Several organisations, including the PCS and Prospect unions, have expressed a number of concerns about civil service performance management, including that it is undermining the morale of civil service staff and that it discriminates against black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) staff and other groups.
A report from Keele University has found significant differences in the outcomes achieved by staff based on a number of characteristics, including in particular disability and ethnicity. For example, BAME staff were less likely to be ranked in the top group and more likely to be ranked in the bottom group than their white colleagues, while disabled staff were less likely to be ranked in the top group than those without disabilities. A PCS survey of civil service staff also found widespread dissatisfaction with performance management systems.
There are particular concerns about the system of ‘guided distribution’, whereby a predetermined 10 per cent of staff receive the bottom rating. Shortly after the current system was introduced, the then head of the civil service stated that ratings should be guided and not forced and that no individual’s rating should be changed in order to meet the suggested distribution totals. However, a survey of civil service managers found that 70 per cent felt under pressure to rate 10 per cent of staff as poor-performing, with 30 per cent saying that managers were explicitly told to do so. It is also worth noting that, before the last general election, the then Cabinet Office Minister called for a change in performance management, raising concerns that managers are able to ‘game the system’.
Since 2010, we have seen the worst crisis in civil service morale in living memory. We need a comprehensive performance management framework for government, but too often civil servants have been made to feel as if they are part of the problem, rather than the solution. We need a re-energised civil service, with civil servants that feel valued and motivated, as well as a new culture of respect for civil servants. It is also very important that the civil service reflects our diverse society.
The government says that it is currently piloting changes to the performance management system across a number of departments, but that any changes will only be introduced throughout the civil service by 2018 at the earliest. I will continue to monitor the government’s progress on this issue closely.