07 March 2016

The Civil Service People Survey is the largest employee attitude survey in the UK; in 2015 it was completed by over 279,000 civil servants across 96 government organisations. Following our overall analysis of the latest results, and in-depth look at opinions on organisational change and pay, Ollie Hirst examines life satisfaction, bullying and discrimination in Whitehall, as well as the attitudes of civil servants to leaving their organisation.

Civil servants have lower reported happiness and life satisfaction levels than the general population, but are less likely to feel anxious in their work environment.

Wellbeing CS v UK chart

Around two-thirds (65%) of civil servants rated their life satisfaction as 7–10/10, but this is significantly lower than the 80% of the general public who said the same. Similarly, 71% of the Civil Service gave a score of 7 or higher (out of ten) in answer to the question ‘Overall, to what extent do you feel the things you do in your life are worthwhile?’ compared to 83% of the general population. Reported happiness was also 12 percentage points lower in Whitehall than in the UK as a whole.

However, half of civil servants claimed to be ‘not at all anxious’ on the day before the survey was conducted (giving a score of 0–3/10), compared to only 36% of the general public.

The Treasury is the department with the highest life satisfaction; DCMS has seen the greatest increase since 2012.

Departmental wellbeing chart

Life satisfaction in the Civil Service has increased in the past three years:  65% of staff rate their life satisfaction as 7–10/10, compared to 62% in 2012.

The highest-scoring department is the Treasury, where 71% of civil servants express high levels of life satisfaction. MoD – where only 59% of civil servants rate their satisfaction as 7/10 or higher – has remained the department with the lowest score, despite a modest increase since 2012. DCMS is the department which has experienced the most dramatic increase in life satisfaction in the past three years, reaching 68% in 2015 following a 20 percentage point rise since 2012.

The Home Office has the highest percentage of civil servants who feel that they have personally experienced bullying and harassment or discrimination at work in the past year.

Bullying or harassment chart

Around one in seven civil servants in HO, FCO and HMRC claim to have personally experienced discrimination at work in the past 12 months, while around one in eight in these departments say they have experienced bullying or harassment. The Treasury and DECC are the departments with the lowest reported incidence of bullying or discrimination, although this figure is still around 7%.

Eradicating discrimination in Whitehall has been identified as a top priority by Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Civil Service Sir Jeremy Heywood following these results. While the refreshed Talent Action Plan includes measures to tackle bullying and harassment, this data shows the extent of the problem and demonstrates that there is still progress to be made in tackling discrimination in the Civil Service.

Almost a quarter of civil servants want to leave their organisation within a year.

Leaving chart

24% of Civil Service staff want to leave their organisation within a year  – an increase from 17% in 2009. 9% say they want to do this as soon as possible, and 15% say at some point within the next 12 months. The most significant change has been in the proportion of civil servants who want to stay working for their organisation for at least the next three years; while 55% said this in 2009, only 43% do in 2015. It is noteworthy that the proportion of civil servants who want to leave their organisation has continued to rise, despite the recovery of some engagement measures since 2014.

Belief in the value and impact of the People Survey has increased since 2009, but has now plateaued.

Taking action chart

Only a third (33%) of civil servants think that effective action has been taken on the results of the last survey in their department, although this figure has increased since 2011. However, between 2014 and 2015 this percentage decreased for the first time since the statement was first included in the survey.

Although 55% of Whitehall staff believe that managers where they work will take action on the results of this year’s People Survey (up from 45% in 2009), civil servants are more sceptical about the willingness of more senior figures to do the same, with only 43% believing that senior managers will take action on the survey. Such figures highlight the need to go beyond the simple collection of engagement data, to using findings in the implementation of targeted, visible improvements.  


This bullying was happening back in 1981 in my first year of my apprenticeship which I ended up walking away from and never received any help from those in charge

I have been in Public Service for 52 years in total, 49 of those in the Civil Service, 38 in HMRC and 10 in HMPO a department of the Home Office. In my last 10 years I witnessed a mass of continual management harassment and bullying; not just isolated examples but as part of a deliberate management structure designed and run by Senior Leadership teams with the full backing of the Head Office Management Board. Examples are people harassed even as they were awaiting major surgery in hospital, people forced to discharge themselves from hospital to return to work (one member of staff died shortly after being forced back to work..I witnessed her having to hold onto the wall of the office in order to make her way to her desk. This was also witnessed by a mid range Manager who expressed his horror to me). I have seen multiple examples of staff being reduced to tears in front of their colleagues by managers. Anyone who dared to speak to senior management was punished by being moved away from the team they were in. Any complaints were dismissed. Senior staff never faced any consequences for their actions. Indeed the worst offender in my office was promoted. The most insidious result of this policy was that young staff looking for a career in the Department began to adopt the behaviour of their peers thus institutionalising the behaviour. In all the time I was there I NEVER saw an example, nor heard of one, where bullying and harassment was a staff on staff one; it was ALWAYS management on staff. The true irony was that all staff were required to attend anti-bullying lectures given by the very managers who were responsible for the bullying that was endemic within the office.
A G7 grade spoke to me informally and said, and I quote; "Don't ever make the mistake Tony of thinking that this is a professional Civil Service office; it isn't, it's a cheese factory". She said this to me at a conference of the Senior Leadership team with a group of management consultants. I was there because I used to be a manager in HMRC.
I witnessed a certain amount of bullying behaviour in my career in HMRC, once from a senior manager who behaved disgracefully towards me in front of a number of staff from several local offices. He took retirement the following week, probably to avoid the consequences of his behaviour in front of so many senior members of staff. But bullying in the Department of HMRC that I worked in was minuscule by comparison with the deliberate policy of harassment, intimidation and de-personalisation that I saw prosecuted under the guise of "strong management" in HMPO. I have never experienced such appalling behaviour by people on people in my entire career. I hope that with the current reporting and outing of these practices by the press leads the Civil Service to address the issues of the abuse of staffs human rights. However it will only be possible if Ministers make it crystal clear to the Departmental Boards that this behaviour will NOT be tolerated, and that it starts and ends with theirs jobs and future within the service are on the line. The HMPO Board are all guilty of knowing the abuses and supporting them. Frankly they all need to be replaced as do the Senior Leadership Teams in the HMPO offices. A spell working in other Civil Service Departments where these practices are NOT acceptable would hopefully convince them that this behaviour is not simply intolerable but also non-productive.