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Thursday 06 December 2018

Depression, breakdowns and departments under pressure: the FDA finds the real impact of unsustainable workloads in the civil service

Excessive working hours culture is decreasing public sector productivity and negatively impacting the health and wellbeing of civil servants, an FDA study has found.

68% of respondents to the FDA’s Working Hours Survey believe their departments’ effectiveness “is negatively impacted by our workload and additional working hours”, while 82% believe working excess hours has adversely affected their wellbeing.

The FDA – the union for managers and professionals in the public sector – conducts this annual survey to monitor their members’ working hours, and to understand the impact of their workloads.

This year, 1,346 civil servants completed the survey. The findings describe a worrying trend of excessive working hours becoming the “new normal”, with 69% of respondents stating “my workload is set with no correlation to whether it is possible to complete in the time available, because it is assumed I will complete the work no matter what.”

74% believed working excessive hours is a problem in their department or agency, and 73% feel there is not enough staff in the organisation to complete its work.

The full report has been published and can now be downloaded.

The FDA is calling on the civil service to address these damning results.

FDA Assistant General Secretary Amy Leversidge said: “Civil servants are devoted to their work and to serving the nation, but they cannot run on pure dedication. Our survey results show that these vital workers are under real pressure. The current status quo of ever-increasing workloads and stagnant pay cannot continue if the civil service is to deliver on the significant challenges ahead.

“The FDA are calling for Government departments to ensure civil servants have the resources they need to do their jobs. There needs to be a focus on recruitment and retention, so we have the right number of people to complete work and meet deadlines. Crucially, staff need to be allowed a life outside the office. Maximum hours do not equate to maximum efficiency: protecting their work life balance is not only the ethical thing to do, but the practical one as well.

“The Government is taking advantage of civil servants’ commitment to their work, and gaining many extra hours of work for free but this is a false economy. Increasing workloads are increasing the strain on civil servants who have been trusted with implementing Government policy at a time of national upheaval.

"The Government must demonstrate that they value these workers and ensure civil servants have enough time to do their jobs to the high standard the country expects.”

The survey results also included testimony from civil servants on the effect these excessive working hours are having on them. They said:

"My blood pressure levels have significantly raised over the past 12 months during which the volume and intensity of my work has significantly increased and I have been prescribed blood pressure medication as a result, despite being only 41 and otherwise in good health."
FDA members, Government Legal Department

"I'm suffering from depression and my marriage is strained due to unreasonable work life balance."
FDA member, Home Office

“I suffered a breakdown last year, was acutely ill with severe anxiety and depression and took sick leave for four months…I had worked as much as 65-80 hours to meet deadlines on pieces of work, which when our Minister changed were never taken forward. I finally cracked.”
Keystone member, Department for Education

“Stressed, pressurised colleagues trying to do too much in too little time leads to delays and errors. Policy is less well thought out, with more pitfalls for us to then identify and correct.”
FDA member, HMRC

More testimonies are available in the full report.
Notes for editors
1. The FDA is the union for senior managers and professionals in public service, representing more than 18,000 members at grades HEO and above. Membership includes senior civil servants, government policy advisors, prosecutors, diplomats, tax professionals, economists, solicitors and other professionals working across the Government and the NHS.
2. The FDA (formerly the First Division Association) should be referred to simply as "The FDA" and can be described as "the senior public servants' union". 
3. The FDA can be found on Twitter @FDA_union. General Secretary Dave Penman tweets as @FDAGenSec.
4. For more information contact: 
FDA Communications Officer Tommy Newell on 020 7401 5588 or 07738 729 145 or email him on tommy@fda.org.uk
FDA Communications Officer Laura Gilbert on 020 7401 5589 or email her on laura.gilbert@fda.org.uk 
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