Defence Science and Technology Laboratory Employee Reviews about "civil service"

Updated 30 Dec 2020

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3.3
54%
Recommend to a Friend
80%
Approve of CEO
Defence Science and Technology Laboratory Chief Executive   Gary Aitkenhead (no image)
Gary Aitkenhead
43 Ratings
Pros
  • "Flexible working hours excellent pensions on-site gyms(in 39 reviews)

  • "Stimulating, endlessly interesting work at the cutting edge of science(in 37 reviews)

Cons
  • "Very 'civil service', employees who have been there a long time can be a bit cynical/jaded(in 22 reviews)

  • "It is a part of the MOD so you can't talk about what you do with many people other than your colleagues(in 16 reviews)

More Pros and Cons
Pros & Cons are excerpts from user reviews. They are not authored by Glassdoor.

Reviews about "civil service"

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  1. "Being at the heart of S&T"

    5.0
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Diversity & Inclusion
    • Career Opportunities
    • Compensation and Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Current Employee - Principal Scientist in Portsmouth, South East England, England
    Recommends
    Positive Outlook
    Approves of CEO

    I have been working at Defence Science and Technology Laboratory full-time for more than 5 years

    Pros

    Ability to work with the entire supply chain and to set the direction of UK Science and Technology, and to work on truly world-class research with UK Partner Nations. Work/Life balance can be great and is really led by your approach; whichever works for the individual.

    Cons

    Headcount restrictions due to being civil service, and lack of people with appropriate skill set in certain areas (like mine) leads to quite a lot of pressure at times; but this is true for the entire UK supply base (including both industry and academia). Regarding diversity, at times it can feel like Dstl is not diverse, however I fundamentally believe it is inclusive workplace and is a place anyone can be themselves; I believe the diversity is more tied to the fact that unfortunately this field in it's entirety is not particularly diverse and this is something that the entire defence and STEM community should be (and is) looking to encourage more people at all levels of education/career that STEM is an area that may be of interest to them.

  2. "Underpaid"

    1.0
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Diversity & Inclusion
    • Career Opportunities
    • Compensation and Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Former Employee - Research Scientist in Sevenoaks, England
    Doesn't Recommend
    Neutral Outlook
    No Opinion of CEO

    I worked at Defence Science and Technology Laboratory full-time for more than a year

    Pros

    Flexi time that is all

    Cons

    Massively underpaid to both other areas of civil service and research industry


  3. "Very good place to work"

    4.0
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Diversity & Inclusion
    • Career Opportunities
    • Compensation and Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Current Employee - Senior Engineer in Southampton, England
    Recommends
    Positive Outlook
    Approves of CEO

    I have been working at Defence Science and Technology Laboratory full-time

    Pros

    Lots of very interesting work. Employees can constantly go in and out of different specialities. Very very flexible. Promotions are based purely on employee's competency rather than waiting for a 'post' to open up.

    Cons

    Pay ! Even among the Civil Service, pay is a few thousand lower than other equivalent CS departments.

  4. "Exciting work you just can't do anywhere else"

    5.0
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    • Compensation and Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Current Employee - Programmer Director in Salisbury, England
    Recommends
    Positive Outlook
    Approves of CEO

    I have been working at Defence Science and Technology Laboratory full-time for more than 10 years

    Pros

    Very supportive of staff and career development is well supported Work is novel and genuinely unique

    Cons

    Civil Service salary approach means pay rises are hard to come by once in role

  5. "One of the most interesting places to work"

    5.0
    Former Contractor - Industrial Placement Student 
    Recommends
    Approves of CEO

    I worked at Defence Science and Technology Laboratory for more than a year

    Pros

    Stimulating, endlessly interesting work at the cutting edge of science. There are few cooler places you could rock up to work at every day, even if you can't really tell people about it! Very friendly people all round and quite a family feel as most have been settled there for years.

    Cons

    Very 'civil service', employees who have been there a long time can be a bit cynical/jaded. Hard to blame them when their pay hasn't risen in line with inflation for years, but boy didn't I know it!

  6. Helpful (22)

    "Recommendation depends on so many factors"

    2.0
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    • Compensation and Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Current Employee - Principal Engineer in Salisbury, England
    Doesn't Recommend
    Negative Outlook
    No Opinion of CEO

    I have been working at Defence Science and Technology Laboratory full-time for more than 5 years

    Pros

    Flexible working Benefits (except pay) Location Some colleagues Dstl can be a good place to work but you need to be after very specific things for that to be the case, and be lucky enough to drop into a work area that can facilitate those things. For scientists working in the chembio area I’m sure it’s probably one of the more exciting places you could work, and the organisation provides a critical national capability in this area. The site is quite pleasant and the benefits of being out of a city can’t be understated, as long as you can get there. At dstl I’ve genuinely worked with some of the most talented and dedicated people I’ve come across in my career. There are, albeit in my view not enough, some incredibly passionate, skilled and experienced people working for dstl and if you are lucky enough to work with them then it can be truly rewarding. Some people really are making a difference to this country, although the organisation is poor at talking about it in public and maintaining its image (there is seemingly a constant fight in national press coverage between mentioning Dstl or just saying MoD scientists). Benefits are typical of the civil service (the pension is excellent, but you’ve got the unknown political influence that means it isn’t as set in stone as you’d like) and the commitment to flexible working (hours and from home) is excellent and generally well managed (I.e crack on as long as you are getting the job done). Pay is poor. Not unique for the civil service but it is uniquely so here. For whatever reason the pay system is unified across admin and S&T staff unlike other organisations - this means that and PA can be paid the same as a graduate engineer, despite the latter being much more valuable in terms of skills and delivery of organisational purpose. Within S&T they have also been unable to bring in specialist skill pay despite partners elsewhere in government being able to make this case for similar roles. Overall, you might get lucky and end up working with some great people on interesting work. But the problems start when that doesn’t happen - which is more likely. It’s tough to recommend somewhere where your satisfaction depends purely on luck.

    Cons

    Some colleagues Pay Your enjoyment will vary As a counterpoint to above, I’ve sadly also worked with some of the worst people here. It’s really difficult to say what the balance is but there is a lot of chaff in the organisation and you are likely to have to endure it regardless of otherwise how good some people can be. Some of it is purely down to a lack of appropriate capability at the right level and the organisation struggles to deal with this. There is a lot of people cruising just enough to stay off of anyone’s radar but that ends up with there being a lot of, relatively misplaced, dependency on quite a few supposed experts who aren’t that interested, talented or just have out of date knowledge. Also people related, but because of the lack of a single mission focus there can be quite a vitriolic atmosphere between different divisions and is something that particularly manifests itself on the internal social network. Everyone is pulling in different directions and trying to tie that all together into a cohesive whole has something that the organisation has long struggled with. The major major gripe, that will entirely depending on your skills and job, is technology infrastructure. There has been woeful investment in IT for a number of years which is now causing major issues with delivery of technology heavy projects. This has been exacerbated by a number of poor decisions on infrastructure that were not correct at the time they were made, but have been persisted with due to sunk costs. There is a lot of blame to go around but it falls mostly with the organisation rather than its strategic supplier. Very few of the staff involved in corporate technology have the requisite knowledge and/or experience to be running the function - either this is lack of commercial IT experience/expertise and/or understanding of the S&T business. Corporate policy’s force you down the managed route but the IT function has little motivation nor desire to treat the S&T business like a real customer and service it’s demands. Even if they wanted to, which I genuinely don’t believe, there isn’t enough money anyway. Words like internal cloud will be bounced around at interview but set expectations to minimum, it’s a poorly delivered virtual desktop environment that is so constrained to be near useless. And despite hawking that it’s met the rules at the time, those have changed (dramatically) but the solution hasn’t. Public cloud is a distant dream (even though it’s government policy). Modern, state of the art it isn’t. Vast amount of staff time is spent fighting this system (people, process and technology) rather than doing real work - it’s a shame because a more forward leaning and less risk adverse management could make significant changes here but the costs would be astronomical and it’s difficult to see a route out of the quagmire it’s in. A lot of the seniors within corporate IT would challenge this assessment, but it’s completely true, and they are the problem - without fundamental change in people and policy then the technology estate will remain stuck in the dark ages. To add insults to injury - you’ll probably be involved in contracting out interesting work to commercial suppliers who don’t have the same restrictions and are free to use lots of modern technologies - talk about kicking you while you’re down! Progression is good to a point, but beyond that technical career progression becomes hard and is an element of luck, dead mans shoes and ability to get involved in high profile work. After 0900 it’s impossible to get a desk with screens, keyboard and mouse so are relegated to sitting at a breakout desk all day staring down at a laptop screen (quite how this doesn’t breach H&S law I’m not sure). And good luck parking.

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  7. Helpful (26)

    "Soul crushingly awful; avoid unless there is no other option."

    1.0
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    • Compensation and Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Former Employee - Team Member in Fareham, England
    Doesn't Recommend
    Negative Outlook
    No Opinion of CEO

    I worked at Defence Science and Technology Laboratory full-time for more than 3 years

    Pros

    Good budget for training staff with online courses etc and no obligation to pay back any costs incurred if you leave. Unbeatable job security - No matter how incompetent you are, you cannot get fired for it. There's an internal social media site you can spend all day on, regardless if it's actually for work or not.

    Cons

    The civil service competency framework rules all - progression is virtually non existent for technical staff, so anyone trying to get out of the mid-career trench must milk the framework as hard as possible; they often end up creating whole cliques (or 'lab's) among themselves around buzzwords and shamelessly call 20-30 meetings per week rather than actually *doing* anything, as this is the only sure way to progress. Ultimately, approximately 50 to 80 percent of managements time is spent preparing, presenting or attending masturbatory PowerPoint presentations, conferences and meetings as these are infinitely more rewarding towards career progression than actually delivering any innovation. Salary is very noncompetitive, even for the civil service - it starts off OK for grads, halting at approximately 28k. From there, you'll be *very* lucky to make 35k within 3 years, and even luckier if you make 40k within 10 years. Notably, the rest of the civil service essentially pays more, offering up to 5-10k higher per career point and private sector often offering double for what is essentially the same work. Note that the austerity measures means a 1% cap and thus £400-1000 pay cut every year for every member of staff - I've met long term staff who are looking for jobs elsewhere because they're concerned about their ability to feed their family in 5 years time. Painfully, it's easy to get put into an under performing team - even if you manage to carry the entire project, the team member who shouts the loudest will likely get all the credit. Severely under performing staff are not managed out the organisation, meaning if you are put into one of these teams, you can write off the next 2-3 years of your career. The sites themselves are an epitome of frustration - the open plan offices mean you'll overhear every conversation and impromptu meeting, regardless of how relevant it is to you - I once heard someone discuss their interest in classic Gaelic literature for 2 hours straight. The offices themselves are overly cold and arid - expect to stack some thermal layers and receive some static shocks 5-10 times a day. The IT is easily one of the most fixable part of DSTL - yet some of the most outdated. The hardware used in the 'cloud' systems and business laptops are 5-10 years old at least; it will take at least half an hour to load up your laptop and check your emails in the morning. The services offered by IT are comically poor with most intermittently failing - its alien to load up a page in anything but internet explorer, and connectivity is awful with the entirety of the sites bandwidth only slightly exceeding a household internet line. Complaining about the IT literally achieves nothing, and if you're trying to do any technical work you'll spend at least 50% of your time dealing with the systems rather than actually doing work. IT inhibiting your ability to work is crushing because as a technical member of you'll progress even slowly without anything to show for yourself. Ultimately, the competent staff who rely on functioning IT either leave for better systems or turn managerial; selling their soul for cool clubs, PowerPoints, meetings and conferences. The organisation has a serious diversity issue, with middle aged heterosexual caucasian males totally dominating most engineering, analytical and scientific areas. For the majority of cases, discrimination is rare however bullying of female staff by male staff is alarmingly common and rarely dealt with adequately.

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  8. Helpful (19)

    "Frustrating"

    2.0
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    • Compensation and Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Current Employee - Senior Scientist 
    Doesn't Recommend
    Neutral Outlook
    No Opinion of CEO

    I have been working at Defence Science and Technology Laboratory full-time for more than 10 years

    Pros

    Flexible working, some potential to engage with a lot of interesting science and technology. Some good procurement mechanisms by the standards of the public sector. Free milk at Porton.

    Cons

    Communication within Dstl is poor, generally very slow, somewhat ambiguous and sometimes rude. Very risk-averse culture, with a lot of management layers, some of which like to micro-manage, which makes it very slow to achieve (external) delivery objectives - as a result many objectives are simply internal hurdles which need to be jumped, leaving little time for more satisfying work. Pay is significantly worse than the rest of the civil service, with some grades receiving a third less than equivalent roles in MOD and other departments. Parking and desk space can be difficult to secure at Porton Down.

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  9. Helpful (1)

    "Underpaid but great place to work"

    4.0
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    • Compensation and Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Current Employee - Team Leader 
    Recommends
    Positive Outlook
    Approves of CEO

    I have been working at Defence Science and Technology Laboratory full-time for more than 10 years

    Pros

    Flexible work, flexible careers - huge range of opportunity to progress in different areas including technical and leadership.

    Cons

    Low pay compared to other organisations and even the rest of civil service

  10. Helpful (30)

    "Selfish toxic culture, insensitive ineffective management, paints a good picture externally but can't get staff to stay"

    1.0
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    • Compensation and Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Current Employee - Analyst in Fareham, England
    Doesn't Recommend
    Negative Outlook
    No Opinion of CEO

    I have been working at Defence Science and Technology Laboratory part-time for more than 8 years

    Pros

    The work is generally interesting, with some good chances to do things you can't anywhere else (but that is not guaranteed, and the majority of tasks are long, vague and you won't see the impact). Flexi-time is a good benefit. Some of the staff are friendly and helpful.

    Cons

    Where to begin with this... Management are not interested in their team members, it is simply a stepping stone to a promotion. As such, they do not help their staff, aren't well trained and self-serve. Senior staff exploit junior staff to their own end, passing off work as their own. The flexi-time scheme is abused by some staff to get away with claiming more hours than they contribute. Concerns raised are not followed up, and are buried or actively resisted by management who do not want to spend effort to tackle an issue. Junior staff can also be exploited by selling a task as a development opportunity but ending up as basic secretarial work. The organisation presents an image of cutting-edge, exciting, world changing work, but the reality is far from what is promised. There is much less science being performed, with a push towards managing external companies and softer work. There is such a disparity with trying to appear great externally but an awful effort internally to appeal to current staff. Many tumultuous change schemes have made the situation worse in many ways. It seems that it is easier to keep recruiting in new staff than keep those currently working there. This is obvious based on the turn-over I've witnessed locally. The pay and rewards system has eroded over my time here, to the point where my one token promotion has essentially cancelled out the real-terms pay cut. Find out what all of the staff say here by searching the web for the "Have your say" Civil Service results and note how Dstl's scores are dropping, and drop much more than the average for the Civil Service. I did recommend this place to a friend years ago, but after the way she was treated I deeply regret ever promoting this place. I created a new capability for the organisation which went on to have big impact... until some people secretly copied the files, produced dubious advice to customers and claimed all credit. I challenged this, and after being blown off 3 times, ended up in many meetings pressuring me to drop the complaint before it became too much and I was signed off with stress. Management and the perpetrators were of course unaffected having closed ranks to stop my complaint progress.

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