Report into high staff turnover in Civil Service says workforce model needs to change

Report into high staff turnover in civil service recommends changes to workforce model

Report into high staff turnover in Civil Service says workforce model needs to changeA government report has revealed insight into the high staff turnover within the civil service, which it says is costing up to £74 million every year.

The Institute for Government (IfG) report, titled: Moving On: The Costs of High Staff Turnover in the Civil Service argues that in order to support the challenges facing the civil service today, the current workforce model needs to change.

In place of the existing model, the report recommends a “system which values specialists as well as generalists; and rewards those who stay in post, build experience and see through projects, as well as those who move through a wide range of roles.”

Effects of high staff turnover 

The report notes that UK civil servants change their role more frequently than those in other countries or other organisations within the private sector. The current model not only means high costs are incurred from staff turnover (recruitment, training and lost productivity) but also impacted is Whitehall’s ability to make policy. The constant moving around of staff can also mean departments are left without knowledge or expertise in key policy areas, with ministers frequently reporting that they have more knowledge than officials whose job it is to advise them. The implementation of policy in major projects is also put at risk when staff affected because of the ‘excessive turnover’ of staff.

Analysing the latest data from the Cabinet Office (CO) and the Office for National Statistics the report found a number of departments in London lose 20 – 25% of their staff every 12 months, while on average, senior civil servants in Whitehall stay in post for less than two years – with 4 out of 10 being in a post for less than a year.

The movement of staff around departments is ‘deeply ingrained’ in the Whitehall workforce model the report says – which it also notes has been criticized for more than half a century. However, it’s within the last 20 years it has ‘accelerated’, with an internal jobs market opening up with few restrictions and the imposition of a pay freeze and cap (2010) which has meant the only way for many staff to secure a promotion and pay rise is to move around internally.

The report says: “The main drivers of excessive levels of turnover are Whitehall’s open internal jobs market coupled with managers’ inability to reward those who stay in post, and a culture which values those who move quickly above those who develop expertise and see through projects; anyone can apply for any job at any time and managers have little means with which to encourage them to stay.” It goes on to say that this creates a workforce which ‘pits departments against one another in a war for talent”.

Recommendations by the IfG

The recommendations given are for a system overhaul – which it says could start by reforming pay. In addition to offering the opportunity to move around departments, which the report maintains is ‘inevitable and desirable’ to some degree, staff should be rewarded for staying in post, building upon their experience and ensuring jobs are seen through from start to finish. It recommends that by 2021 civil servants should benefit from targeted pay progression within their existing roles rather than having to move around in order to increase their income.

Also suggested is that Whitehall implements a career progression and HR system that would ensure the effective balance of specialist skills, policy knowledge and generalist capabilities that would support both movement around posts as well as supporting staff in committing to roles for a longer time frame.

The report also suggests HR departments should appoint a HR director to play a ‘key role’ in every government department as well as a permanent secretary to publish key workforce data.

Co-author of the report, Tom Sasse, also a senior researcher at the IfG said: “When multibillion-pound projects can cycle through project directors with dizzying speed and whole policy teams turn over almost entirely in just a couple of years, the workforce model is clearly broken.”

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “Figures show that more than half of civil servants feel a strong personal attachment to the department in which they work, but there is always more to do to support our workforce. That is why we are developing measures to address turnover when it is higher than expected, including introducing pay and career development incentives.”