Civil Service performance review deemed failure as majority pass

Less than 1% of staff ‘needing improvement’ while 6 per cent 'outstanding'

The performance management system last year ranked the majority of the civil servants as “exceeding the required standard”.

The performance management system last year ranked the majority of the civil servants as “exceeding the required standard”.

Mon, Dec 9, 2013, 11:43

A Government review of a system designed to tackle poor performance in the Civil Service acknowledges it has not resulted in a realistic assessment of the State’s 30,000 employees.

The performance management system last year ranked the majority of the civil servants as “exceeding the required standard”.

By contrast, the performance of less than 1 per cent of civil servants was assessed as “unacceptable” or “needing improvement”. The system, introduced in recent years, links staff members’ performance to pay increments and eligibility for promotion. However, a recent internal review of the system by the Department of Public Expenditure acknowledges it has serious deficiencies.

Five-point scale
The system involves a sliding five-point scale which is used by senior managers to assess the performance of employees. Five points is “outstanding”, four “exceeds the required standard”, three is “fully acceptable”, two “needs improvement” and one is “unacceptable”. The expert group that drew up the scale anticipated that – based on other organisations – up to 10 per cent of staff would score as “unacceptable”, while up to 20 per cent would “need improvement”.

However, new figures for 2012 show the performance of just 0.08 per cent of employees was ranked as “unacceptable”, while 0.84 per cent were judged as needing improvement. Some 40 per cent were rated as “fully acceptable”, while 53 per cent “exceeded the required standard”. A further 6 per cent were assessed as “outstanding”.

An internal Government review of the system states that the main positive outcome has been an increase in the number of civil servants being assessed.

Some 85 per cent of staff were assessed under the system last year, up from 77 per cent the previous year. However, briefing material released under the Freedom of Information Act acknowledges the distribution of ratings is “significantly out of line, particularly in relation to poor performance”.

Department of Public Expenditure officials say there is evidence that the process is perceived as a “form-filling exercise, too cumbersome and lacking in fairness and consistency”.

While some changes have been introduced to stream-line the process, officials concede that many issues are symptomatic of a need to develop and strengthen the management culture across the services.

“This is a significant challenge that we the leadership of the civil service must address,” it adds.

Since 2005, the awarding of pay increments to civil servants has been conditional on completing annual assessment and receiving a minimum rating of at least two points, or “needs improvement”. An employee’s sick leave and attendance records are also taken into account.

The Comptroller and Auditor General has previously raised concern that deficiencies in the assessment system – along with the numbers not being assessed – give rise to the risk that significant numbers of underperforming staff have received pay increases.

Briefing material states that a number of changes have been made to promote fairness and consistency in the rankings, and that negotiations are ongoing with trade unions on how to strengthen the system.

Any managers who fail to proactively manage the performance of staff may also receive a rating no higher than “needs to improve”.

A more framework on addressing poor performance is also being drawn up, while more training is being provided for senior employees.

Latest figures indicate there are up to 30,000 staff employed in the Civil Service at a total cost of well over €1 billion.

In his report into the performance of the Civil Service in 2011, the Comptroller and Auditor General concluded that effective management of the Civil Service was critical if the State was to maximise the value of its workforce.

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