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GDS staff survey reveals concerns over leadership and evidence of bullying and harassment

Employee survey at Government Digital Service shows staff enjoy their work but have concerns about senior management – plus complaints over discrimination, bullying and harassment

The annual staff survey at the Government Digital Service (GDS) has revealed an organisation where employees are concerned about leadership and change management – and where one in six workers say they have experienced discrimination, bullying or harassment.

The Civil service people survey 2017 was completed by 533 GDS staff – 75% of the workforce – and assessed the likes, dislikes and concerns of the team that is central to digital transformation in Whitehall.

GDS staff are upbeat about their co-workers and the activities they undertake – 83% of respondents gave a positive rating for their team, while 90% said they are interested in the work they do. Some 84% of those surveyed said the people in their team can be relied on to help when things get difficult in their job.

However, responses showed a marked difference in attitude towards senior leadership, according to a summary of the survey results seen by Computer Weekly.

When asked to rate factors about leadership and managing change, only 28% of GDS staff gave a positive response – down five percentage points on the previous year; 16 percentage points below the average across the whole Cabinet Office; and 26 percentage points down on the top teams across all of the civil service departments taking part in the survey, so-called “high-performing units”.

Only 55% gave a positive response on organisational objectives and purpose – 18 points below the Cabinet Office average and 35 below the top Whitehall performers, although this was four points above 2016’s survey results.

Only 39% of respondents agreed with the statement, “I feel that change is managed well in the Cabinet Office”, with 38% agreeing that “senior civil servants in the Cabinet Office are sufficiently visible”.

Under a quarter of GDS staff (24%) agreed that they “have confidence in the decisions made by the Cabinet Office’s senior civil servants”.

Similar concerns were raised about the long-term plans for GDS, with just 21% of staff agreeing with the statement, “I believe that the Cabinet Office Board has a clear vision for the future of the Cabinet Office”.

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Nearly one-third of GDS staff (32%) said in the survey that they want to leave in the next 12 months, compared to 23% across the whole civil service.

While 81% of GDS employees said they were “treated fairly at work” and 83% said they were “treated with respect by the people I work with”, the survey suggested that nearly one in six staff have suffered bad experiences.

Some 15% of GDS survey respondents said yes when asked, “During the past 12 months have you personally experienced discrimination at work?” And 15% also said yes to the question, “During the past 12 months have you personally experienced bullying or harassment at work?” Across the whole civil service, 12% of staff said yes to the discrimination question, and 11% said yes on bullying and harassment.

A spokesperson for GDS said there are a number of initiatives in place to address the issues raised by the staff survey.

“The management team at GDS places great importance on the results of the survey. GDS has undergone a period of change, and as part of this we have created a ‘shadow management board’, which enables staff to have greater visibility of, and opportunity to input into, the objectives and vision of the organisation,” said the spokesperson in a statement to Computer Weekly.

“As with any organisation, we are obviously concerned with issues raised relating to bullying and harassment, and are putting in place a range of initiatives to address this, including the implementation of training programmes and a staff working group.”

GDS has seen a lot of changes in senior management during 2017, with most of the previous leadership team replaced after Kevin Cunnington was brought in as director general in September 2016.

Writing in a recent blog post, Cunnington said GDS’s priorities for 2017/18 include, “delivering on the government transformation strategy, supporting departments to ensure a successful exit from the European Union, strengthening digital, data and technology capability across government and the continued uptake of our government-as-a-platform components”.

According to the answer to a parliamentary question in November, GDS spent £107.6m in the financial year 2016/17. Out of this, £78.4m was spent on its four main programmes –, the Verify digital identity scheme, government as a platform (GaaP) and Common Technology Services (CTS). Interim figures for the first six months of the financial year 2017/18 showed that GDS had spent £59.9m.

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