Supplying the reasons for working in the public sector

With all the recent publicity about below inflation pay awards, legal challenges on equal pay and industrial unrest, you might be forgiven for thinking that the public sector is a hotbed of discontent. This means it’s more important than ever that employers and HR professionals be more creative about the benefits of working in the public sector.

This is equally true in respect of the need to attract and develop good quality public sector HR people. Recent comments from some senior HR figures would suggest that public sector HR lacks talent. This is simply not true.

In my experience, the public sector, including HR, is populated by highly committed, highly skilled and talented professionals who deliver a huge diversity of functions. Working in such an environment is not only challenging and stimulating but it brings opportunities to develop some really key HR skills at an early stage in your career.

The unrest on pay levels actually enables HR professionals to gain real industrial and employee relations experience – something that I am concerned that our profession and career structures post-Ulrich will increasingly prevent. These roles aren’t for the faint hearted but can be very enjoyable. And it’s not all about operational HR there are other roles of equal significance for organisational development professionals, policy gurus and a broad range of other specialists.

It’s not all hard work and no rewards, as reports seem to suggest. Public sector employees have access to:

  1. a range of financial and non-financial rewards including good quality and accessible development opportunities, delivered through a range of blended learning approaches,
  2. a final salary pension scheme in many cases,
  3. a proactive and supportive attitude towards flexible working,
  4. a range of benefits, such as childcare vouchers.

I could go on.

At a national level, however, more imagination could be used when looking at public sector pay and reward. If money is tight, employers could look at releasing funding from other terms and conditions open to public sector workers – such as travel allowances, occupational sick pay – and trade these off against an increase in basic pay. It’s a real tough one. Costs must be managed carefully in the public sector but if you want the best people for your public servants, you must ensure they receive higher than average pay.

Employers must also actively promote these benefits to employees in a way that enables them to compare their total package with a similar role in the private sector. Many organisations are looking at how to translate these benefits into monetary terms so that they can inform people what their total reward package is worth.

Equally important are issues relating to the style of leadership and ethos of an organisation. If you receive good pay and financial benefits, good access to learning and development and good work life balance opportunities, you may still choose to leave if your heart isn’t in it and leadership is poor.

Stronger approaches to organisational development are bringing the issue of culture behaviour and leadership to the fore and a higher proportion of public sector managers are becoming improving their emotional intelligence and awareness of the need to manage talent effectively. In such an environment, good quality HR and OD people can flourish and progress.

Converts to the public sector and, indeed, HR have been both high-profile and significant, examples have included the appointment of Clare Chapman as the HR chief for the NHS, leaving Tesco to do so. If the opportunity, challenge and, frankly, the reward package on offer weren’t sufficient would someone with Chapman’s ability really have made such a move?

The public sector hasn’t been brilliant in the past in communicating reward and benefits to employees (including HR people), but it’s a tactic we will have to learn to employ more effectively in the future, both as line managers and as HR professionals to support our organisations. Supply and demand is really a simple equation. The demand exists for HR people and other public sector workers, but as a sector we aren’t yet doing enough to manage the supply and channel it towards staying in public service.

Stephen Moir, director of people and policy, Cambridgeshire County Council and PPMA president

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