Iain Campbell presents his annual detailed analysis of the results of the HMRC People Survey, and compares the results to those of another troubled department – DWP.
Last year I wrote an article called ‘A Trio of Surveys’. This year you get a cut-down version as we have not got an equivalent ARC Survey. (But do read the recent ARC survey on the location strategy to see the big divergence between members and the Department on things like RDT.)
Some headline results
The first number to look at is the very significant rise in the response rate to 65%. I think this can only be the effect of PCS deciding to drop opposition to its members taking part. (According to the Cabinet Office there was a 75% median response rate across the 100 participating organisations.) This has not led to a big swing in HMRC’s Engagement Index in either direction. It has risen to 45%, a modest gain over last year’s 43% and the 2013 score of 44%, yet still 97th overall. (But spare a thought for what morale must be like in the Border Force, whose response rate, at 32%, and Engagement Index, at 40%, were the lowest). In line with previous articles, I have tried to provide some key results, so that we can see the trends and contrasts that exist. I use DWP as a comparison because it is a large organisation, with a huge customer base, a compliance function, and suffering similar cuts in budgets, changes to Terms and Conditions, introduction of Performance Management and significant public criticisms of the organisation (think Universal Credit.)
Whae’s like us?
HMRC’s figures are still very much in contrast to DWP, where 73% took part and engagement scored 56%. DWP outscores HMRC on every measure, but HMRC scores very similar to the Benefits and Credits part of DWP (even on pay and benefits). Indeed, I wonder if can be seen as evidence that where the two departments are similar then so are staff views? I believe these survey results over many years confirm that the “traditional” tax and duties work of C&E and IR, and the accompanying culture, is significantly different from other Government Departments (OGDs). It may simply be a coincidence but across OGDs the ones with lower engagement scores are places like Border Force (32%), HM Prison Service (50%), Immigration Enforcement (51%), and the National Crime Agency (52%).
Nonetheless, HMRC is generally not far adrift of the CS Benchmark, or in some cases even slightly above it. Once again, the double digit differences from the CS Benchmark are in the overall Engagement index, and Leadership and Managing Change, but the gap has narrowed for My Work. By comparison neither DWP, nor Benefits and Credits, is so adrift. So we clearly need further analysis on other factors, such as grade mix, length of service, geographical concentrations, etc. Why, for example, should PT and BT report a 44% Engagement Index but differ so much on the My Work question (56% v 72%)? (see table 1)
Across HMRC people overwhelmingly report positive messages on their work and how they are treated, with results near to or above both DWP and the CS Benchmarks (see table 2).
When it comes to their views on the wider organisation there are other, less positive findings, with people overwhelmingly unhappy about pay and conditions (something shared across the whole Civil Service). The answers on being safe to challenge are not reassuring and seem, if anything, to have risen slightly. We intend to take this up with HR in wider discussions (see table 3).
The impact of PMR
Last year I asked if the survey provided any evidence on the operation of PMR. Well, somebody must have been listening and taken pity on me. We now have a specific question on PMR, instead of having to infer from some other questions on performance. Last year we used our own survey to report serious misgivings about the operation of PMR and the value it added. That negative view is now fully supported by Qs F01 – fewer than one in five agree PMR works.
And on top of that, the other questions on performance say that feedback is good and is used but that nearly one person in four does not think their performance is being evaluated fairly. Nor has it made any difference to perceptions on how poor performance is dealt with. All this data supports ARC’s belief that the current PMR system is, to use an old cliché, not fit for purpose. We will continue to make this case in PMR discussions with HMRC (see table 4 and table 5).The solutions to increasing engagement by ARC members do not lie entirely in our hands. It also lies with the Department demonstrating that it values the views of its people, that it wants to engage and consult, including with the trade unions who represent them.
Long-term trends in HMRC
Tables 6 and 7 show a complete history of the answers to certain key questions since the Surveys began.
While HMRC is not at the nadir of 2010, and there are some small positive shifts on managing change, we should not lose sight of the fact that the CS benchmark on being proud to work for the organisation is 57% – HMRC scores 30%. We hope the new CEO will accept one of his main challenges is to tackle this fundamental lack of engagement.
ARC and engagement
ARC obviously supports attempts to improve engagement (not from the perspective of getting the numbers up but at getting to the heart of the underlying causes of low scores). We do not seem to be seeing signs that initiatives like Own To Act are translating into higher scores in the People Survey. But we should not forget that HMRC’s performance has improved year on year, regardless of the survey scores. So it may be that people are now using the survey to, as it were, kick the cat and are not really reflecting what is happening to them in their own work. (If so, what have they got against cats?)
The element with the largest impact on engagement is Leadership and Managing Change. I can only assume that Location strategy and Building Our Future (with either uncertainty or definite office closures) are unlikely to improve engagement scores. Another significant theme is Pay and Benefits, which is most certainly outside the control of Directorates, and perhaps even HMRC. Only 18% of staff believe their pay adequately reflects their performance, and 65% do not. Equally, 65% feel their pay is not reasonable compared to people doing a similar job in other organisations. With the certainty of limited pay awards, and real problems in recruiting at ARC grades, this too seems not likely to improve scores.
The big continuing question is why HMRC falls so far short in the key area of leadership and managing change? This is the theme where HMRC falls behind the most, 13% below a relatively low CS Benchmark of only 43%.
How much of this is down to poor leadership at senior grades? 43% of staff believe that senior managers in HMRC will take no action on the results from this survey. I wonder if they assume these senior staff are you, me and other ARC members? And yet most ARC members are trusted by the staff they line manage, have helped bring in significant additional yields, and led the delivery of successive change plans.
Recall that 82% agree I am trusted to carry out my job effectively, 65% agree my manager inspires my team to do our best, 59% agree my manager actively role models the behaviours set out in the Civil Service Leadership Statement. So how does this balance against the report that only 29% believe that senior managers in HMRC actively role model the behaviours set out in the Civil Service Leadership Statement?
ARC does not claim a monopoly on views about the causes of HMRC’s poor results. But the solutions to increasing the level of engagement by ARC members do not lie entirely in their hands. In ARC’s view it also lies with the Department demonstrating that it values the views of its people, that it wants to engage and consult, including with the trade unions who represent them. ARC members want to be properly valued and remunerated for the work they do. But they are also the Department’s senior leaders and managers, with substantial experience and views, who are committed to delivering business objectives. Even in a digital world, people are HMRC’s greatest asset.
- For full details of the 2015 Civil Service People Survey, visit the GOV.UK website.