Public sector HR: is it up to the job?

Despite rating themselves highly on industrial relations, employment law and
innovation, public sector HR professionals admit they still haven’t solved the
perennial problems of performance management, funding and recruitment and

A survey by Personnel Today of almost 1,000 HR directors, managers and staff
working in the public sector reveals that, while tackling massive changes in
restructuring and efficiency, almost 60 per cent fear they lack the funding to
support such organisational change. And this feeling is particularly acute in
the health service.

The vast majority of respondents believe their HR departments are dealing
well with changes in employment law, industrial relations, innovation, equal
opportunities, employee relations and diversity.

But almost half feel their departments are not doing very well on retaining
and attracting talent. The problem of skills shortages in the public sector
labour market concerns 41 per cent of the survey sample.

Public sector HR professionals like the way their working life is
structured. Nearly 90 per cent rated the benefits of flexible working as good,
89 per cent agree there is good job security, and three-quarters rate the
work-life balance the public sector offers.

Managing staff performance was cited as the sector’s main downfall, with
more than half the respondents rating it as not good.

Around two-thirds of respondents believe stress levels in the public sector
are too high. Interestingly, they appear to increase the longer a person has
worked in the sector – two-thirds of people with more than five years’
experience said stress levels were not good.

Almost half of those questioned have previously worked in the private
sector, and of these, nearly two-thirds (61 per cent) prefer working in the
public sector. Three-quarters of HR directors also prefer working in the public
to the private sector.

Jane King, editor of Personnel Today, said it is clear that most public
sector HR professionals feel proud of their work and see many benefits.

"As a fair employer, the public sector scores well, but it has major
challenges to overcome if services overall are to improve," she said.
"The HR profession is well-placed to make the difference, but it needs
adequate funding to pull off organisational change."

By Mike Berry

Pay gulf widens as HR staff move up the ladder

The yawning gap between the pay of public and private sector HR
professionals has been revealed by a survey of almost 7,000

The findings confirm what we have suspected all along that the pay gulf
widens with seniority. While the gap between private sector HR managers and
those in the public sector is more than £5,000 (around 14 per cent of salary),
the difference at HR director level is more than £16,000 (nearly 21 per cent).

However, the pay discrepancies are not causing public sector HR workers to
flee, as roughly the same proportion of public sector and private sector
employees are keeping an eye on the jobs market.

Around 30 per cent of respondents (both public and private) are actively
seeking a new job, and a further 51 per cent of public sector and 46 per cent
of private sector HR professionals say they would jump ship if the right job
came along.

sector HR self-assessment

of HR directors rate their work-life balance as ‘not very good’

in local government rate the public sector as ‘good’ for job security

of HR professionals in central government have never worked in the private

of HR directors in the public sector prefer it to the private sector

of HR directors rate morale in their HR department as ‘high’

of HR staff rate morale in their department as ‘high’

of HR professionals in local government rate their department as ‘good’ at
dealing with changes in employment law

of HR directors say their department is ‘good’ at industrial relations

in the health sector rate their department as ‘fairly good’ or ‘very good’ on
diversity issues

of HR directors say public sector HR is ‘not good’ at managing performance

of HR professionals in central government rate the salary levels as ‘not good’

of health HR professionals rate benefits as ‘very good’

say career opportunities in the public sector are either ‘fairly good’ or ‘very

of health HR professionals say stress levels are ‘not good’

of central government respondents rate flexible working benefits as ‘good’

based on responses from 932 HR professionals currently working in the public

Reasons to work in the Public Sector

– Because it is not profit driven and therefore can offer a more caring

– Provision of a valued service to people and because we can network and
share experiences

– Very attractive pension scheme and non-pay benefits

– Tend to follow legislation more strictly. Have to be more innovative for
HR solutions -can’t just throw money at it

– Less hire and fire attitude

– Staff are given more opportunities to develop and there is more support
for staff

– More interesting issues to deal with

– Working for a reason, not just money

– Training and personnel development is taken seriously

– I can have an impact on the quality of people’s lives, rather than just
making profit for the directors and shareholders

– More interesting HR work, never dull

– Less pressure, more flexibility in the role I am in. It’s worth at least
£10,000 per annum to me

– I work 9-5 without too much stress

Reasons to work in the Private Sector

– More dynamic environment, more pressurised, more career opportunities and
more responsibility

– Public sector is too heavy with bureaucracy and overly controlled, opposed
to streamlined and managed

– Technology is more advanced

– There is better ability to fund, plan and action change without
government/civil serviceinfecting the work

– Poor performance managed better

– Remuneration reflects role

– Decisions can be made immediately by HR rather than through a committee
unaware of the whole remit of employee relations

– Private sector empowers organisations, whereas public sector is still too
bureaucratic and stymies innovation

– Work with HR professionals, not civil servants that don’t always
understand HR

– More money, better working conditions. Looks better on CV

– In the public sector, union intervention and rigid grade structure
restricts innovation and makes HR rather inflexible

And some don’t like it anywhere: Actually neither – HR is moribund in
both sectors! (Give me several hours and I will tell you why)

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