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Retention in Public Services

Oct 18, 2023

Retention in Public Services Report

Public services are responsible for keeping the public safe, healthy and well educated. Service effectiveness depends on keeping existing workforces skilled, motivated – and, crucially, in post.

This report by the Institute for Government addresses that gap by assessing the scale, impact, causes and solutions to retention problems in three key public services: the NHS, schools and the police.

School leaders will find this report insightful as it compares education staff retention with other public services and places the sector’s experience in a wider context.

Main Findings

The report finds that the main causes of unhealthily high staff exits are:

  • Pay in public services has become less competitive.
  • Workloads are high.
  • Public service jobs can involve unsociable hours, particularly the shift patterns required to run NHS and police services 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
  • Leadership and management can be poor.
  • Staff can experience bullying and discrimination.
  • Societal norms have changed. Flexible working arrangements have become increasingly popular but rare in the public sector.
  • Goodwill is dissipating. Morale is low and many staff feel undervalued, citing post-2010 pay decisions, the stresses of the pandemic, and the sense that there is no help on the horizon.
Retention in public services


  1. The government should produce workforce strategies for all public services.
  2. The government should make better use of pay review bodies (PRBs).
  3. PRBs should make more use of their freedom to consider and make recommendations.
  4. The government should more regularly consider the impact of its policy decisions on staff workloads.
  5. The government should tackle the barriers to effective leadership within public service organisations.
  6. Departments should monitor compliance with the roll-out of flexible working initiatives and support local leaders where extra support is needed.
  7. Departments should seek to better understand the costs of poor retention in the public services they oversee.
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