Exponential rise in civil service attrition prompts reform strategies, economic factors at play

3,413 civil servants resigned in the FY 2022-2023. Currently there are about 29,241 civil servants, comprising of 17,549 males and 11,629 females

In an alarming development, the attrition rate within the Civil Service has surged exponentially to a staggering 16%, leaving a significant void in the workforce. The sudden surge, outlined in the annual report for 2022-2023 released by the Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC), revealed that this attrition has had a profound impact on various sectors, particularly senior positions and educational institutions.

The report highlighted that out of the overall attrition rate, over 10% were voluntary resignations, signaling a concerning trend, especially among experienced senior officials and educators. Although the causes of this surge in attrition are multifaceted, economic factors have emerged as a dominant driving force, with limited economic opportunities playing a significant role in the decision of many civil servants to seek alternative employment.

The RCSC has stated  that its existing human resource (HR) policies can only indirectly address the root causes of this unprecedented attrition wave. The report also emphasized that the challenges and issues resulting from the high attrition rate cannot be solely mitigated through HR policies.

According to the annual report, a total of 3,413 individuals voluntarily resigned from their positions, followed by 596 whose contracts were completed. Additionally, 484 individuals resigned due to the process of delinking, and 233 due to superannuation. The report further revealed that 16 civil servants faced termination, 15 withdrew from their roles, 13 faced compulsory retirement, and 11 cases were attributed to wrong update, among other reasons.

The implications of this attrition surge have not gone unnoticed, as the RCSC expressed deep concerns about the challenges and issues that have arisen. These challenges include disruptions in service delivery, a lack of engagement among the remaining staff, and a weakened performance management culture. Moreover, lengthy legislative processes have hampered efforts to enact vital legislation, further exacerbated by the need for restructuring local government entities.

Meanwhile, to combat the escalating attrition crisis, the RCSC has implemented various strategies, including enhanced flexibility in HR recruitment, streamlining the hiring process for quicker staff acquisition, and significantly bolstering staff recruitment figures for the upcoming 2024 intake. The RCSC has even extended the superannuation age to retain experienced personnel and has begun rehiring resigned and retired individuals on contract basis.

Additionally, one of the key initiatives in progress is the Manpower Management Framework (MMF), aimed at granting agencies greater flexibility in managing their human resources. RCSC has also advocated for improved pay and incentives by submitting proposals to the 6th Pay Commission. Furthermore, the RCSC suggested that consolidating health and education institutions, which often rely on civil servants, could lead to a more efficient allocation of human resources.

However, the commission cautioned that while these measures might alleviate immediate staffing shortages, identifying a single-lasting solution are challenging as attrition is largely attributed to the lack of economic opportunities.

As part of the broader transformation of the civil service, the commission has set forth comprehensive outcomes, including strengthening governance systems, shift from academic knowledge to competencies required workplace, robust structure including regulatory bodies, councils, and national centers are administratively put  under a Ministry to ensure coordination in policy and regulatory functions, agencies with similar mandate are put together into the four clusters of governance, economic, security, social, amongst others. 

Meanwhile, for the fiscal year 2022-2023, a total budget of Nu 3.56 bn was approved, with Nu 296.596 mn allocated for capital expenses and Nu 61.304 mn for current expenses.

Sherab Dorji from Thimphu