Working to make government more effective


Otherwise engaged

The Civil Service People Survey and Engagement Index in 2015.

The results of the Civil Service People Survey 2015, the UK’s largest employee attitude survey, have just been published. Ollie Hirst and Gavin Freeguard look at the top-level results and find the Civil Service in fairly good spirits, but unhappy about their pay.

The 2015 Civil Service People Survey was conducted across 96 government organisations from 1 to 31 October, with 279,653 employees participating, representing an overall response rate of 65%. The Survey consists of 62 questions across ten themes, including what civil servants think of their team, their manager, pay and benefits, and leadership and managing change within their organisation. One of the ten themes is the ‘Engagement Index’, a weighted average of five questions:

  • whether civil servants are proud when they tell others they are part of their organisation
  • whether they would recommend it as a great place to work
  • whether they feel a strong personal attachment to it
  • whether it inspires them to do the best in their job
  • whether it motivates them to help it achieve its objectives.

Civil Service engagement is down by one percentage point in 2015, but has remained broadly constant since 2009.

The Engagement Index score for the whole Civil Service is 58% in 2015, down from 59% in 2014. The engagement score has remained reasonably constant since 2009, falling from 58% to 56% in 2010 and 2011, before recovering to 58% in 2012 and 2013, and hitting a peak of 59% in last year’s People Survey. Although this reasonably straight line doesn’t make for the most interesting of graphs, it is significant: despite staff and budget reductions across the Civil Service morale, measured through the Engagement Index, has held steady. The Treasury is the department with the highest engagement score in 2015; HMRC remains the lowest-scoring department.
In 2015, the Treasury has the highest engagement score, becoming the first department to score higher than DfID since the Engagement Index began in 2009. At 72%, the Treasury’s engagement is 14 points above the Civil Service benchmark score. Other departments – including DfID (70%), FCO (68%) and DCMS (66%) – have scores significantly higher than the score for the whole Civil Service (58%). These high-scoring departments are all relatively small (all of them have fewer than 5,000 civil servants). HMRC is the lowest-scoring department, with an engagement score of 45%. It is the only department with a score below 50% (which is the equivalent of every civil servant in the department neither agreeing nor disagreeing with the questions put to them), and is five percentage points behind the second lowest-scoring department (Defra, 50%). Nine departments have experienced an increase in their engagement score since 2009; eight have seen a decrease.
Although the overall Civil Service score has held reasonably steady since 2009, the story is different within individual departments:

  • While HMRC has been the lowest-scoring department since 2009, it has risen from a low of 34% in 2010 to a high of 45% in 2015. At the other end of the spectrum, DfID, FCO and HMT have had the top three engagement scores every year since the People Survey started.
  • DfE’s score fell every year from 2009 to 2013 – from 63% to 51% – before jumping nine points between 2013 and 2015 to 60%. Inevitably, some have linked the change of Secretary of State and special advisers with the rise, but previous Institute for Government research suggests that the completion of a redundancy process that staff felt ‘was unfair and had negatively impacted on morale’ may also explain it.
  • Engagement in DCMS fell from 54% in 2011 to 45% in 2012. The 2012 survey was conducted shortly after the London Olympics and Paralympics, and just as all non-Senior Civil Service staff were at risk of redundancy. Its current score of 66% is ten points higher than its 56% score in 2009.
  • DCLG’s decreasing score (from 48% in 2010 to 40% in 2011) also coincided with staff reductions, although its current score of 57% is an overall increase from 53% in 2009.
  • In all, nine departments have higher engagement scores in 2015 than in 2009 (HMT, DCMS, CO, DfT, MoJ, DCLG, BIS, DWP, HMRC); while eight have lower scores (DfID, FCO, DfE, DECC, MoD, DH, HO, Defra). Defra has experienced the biggest fall (five points), followed by DECC and HO (four).

With further staff reductions likely following the Spending Review, those in charge of departments may have to manage through a similar pattern of dips in engagement during the next five years. Organisational objectives and purpose is the theme with the highest score, while civil servants are least satisfied with their pay and benefits.

Civil servants give the highest ratings to their organisational objectives and purpose (83%), their team (80%), their work (74%), and inclusion and fair treatment (74%) within their working environment. Pay and benefits (30%) is the theme with the lowest engagement score, although leadership and managing change (43%) and learning and development (49%) also have scores below 50%.
Scores for five of these themes have stayed the same or risen slightly, by two or three points, between 2009 and 2015:

  • ‘Organisational objectives and purpose’ to 83%
  • ‘My team’ to 80%
  • ‘Inclusion and fair treatment’ to 74%
  • ‘Resources and workload’ to 73%
  • ‘My manager’ to 68%.

Two themes fell over the course of the Coalition Government, but have now recovered:

  • ‘Learning and development’ fell from 50% in 2009 to 43% in 2010, before recovering to 49% in 2014 and 2015.
  • ‘My work’ fell from 75% in 2009 to 71% in 2010, but has risen back to 74%.

Two theme scores have changed significantly since 2009:

  • ‘Pay and benefits’ was already the lowest-scoring theme in 2009 (37%) but fell by nine percentage points, to 28% in 2014. Although this has risen to 30% in 2015, it remains the lowest-scoring theme.
  • ‘Leadership and managing change’ – how well the organisation is managed and change within it led – has risen from 38% in 2009 to 43% in 2015.

On the whole, then, civil servants are largely positive about their work and those they work with, the purpose of their organisation and – perhaps surprisingly – their workload, despite the reductions in budgets and staff numbers (although of course it might be the case that civil servants who have left in the last five years had more negative views than the ones who stayed). But even though civil servants have become less negative about how change in their departments is led, fewer than half of those surveyed in 2015 were actually positive about it. Pay and benefits remain a source of unhappiness – departmental leaders will need to find other ways to motivate their employees as pay restraint continues over the course of this parliament.

Institute for Government

Related content

22 JAN 2024 Press release

Whitehall Monitor 2024

IfG's annual Whitehall stocktake: Next government must launch most fundamental civil service reform in decades

22 JAN 2024 Report

Whitehall Monitor 2024

Our annual, data-based assessment of the UK civil service, how it has changed and performed over the past year, and its priorities for the future.