Loyalty is the key in a changing world

We asked some of the profession’s leading figures about our survey, the
current state of public sector HR and what it needs to do to improve
performance in the coming years.

Alastair Henderson, acting director, NHS, Employers Organisation

The key challenge for HR in the NHS is supporting the organisation through
change. There are always challenges surrounding managing staff performance and
the changing culture of an organisation. The question of funding and HR
capacity is crucial, and I’m not surprised at the concerns of the profession.

But I don’t think we should underestimate the commitment and satisfaction
achieved by people working in the public sector and the NHS – that’s very

Jo Fellows, HR adviser, Local Government, Employers’ Organisation

Local government HR departments have been at the forefront of good practice
in areas such as equality and diversity, and this seems to be reflected in the
survey results. It’s an exciting and challenging time for HR professionals
within local government at the moment, particularly as people management is
moving up in the improvement agenda.

Will Hutton, chief executive, The Work Foundation

Managing the performance of staff is always a big problem. Virtually every
staff survey in the private and public sector alike is guaranteed to say three
things: that organisations can’t manage performance, that there needs to be
more team-working, and something about the better design of pay and reward
systems. Not managing performance is a widely-perceived problem in the private
sector, and it doesn’t surprise me that it’s an issue for public sector HR
professionals as well.

Mike Emmott, employee relations adviser, Chartered Institute of Personnel
and Development (CIPD)

The results on the whole are pleasing as they concur with the CIPD’s own research.
The one real surprise is the high rating of those enjoying a good work-life
balance. This is good news as it suggests an emphasis in the public sector on
translating family-friendly and flexible policies.

However, the high stress levels – particularly in the health service – are
discouraging. You have to look at the reasons why they are high. One of the
main reasons is the poor standards of line management – a particular weakness
in the public sector. I also think the ‘ambiguity of objectives’ in the public
sector can lead to stress.

Alan Warner, corporate director (property and people), Hertfordshire
County Council and vice-president of the Society of Personnel Officers in
Government Services (Socpo)

Part of what we need to do is address issues of image. The public sector is
a great place to be and we need to say so more forcefully and frequently, but
we also need to concentrate more on picking out the stars of tomorrow. Very few
other areas of employment give people the real opportunity to make a difference
and improve the quality of life and the environment in which we all live.

The upshot is that good HR directors have to be a lot more creative with the
limited resources they have. The evidence suggests they are doing this as
massive changes have been achieved over the past few years.

Andrew Foster, director of HR, Department of Health

The good scores on industrial relations, employee relations, equal
opportunities, innovation and employment law reflect the high quality of staff
in HR functions in the NHS. The good scores on work life balance, flexible
working, and job security are also encouraging.

The survey’s findings on stress reflect the public sector generally,
particularly the health service. However, we are not complacent, we recognise
the need to keep concentration on building effective people managers, and are
applying research tactics, such as team-working which improves stress

Bev Messinger, head of HR, Coventry City Council

Skills shortages are certainly an issue for local councils. Coventry is
approaching this on a number of fronts, including a fundamental review of
recruitment processes and policies which will address issues of attracting and
retaining talent and improving the diversity of the workforce.

Angela O’Connor, HR director, Crown Prosecution Service

I have some real worries that perhaps some HR departments are doing the
things they enjoy and feel comfortable with, rather than those that relate
directly to business needs.

There are some great HR teams in the public sector – I think better than any
other sector, as they have the issues of public accountability to deal with,
the public purse and a variety of services to deliver to diverse communities. I
personally love working in the public sector. I think it is rewarding,
fast-paced, the people are great and making a difference for the public is as
good as work gets.

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