At a simple khadar offering ceremony last week in Thimphu, friends, colleagues and well-wishers had gathered to congratulate an official on his new achievement. He had called quits to his more than two decades of service as a civil servant. The new job is a new beginning, a better opportunity – at least for the friends who came to offer their wishes.

The conversation soon turned to the challenges in the civil service after the transformation and the reforms, particularly after many left the system to look for better opportunities outside the civil service and in Australia.

What was once the most coveted job, many are waiting to get out of the civil service, judging by the conversation. Everybody is complaining – not because the system is bad, but because of the ripple effect. 

Increasing resignations is putting pressure on those staying back. The talk at every gathering is about being overburdened with work as replacements are not made immediately. The civil service is different from the public corporations, state owned enterprises or the private sector where human resources can be hired or fired based on needs.  The procedure is long where university graduates have to sit for the common examinations, get trained and then get placed in government ministries, departments or agencies. 

This takes time and those multitasking and overwhelmed with work are thinking twice. If more are mulling to resign, the reason is not the perks or opportunities. Like one said, it is the burden of filling in for those who left. In some government departments, there are only one or two officials heading and also doing clerical jobs. The risk of burning out is evident.

A discussion on work life these days is never complete with phrases like Aoow lakha du (it is difficult), burning out, no weekends and holidays, as they complain of workload. A senior civil servant jokingly said that he is not worried about getting managed out from his job, but of his family managing him out. The indication was on the compromises he had made because of work life.

To many, a civil service job was seen as a cushy job with security guaranteed, albeit performance. This has changed with the reforms that rightly drive performance. What is more concerning is that resignations are at all levels if not at crucial or key posts. 

Across the civil service, 95 chiefs resigned from 2021 until February this year. Out of which 55 chiefs resigned within two years. About 40 at the P1s level have left in a month in 2023. Out of these, 14 are in managerial positions and 26 in specialist positions. Majority of those in the specialist position constitute the education and training services group.

And many say, even if lightheartedly, they are waiting for the salary revision. In other words, if the raise is not enough to entice them to stay, the destination is Australia or at least out of the civil service. 

Civil servants are important. Without them, we will compromise everything because they are in all the sectors. Without enough teachers, engineers, doctors, nurses, technicians, planners and implementers, our plans and policies cannot be implemented. It is high time we relooked into the issue.

If getting out of the system is seen as an achievement, it is indeed a huge problem.