for successive no-deal Brexit dates, it has emerged.

Data from the just-published 2019 survey reveals that respondents were slightly less stressed than was the case in October 2018’s poll, and happier with the manageability of their workloads too.

More than two-thirds (71%) of civil servants agreed with the statement “I achieve a good balance between my work life and my private life”, up two points from 69% in 2018; while 63% of respondents said they had “an acceptable workload”, up from 60% the previous year. Both represent the most positive responses to the questions in the People Survey’s 11-year history.


Last year, the People Survey included a new proxy stress index, pulled together from responses to existing questions in the survey – including those on workload, motivation, empowerment, team spirit, and harassment and bullying – and aligned with the Health & Safety Executive metrics.

The scores were inverted so they served as a measure of factors that added to stress rather than those that alleviated it – and meant that the departments and agencies with the highest scores were indicative of more stressful environments.

The 2018 Stress Index gave a civil service benchmark of 29% – and named HM Revenue & Customs as the most stressed, with an organisational “score” of 33%.

According to the 2019 data, the civil service-wide Stress Index benchmark is now 28%. HMRC is still the most stressed department and has failed to push down its 33% score.

As with the 2018 data, EU-exit related activities were a factor for many of the other more stressed parts of government.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Department for Exiting the European Union saw its Stress Index score rise year-on-year, up from 26% in 2018 to 28% in 2019.

The Home Office Group stayed at 32% on the index across both years, but Home Office Border Force saw its index score drop from 38% to 35% while colleagues in Home Office Immigration Enforcement saw their score ease from 34% to 33%.

At the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – often cited as the department with the biggest Brexit burden – stress scores remained high but unchanged year on year at 29%.

The same was the case at Defra’s Rural Payments Agency, which was stable on 33% and the department’s Animal and Plant Health Agency, which was stable at 34%.

In a change for 2019 the most stressed civil servants, according to the survey data, are at the Scottish Public Pensions Agency, which scored 40% on the index, up 5 percentage points on 2018.

Last year’s highest scoring staff worked at the Defence Electronics & Components Agency, but its 41% score reduced to 37% this year.

The least-stressed staff in 2018 were at the Attorney General’s Office, but – possibly owing to the pressure around September’s quashed prorogation of parliament – the department’s Stress Index score for 2019 was 25%, up from 17% the previous year.

According to the 2019 data, government’s least-stressed civil servants are now to be found at HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate – which is also one of the Attorney General’s Departments – where the score was 18%, down from 22% in 2018.

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