People Survey: Pay satisfaction falls and engagement stalls

But just-published results reveal highest-ever work-life balance score among civil servants
Commuters in central London. Photo: Jacme31/Flickr/ CC BY-SA 2.0

By Jim Dunton

29 Apr 2022

The Cabinet Office’s annual barometer of sentiment among civil servants has revealed reduced satisfaction over pay rates and stalled engagement levels

A crunch of the results of the 2021 Civil Service People Survey published yesterday put the poll’s benchmark employee-engagement index at 66%: essentially the same level it was in 2020 after rounding, although the actual figure was fractionally lower.

Satisfaction over pay was undeniably lower, however, with 38% of people agreeing that their pay “adequately reflects” their performance, down from 40% in 2020. The figure is still surprisingly high after 12 months in which most civil servants were subjected to a pay freeze, and is the second-highest pay-satisfaction score in the survey’s 13-year history.

The survey’s benchmark 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.

The Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator recorded the lowest engagement-index score of any part of the UK government included in the survey, with just 45% of staff ticking the right boxes on motivation. Of the main UK government departments, the Home Office was the lowest-scoring, with an engagement-index score of 57%, down from 58% in 2020.

HMRC has traditionally struggled with employee engagement,  but it scored 59% in 2021, up from 57% in 2020.

Engagement levels reported by staff at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office dropped from 67% to 63%. At the Department of Health and Social Care, engagement dropped from 69% to 65% between the two years.

HM Treasury was the highest-ranking major department for engagement, with a score of 74%, but that was still a two-point drop from last year’s figure of 76%.

On pay, staff at the Welsh Revenue Authority were happiest, with 79% declaring that their pay adequately reflected their performance. At the opposite end of the scale, just 15% of staff at the Government Legal Department felt the same about their wages.

Fifty-eight percent of staff at both the Welsh Government and the Scottish Government were happy with their pay.

Of the main UK government departments, HMRC staff were the happiest: 49% said their wages reflected their performance, sentiment doubtless helped by last year’s bespoke 13% multi-year pay deal. Just 29% of HM Treasury staff said their pay adequately reflected their performance.

PCS,  the civil service’s biggest union, noted that in addition to HMRC, only two other departments – the Northern Ireland Office and the Ministry of Justice – had seen pay satisfaction rise between 2020 and 2021.

General secretary Mark Serwotka said the survey results backed up the union’s recent consultative ballot on pay, which showed members were deeply unhappy.

“Our members are facing the greatest crisis in living standards since records began and their employer, the UK government, is unwilling to do anything to help them,” he said.

“Unless this situation changes and ministers help their own workforce who are struggling like never before, we will make the case to move towards a statutory ballot for strike action across large parts of PCS membership to put pressure on the government.”

Although pay satisfaction was down in the survey, a crunch of the figures showed the highest level of satisfaction with total reward in the survey’s history,  when measured on average.

A total of 43% of respondents said they were happy with the complete package of benefits they receive.

The survey also recorded the highest level of satisfaction in relation to work-life balance,  when assessed in a median crunch of responses. Seventy-two percent of staff reported achieving a good balance between their work life and their private life.

Elsewhere,  downward trends in both discrimination and harassment that began during the pandemic continued.

Seven percent of respondents said they had been discriminated against at work during the past 12 months, down from 8% last year and 11% in 2019.

Similarly, 7% of respondents reported being bullied or harassed at work in the previous 12 months,  down form 8% the previous year and 12% in 2019.

The Cabinet Office said a total of 327,388 civil servants took part in the survey, giving a response rate of 62%. The 2020 survey had a response rate of 66% but that related to just 319,935 responses because fewer officials were invited to take part.

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