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Leaked Cabinet Office Survey Shows Widespread Civil Service Unhappiness

4 min read

Exclusive: A leaked Cabinet Office survey has found a significant fall in wellbeing among its civil servants and widespread unhappiness about how ministers are pushing the return to office working.

The findings come as the government presses ahead with plans to cut over 90,000 civil service jobs over the next three years, in what would amount to around a fifth of the current workforce.

A survey of nearly 2,000 Cabinet Office staff carried out in May, and seen by PoliticsHome, showed the department missing targets in all listed key areas relating to staff experience.

On wellbeing, just a quarter of respondents (26 per cent) said they had been feeling "good" or "very good" over the past week. This is 16 per cent less than in responses provided to the same survey in July 2021. Thirty five per cent said they felt "not good" or "not good at all", while 39 per cent said they felt "okay".

A third (33 per cent) agreed or strongly agreed that the Cabinet Office was providing them with good support for their health, wellbeing and resilience. Thirty five per cent disagreed or strongly disagreed with that statement, while 31 per cent said they neither agreed or disagreed.

Around a quarter of respondents (24 per cent) said they believed that the Cabinet Office’s senior leaders had a clear vision for the future of the department. This was a 25 per cent fall compared with last summer's findings. On this particular goal, the department had a target of 54 per cent. 

A government spokesperson told PoliticsHome: “We are committed to making the Cabinet Office a great place to work, which is why we regularly seek the views of our staff. This was a snapshot survey and the results represent less than 30 per cent of Cabinet Office staff in terms of response rate."

The department received well over a thousand comments on the "hot topic" of hybrid working, according to the leaked survey, including from one anonymous civil servant who said the policy had been "handled very badly" and the messaging "ambigious and heavy handed".

"The apparent change in policy around hybrid working in the recent days has been handled very badly - with ambiguous and heavy handed messaging," they said in their response.

"Attending the office 40 per cent of the time suits a lot of the team's personal circumstances, but also allows us to get the benefits of both in person and remote working."

Jacob Rees Mogg, the Cabinet Office minister for Brexit opportunities, is leading the government charge when it comes to increasing the number of civil servants who work from the office.

In April, a note that he left on an empty Whitehall desk which read "I look forward to seeing you in the office very soon" was leaked to the press, triggering criticism from opposition parties and the The Association of First Division Civil Servants union (FDA), which represents civil servants.

FDA General Secretary Dave Penman accused the ministers of a "culture war" and said growing numbers of civil servants were planning to quit over the government's approach to office working.

The survey said respondents wanted "clearer guidance and less pressure to return to office and more consideration of flexible working benefits".

The research also found that Cabinet Office staff wanted the government to suspend the civil service hiring freeze, which Rees Mogg has said will be key to achieving the objective of bringing down staff numbers. The government has decided to pause the fast-track graduate scheme for 2023-2024 as part of its bid to return civil servant numbers to 2016 levels.

One civil servant told the survey that the Cabinet Office needed "properly resourced and skilled teams in order to deliver what are, at times, unclear objectives".

A Cabinet Office source told PoliticsHome the findings reflected a "hostile environment cultivated from the very top" of the department. "I can only imagine it will get worse as the government digs their feet into their attacks on hard working civil servants," they said.

Rachel Hopkins, Shadow Cabinet Office Minister said: “Jacob Rees-Mogg’s own staff are fed up with this tired, old-fashioned government’s miserable lack of leadership and have no faith in their antiquated vision for the civil service. 

"From his pointless Whitehall head-counts to the creepy notes he’s been leaving for workers who are just trying to get on with their jobs, he is showing the Conservatives are completely out of touch.  

"This government’s shoddy civil service hatchet job risks driving up waits for passports, driving licenses, and crucial appointments. Instead of disrespecting his own staff, he should focus on providing real solutions to the challenges people are facing."

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