Skip to main content
Civil Service

The People Survey in a time of change

People Survey 2015 -2

The 2015 People Survey is now open. As civil servants, this is our biggest annual opportunity to record our views about our jobs, how we are managed and led, how inclusive our organisation is, how we are paid and rewarded, the tools we use, and so on. It isn’t just a barometer of opinion and sentiment but a real instrument of change.

Recent developments in the Civil Service have been driven in part by external factors such as the state of the economy, and the need to meet the ever-increasing aspirations and demands of the public we serve. Your views can support how reforms are implemented, but they also highlight concerns you may have about the impact of change, and tell us where we could do things better.

Where we are now

Civil Service employment has now fallen below 400,000 (FTE) for the first time since the Second World War, and demonstrates how much we have changed in recent years.

When I joined the Civil Service in 1983 there were:

  • 653,000 civil servants
  • 19,000 specialist and other typists
  • ...but not a single female Permanent Secretary

The Civil Service of the 1980s prided itself on its political impartiality and its integrity, just as we do today (though our values are now enshrined in law). But there have been enormous changes in the culture of the service and the way we work.

What the bald figures don’t show is what this means for the effectiveness of government. As I said in a recent blog, I firmly believe that a more streamlined Civil Service - more open and responsive and working more efficiently and more digitally - is literally giving the country more for less.

Some of you commented in response “how do you know it isn’t simply ‘less for less?’” Fair question. But let’s look at our record during the last Parliament.

Record of achievement

Civil servants up and down the country delivered virtually all (95% to be precise) of the 399 commitments in the extensive Coalition Programme for Government; and over the same period achieved around £20 billion of efficiency savings across government.

The performance of individual services underlies that overall picture. For example:

  • HMRC now spends considerably less collecting income tax: 0.83p per £ in 2014/15 versus 1p per £ in 2012/13
  • The cost of producing a passport has fallen 2010/11: £70.91; 2013/14: £57.71
  • Crime has fallen, despite reduced spending on the police, and the proportion of officers in frontline roles has increased to over 90%
  • The time taken to decide whether a child should be taken into care has virtually halved since 2011 – from 56 weeks to 29

In part, we have achieved this by applying new solutions to old problems. The UK is now a global leader in applying behavioural insights and evidence of 'what works' to policy development and implementation. Subtle ‘nudges’ in government communications have already improved tax receipts and increased organ donation registrations. And our example in digital government is being followed by countries including New Zealand and the US.

A headstart

These achievements are bound up with the far-reaching changes in the Civil Service to equip us for the parallel changes in society and technology. These demand we become smaller, more productive, more inclusive, more digital, more capable, more collaborative - without putting at risk our enduring values as an impartial Civil Service.

That we have met this challenge so successfully is hugely to the credit of all civil servants.

The next five years may well be even tougher than the last, with further reductions in expenditure to come. But we start from a strong position. Although much remains to be done, the Civil Service has a headstart in more efficient and innovative ways of working - getting more for less.

We will continue to reap the efficiency benefits of expanding customer-focused digital service delivery. We will sharpen the focus on the actual impact of government policies, trialling them so we can implement them better. Each department will set out a single, comprehensive delivery plan, with clear priorities based on how resources can be best deployed, identifying where they need to work with other departments and cross-government functions. We will continue to increase our capability in the crucial areas of digital, commercial, project management and leadership.

And we will concentrate on getting the best out of all our people, so that every civil servant, regardless of who they are or where they come from, has the chance to get on, make the most of their talents and build a fulfilling career in the public service.

Share your views

As the Civil Service continues to improve the way it works, it is important that we also take the time to listen to your views about what is working well and where things can be better.

The 2014 People Survey reflected a Civil Service that is an exciting place to work and where morale has held up under great pressure, underpinned by our undiminished commitment to public service.

So, I would encourage you to have your say in the 2015 survey. It won’t take longer than 20 minutes. Check your local intranet or ask your manager for details on how to take part. We will look closely, as always, at the results and act on what you say about how we are doing and where you think we must improve.

Sharing and comments

Share this page


  1. Comment by Prof Peter B Stockwell posted on

    Hi ,.
    I am 75 and still working in my own family company having a career in the civil service in industry and now in my own family company.
    The facts are that nature has set the reality of life in most of adulthood in that it is that women who have the role of producing the next generation.
    Once they have finish this role on a full time basis i.e., when the young adult moves on to a job themselves or further education these women by choice can enter into the employment scene again. In my experience when they do this they make a really useful contribution .
    Which is valued by employers >
    We are not the same ,we have different roles in life but both genders can make a valuable contribution in employment as well as in family life.
    Prof Peter B Stockwell

  2. Comment by John posted on

    Given that anyone, and I mean ANYONE can fill out the MOD survey several times over, What is the point of this fruitless exercise. A tick in the box for the SCS and the Cabinet Office.

    I did not ask for a stack ranking PAR system.
    I did not ask for a 1% pay rise for the next 4 years.
    I did not ask for pay progression (spine points) to be frozen.

    I could go on...

  3. Comment by Andrew posted on

    Mr Harwood tells us how great the Peoples Survey is, but he seems unwilling to responde to the comments here. Does Mr Harwood only responde to People who praise it?

  4. Comment by Bill posted on

    It is interesting that we are told to tell the truth, and say what is o our mind as part of this exercise, but also that managers tell us to answer questions the right way to avoid the extra reports, action plans, personal improvement plans and other punishments for obtaining a low engagement score.

    It goes without saying I complied, as it isn't worth the trouible of giving an honest answer.

    Name withheld for obvious fear of reprisals.

  5. Comment by Martin posted on

    Does anyone know what happens to all the white space comments? I've never seen them published anywhere, or the main themes listed.

    • Replies to Martin>

      Comment by Antoni Chmielowski posted on

      I have completed my survey (for the good that it will do).

      I am sure (that as in previous years) management will cherry pick the positive comments and ignore all the negative ones.

      Also , rest assured that senior civil servants (like Sir Jeremy Heywood) will not respond to any comments as he is far to busy attending to other important tasks rather than listen to those who deliver at the frontline (remember Sir Bob Kerslake and the thread about PMR ?.).

      But rest assured Sir Jeremy, I will keep on working hard because I enjoy my job, the people I work with and my local management do an excellent job to keep me motivated, despite the efforts of the Senior Civil Service to hinder me.

    • Replies to Martin>

      Comment by Bessie posted on

      I can's speak for other departments, but where I work, they are checked very carefully to make sure that individuals can't be identified and then analysed, sorted into themes and used to shed light on what people are really concerned about at the time of the survey. This helps when action planning. Where I work, we pick out some of the real home truths to present to the managers drawing up the action plans.

      We didn't get the comments from last year's survey until very late (about six months after the survey) by which time it was really too late to do anything useful with them.

      We don't publish them here because, even though we check and redact anything that might help to identify an individual, it is possible that someone close to a particular situation might identify a colleague by their comments - or worse, mistakenly think that they've recognised a colleague.

  6. Comment by Max harris posted on

    After a lot of faffing about & with the assistance of two bemused colleagues I managed to get into the survey. Please note that there is NO area at the end of the survey that normally would say 'Any other comments'. So make of that what you will, because I know what my thoufghts were!!

  7. Comment by Carl martin posted on

    so again lots of comments on here and no responces from Sir jeremy. it was like this with the summer budget.
    yes we may be a vocal few who are prepeared to say what we feel in an open forum, however i know were i work my feelings are very much across the board with other staff.

    yes the civil service has achived a lot however its a 2 way street, i honestly cannot think of any improvments in my pay and conditions. if i take into account inflation, cost of living etc.

  8. Comment by Kath posted on

    I work in the MOD and as a civil servant and my understanding is that we are the only government department that has managers that are not civil servants and have their own PRGs and annual reporting process and they can be absent for 6 months.As a result of previous Surveys management set up discussion forums to address some issues identified by the civil service workforce.This did go someway to making civil servants feel that our voices were being listened to but if I am honest I think this was just playing lip service.Until the issue of having a civilian HR element on stations is once again introduced the issues are only going to increase but this is never going to happen.The new PMR a prime example personnel have complained about the process but policy makers still insist that it is here to stay so I do not have faith that our views/opinions are taking on board.If only we could apply the reporting system to MPs perhaps then the policy makers would look at changing the system.

  9. Comment by Bobbie posted on

    If only the "people survey" would deal with the inportant issues, such as this:
    The current unfair and discriminatory appraisal and reporting system means that Mid Year and End of Year markings are gerrymandered to fit this ridiculous performance curve nonsense.
    For any organisation priding itself on caring for staff and “people” engagement, to accept at the beginning of the year that 10% of their staff will receive "a must improve" (with the consequent financial penalty) is defeatist at best, but then to actively pursue this is beyond words. I might then have some faith in completing it. But until then.............

    Well said Carl, I couldn't have put it better myself!

  10. Comment by Jon posted on

    No 4 digit area code a week in...

  11. Comment by Susan posted on

    I've got so cynical that I don't even know why I'm posting this reply ... does anyone ever read them?????
    My only reason for completing the survey (when I can find it) will be so that - like voting - if I feel that I've taken part in the process, I have a right to moan when it all goes belly up!!!!!

  12. Comment by Barry Owen posted on

    The PMR system should be rolled out to cover the Government and all MP's; might give them an insight into the bullying culture within the Civil Service

  13. Comment by Milb posted on

    I agree it's a waste of time but if no one fills it in, management will assume everyone is quite happy with the status quo. I have therefore filled in the survey but my responses are very negative

  14. Comment by Charlotte posted on

    I've noticed a few comments about not being able to access the MOD Your Say survey. If you have DII access you can find a link to the survey via the MOD Your Say logo on the front of our intranet. This will also be on your own business directorate / front line command's intranet pages. If you are in DE&S you will be able to fill in your own survey and can find this on your own DE&S intranet page.

    If you are unsure what directorate / Front LIne command you fall under, then you can ask your line manager or contact your local Your Say Engagement Lead. I am unable to post the links to our intranet site or contact details. But you can find all the information you need and those contact details on the Leadership and Engagement Intranet page on DII via people and civilians.

  15. Comment by Glen R posted on

    Survey Time....The time when i see numerous posters, flyers, notes on walls and 10 emails to tell me the survey is to be looked at, oh and managers thrusting it in our faces. i can't wait to tell the Survey what a joy it is to work for the DWP. The lowest paid of the AO Grades in the Civil Service, no progression except if you are the choosen one or tick some sort of box, processes what change on a weekly basis so its a guessing game on how to work and when we guess the process of the day and start to be happy, yes thats right we have a reorg to shake it up..........happy happy happy fluffy unicorns hopping roung the office.

  16. Comment by ANON posted on

    What is the point of these surveys NOTHING !
    Senior ranks have an agenda and it has absolutely NOTHING to do with the results of any Survey
    So like all the others I won't be wasting my time

    • Replies to ANON>

      Comment by Tom 1 posted on

      ANON - I can understand your frustration and seeming pointlessness of completing the survey, but I have heard too many stories of managers saying that those who don't complete it must be happy, that I feel I should take part and make my feelings known.

      With regards to PMR, management research firm CEB says “Employees that do best in performance management systems tend to be the employees that are the most narcissistic and self-promoting,”. “Those aren’t necessarily the employees you need to be the best organization going forward.”

  17. Comment by Jon posted on

    Every year the survey launches as expected, comms pack put out, link provided on the department intranet, etc. All good. Approximately two weeks after the survey launches the management chain realises that we need the area codes to fill it in and then send a very belated email with them on, meanwhile any enthusiasm for completing it has been lost. Today is 6th October and no area code has been sent to my department and so none of us can complete the survey even if we wanted to.

    • Replies to Jon>

      Comment by Jon posted on

      Update - 12th October I've managed to find our area code. At no point has it been sent to us which is a shame, a less stubborn person may not have bothered finding it.

  18. Comment by John posted on

    "And we will concentrate on getting the best out of all our people, so that every civil servant, regardless of who they are or where they come from, has the chance to get on, make the most of their talents and build a fulfilling career in the public service."

    Translated... We will continue to pursue a PMR system that wastes hundreds of man hours and totally demotives staff. We will harp on about taking your five days training a year, although no-one at the front line has the time to do any. We will throw around the current buzzwords like Diversity and Streamlining, while threatening the staff we have not let go on voluntary exit schemes, with losing out on the non consolidated bonus they rely on to top up the non existant pay increase they don't get. We will cherry pick the results of the staff survey to justify whatever short-sighted policy we decide is flavour of the month.......

    By the way I've just had one of my better days.....
    ....Right now to complete the staff survey...for all the good it will do......

  19. Comment by Patrick posted on

    The point of completing the staff survey is what!
    Please dont tell me by having my say will or could change things
    pigs can fly and all that.

  20. Comment by Paul Harcombe posted on

    Love it when this nugget is trotted out in government statements - Crime is down. Really? Not if, for example, you include the 000s of online crimes that weren't included that magically appeared after the election. And we shouldn't blame the police, at least not the rank and file police, for this. Recent revelations in the Met as to the 'massaging' of figures and downgrading of crimes, both violent and non-violent, mask all sorts of shadey practice by the senior ranks. And if you can tell me that losing shed loads of back office staff and 000s of 'frontline' police has no effect or even lowers crime rates with a straight face I have a bridge to sell you

  21. Comment by JOHN posted on

    As long as the completion rates are 50%, it will be easy to dismiss or cherrypick findings. If 100% of staff were honest and gave their informed views in completing the People Survey it would be very much more difficult to gerrymander the results as 'not representative of staff as a whole'. I am more suspicious of people who encourage people not to fill it in as that only makes a point for senior managers to exploit.....

  22. Comment by Simon posted on

    I can't find it. I've completed the survey every year for years and so far my pay has been frozen for years, my job downgraded and there is no evidence of any appreciation of my work. I must be daft to stay but oddly I have a bizzare misplaced loyalty.

  23. Comment by Peter posted on

    Sadly after 30 minutes of unproductive time searching for the People Survey, I couldn't find a link anywhere. My views will therefore not be heard or acted upon. If there's one message for government it is 'if you are going to embrace new technology it's better to use it effectively'.

  24. Comment by David posted on

    "We will continue to reap the efficiency benefits of expanding customer-focused digital service delivery."

    Who is it that will reap these efficiency benefits?

    Not the staff. With salary increases capped at 1% for four years and a government inflation target of 2%, where is our harvest?

    How can I not be cynical?

  25. Comment by Anon posted on

    I love my department and my work though I have a dilemma. My agency had the lowest engagement scores of all entrants last year. As far as the staff can see there have only been token responses to our low figures. Could someone please inform me of the transparent methods we have available to respond to chronically low scores? I anticipated an automatic review process to effectively diagnose where we are loosing engagement so that we may correct it. Thank you.

  26. Comment by Carl martin posted on

    i have already completed my survey as i do every year. i answer honelsty. but the amount of differance it makes is zero from what i can see. i know a lot of people dont complete it for the same reason.
    in the end we come to work not to make lives better or to collect taxes. we come to pay our bills. that is first, the taxes we collect of people we help will always be second. no one every comes to work for free, and when your pay and pension is devaluing, lack of pay progression is gone, its like a regular kick to the face, this is the biggest problem for the lower grades in the civil service and this needs to addressed now,
    however i stay because i love my job and work with some great people who try 110% every day just a shame my pay no longer refects my grade.

  27. Comment by Jose posted on

    Do you have a link to the survey? If you want us to take it then would be helpful to know how/where we can.

  28. Comment by Lynne posted on

    There is no incentive to complete surveys anymore. Too many years have passed with them completed and not an ounce of recognition is received for us CS's. All well and good verbal feedback after survey but about time financial recognition received. No payrise for ???? yrs and when we do get something it's a kick in the face, back dated payrise to August paid this month... £20+ extra, thank you for nothing!
    I for one , WILL NOT complete the survey - time waisting object as nothing comes out of it substantially.

  29. Comment by Jeff posted on

    Considering the mess HMRC have made of collecting a £69 shortfall in my taxes I'm not entirely sure if the savings result in efficiency. Only one person I have dealt with seems to know what they are doing and others give contradictory advice OR send contradictory letters. I'm now resorting to sending letters (I'm fed up spending 2 hours plus trying to call their helpline) telling them where they have made errors as they seem unable to deal with it themselves. I will be writing another this evening to ask them why the cheque sent to cover the shortfall has been used to pay the fine for late submission which they told me I did not have to pay as I was given an extension!
    And the shortfall was their mistake in the first place!
    I think I will enjoy completing this survey.

  30. Comment by John posted on

    The results from the people survey were used as an excuse to bring in PMR - as apparently we were not stisfied with the way poor performance was being dealt with. Need I say more.........

  31. Comment by Lorraine posted on

    Crime is allegedly falling as the police only prosecute easy crimes so they can tick lots of boxes which is all the government wants, even if they don't get a conviction-just waste taxpayers' money on getting weak pointless cases to court. Real crime is being down graded and most people are so fed up with our antiquated legal system, they don't even go to the police. Lack of legal aid means most people now plead guilty when not just to get lower fines as the new CCC charge brought in by Gove, is ridiculous beyond belief. Even the judges don't want to charge it-how can you get blood out of a stone. When asked, Gove will give an estimated figure of CCC that has been charged, not what has been collected as it will never be collected as those targetted are those on benefits who already can't pay the lower rate of fines. Also child cases are supposed to be dealt with in 26 weeks or less. No idea where 29 weeks was plucked from. 90% of those involved in family cases have low IQs which means they keep breeding with no consequences. They can still get legal aid inmost cases-costing the tax payer again. We foot the bill to look after thier kids whilst the benefits system allows them to play mummies and daddies at our expense. Back to lowest figures for staff-The country is flooded with class A as no one is looking for it. Of course people will fall over the odd large haul. Speak to the staff who actually do the job and start listenening to them.

  32. Comment by Michael posted on

    I would fill out the survey, but I can't find it. Giving us a link would have been a good idea (the email sent out telling us about it had a link to the blog, but not the survey itself!)

    • Replies to Michael>

      Comment by aaron posted on

      Maaaaate, I'm having the same problem. All i have found is (Very!) interesting blog post.

  33. Comment by Carl posted on

    If only the "people survey" would deal with the inportant issues, such as this:
    The current unfair and discriminatory appraisal and reporting system means that Mid Year and End of Year markings are gerrymandered to fit this ridiculous performance curve nonsense.
    For any organisation priding itself on caring for staff and “people” engagement, to accept at the beginning of the year that 10% of their staff will receive "a must improve" (with the consequent financial penalty) is defeatist at best, but then to actively pursue this is beyond words. I might then have some faith in completing it. But until then.........................

  34. Comment by Michelle Koppany posted on

    I have the works of Petronius at home but despite looking carefully through a couple of times when I've come across this passage in English have never been able to find the original quote in Latin. If there are any geeks out there who have tracked it down I would really love to know. Aware it's a complete rabbit hole but it's puzzled me for years! Happy to take this offline.

    • Replies to Michelle Koppany>

      Comment by Arminius posted on

      The quotation attributed to Gaius Petronius has proved apt a few times through my civil service career so I researched it several years ago. It's not Petronius; the true author is American writer Charles Ogburn jr (from an article in Harper's magazine in 1957) and refers to his experiences as a junior officer in the US army in WW II.

      • Replies to Arminius>

        Comment by Arminius posted on

        Oops that should have said Charlton Ogburn jr

  35. Comment by Tom 1 posted on

    We trained hard, but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form up into teams we would be reorganised. I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganising: and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress, while producing confusion, inefficiency and demoralisation. Caius Petronius, Roman Consul, 66 A.D

    • Replies to Tom 1>

      Comment by Linda posted on

      well said Tom 1. I think most people will agree with this 'statement' on how we work in HMRC now.

    • Replies to Tom 1>

      Comment by Maureen posted on

      ABSOLUTELY Spot on, each senior manager I have had recently is even more incompetent than the one before, despite having lot and lots of qualifications.