Staff perceptions

Deligates The staff engagement survey conducted as part of the Civil Service Renewal process gives a detailed insight into how staff view their role and their suggestions for change.

Around 1,500 submissions were received from the online staff engagement portal set up by the Civil Service Renewal project team and a further 392 questions were submitted at town hall meetings with staff.

Several submissions demanded action on underperformance and called for managers who were addressing underperformance to be supported. Tougher sanctions, including dismissal, were backed with several respondents saying that this should be balanced with rewards and incentives for good performance. One common view was: “Why should I work hard if those who do not are not punished?”

Most civil servants supported the merit principle but the interpretation of the concept varied from hard work to seniority, experience and matching jobs to the skills required. A Civil Service academy proved a popular option and many argued for mandatory management training after a promotion.

If skills were recognised, utilised and nurtured in an effective way, there was a consensus that job satisfaction would improve. Greater staff mobility was linked to improved morale, the possibility of developing a career (rather than a job), and a more interesting and rewarding experience at work.

On IT, staff felt that the Civil Service could do more to embrace technology, recruit suitably qualified IT staff and better integrate systems across departments, reduce fraud and duplication, and improve the customer’s experience.

There was a widespread view that the Civil Service suffered from a poor image in the media. Email and online services, in the view of many, did not represent real communication with the customer and instead the names and contact details of customer-facing staff could be published.

In terms of organisational culture, some comments suggested that the Civil Service was “overly authoritarian, hierarchical, secretive and anti-intellectual.” The conclusion was that the culture needed to be “more open and transparent, more proactive and less risk averse” with staff and management taking more responsibility, focusing less on blame, reducing red tape, incentivising performance and addressing under-performance.

A strong consensus on pay and conditions centred on restoring pay and conditions and abolishing the pension levy. The clear and consistent message on sharing data and information was to improve record management and give more thought to digitising the national archives.

Several hundred managers are expected to retire in the coming years and staff were worried about a lack of succession planning or knowledge transfer. Elsewhere, many argued for a process to permanently hire temporary clerical officers and interns who have performed well. Opinion varied over the relative value of assessments or accredited qualifications, and centralised or local recruitment. That said, there was a common view that too much focus was being placed on an individual’s grade rather than his or her ability and performance.

Most civil servants appeared to have a job rather than a career. Suggestions for improvement included active mentoring, career guidance programmes and exchanges in the public and private sectors. More specialists were required, with law, human resources and IT identified as particular areas of need.

Civil servants who mentioned consultancy generally expressed frustration about the quality and competence of consultants: “Most argued that staff should be trained and given the opportunities to develop and utilise their skills instead.”

Parliamentary questions tended to be “very time consuming” and many questions were badly written or unclear. The process, in the view of some staff, could be streamlined by limiting PQs to non-personal issues and unpublished information. It was suggested that the Civil Service’s political independence could also be protected by a code of conduct. A similar code was introduced in the UK Civil Service in 1996 and forms part of the terms and conditions of its staff members.

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