Public servants around the world raise alarm over increasing workload

By on 12/09/2023 | Updated on 14/09/2023
An illustration of lots of different people

A majority of public and civil servants around the world have said that their workload has increased since 2020 – and an even higher proportion think that their workloads are going to increase further, exclusive Global Government Forum research has found.

The global citizen experience survey, undertaken with knowledge partner Appian, also reveals how public servants rate the quality of the services they provide for citizens – and how they rate the government and private sector services they use themselves.

Read in full: Global citizen experience survey: How public services are standing up to unprecedented pressure

The survey examined how public services are standing up to the pressures they face. The survey received 1,149 responses from government officials around the world and digs into the results from the eight most represented countries by number of respondents – Canada, Germany, Italy, Mexico, New Zealand, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The analysis provided a unique insight into the current state of public services – and where opportunities exist for improvement through digitization and automation.

The increasing workload public servants face is laid bare in the report. Over half (56%) of public servants report that their workload has significantly increased since 2020, and an even higher proportion (61%) think that their workloads will increase further. The same 61% proportion also say that citizen demands have increased since the pandemic – but less than one-third (32%) believe that government services have kept pace.

In addition, more than one in four (28%) of global respondents say that the quality of the work they carry out has reduced as a result of demand-driven pressures. Around one-third of respondents in the United States (35%) believe this to be the case, and the proportion rises to 45% in the UK and 42% in New Zealand.

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Ratings of public services lagging behind private provision

This pressure is also revealed when public servants were asked to rate the quality of both the services they provide and the services that they use.

Asked to rate citizens’ experience of interacting with their organization, the highest proportion of respondents say it is good (42%) while overall, the responses equate to a 6/10 rating. However, public servants rate their own experience of public services lower, at 5/10.

As for respondents’ experiences of private sector services – retail and banking and finance services were rated highest, with sectors including insurance, energy, telecommunications, and air travel also rated above their own experience of using government services.

Public servants expect digital delivery

The survey also found that public servants want to deliver digital services. A majority of public servants expect public services to be digital wherever possible, with 57% agreeing that this should be the case. In addition, two-thirds of survey respondents (66%) say that new technologies could significantly improve productivity in their department, and more people agree than disagree that investment in technology such as artificial intelligence would help reduce their workload.

Public servants were also asked to name their top priorities, with improving the accessibility of public services highest, closely followed by eliminating duplicate work and errors. However, different countries have different priorities. Improving accessibility of services is the top priority in countries including Italy, New Zealand, Spain, and the UK. Eliminating duplicate work and errors is the second most frequently named priority overall, but is the top priority for officials in Canada. Improving customer service is the third largest priority for public servants overall, but the top response from officials in the United States.

Public services face ‘wear and tear’

Michael Wernick, the Jarislowsky chair of public sector management at the University of Ottawa and Canada’s former cabinet secretary, told Global Government Forum that public services around the world are facing “wear and tear” after several years of pressure.

Citizens’ expectations of government are growing all the time – so governments need to work to keep pace, says Wernick. “You’re chasing expectations that are continuously rising – expectations for speed, for accuracy, for customization and for privacy protection.

“The level of service that would have been considered best in class 10 years ago would be considered a failure today. To use the mathematics term, it’s asymptotic – the lines will never touch, you will always be chasing continuous improvement and rising expectations. If people are looking for some period of stability, it’s never going to arrive.”

Read in full: Global citizen experience survey: How public services are standing up to unprecedented pressure

Professor Alexander Evans, who teaches public policy at the London School of Economics and is a former strategy director at the UK Cabinet Office, also told GGF that additional demand for public services had led to a “sense that parts of the public sector are not working as well as they did pre-pandemic” – a problem which has been accentuated by industrial action in many countries.

“There’s been deteriorating delivery amidst accentuated public expectations in an era where people are paying more in taxes in many countries,” he says.

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About Richard Johnstone

Richard Johnstone is the executive editor of Global Government Forum, where he helps to produce editorial analysis and insight for the title’s audience of public servants around the world. Before joining GGF, he spent nearly five years at UK-based title Civil Service World, latterly as acting editor, and has worked in public policy journalism throughout his career.

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