Redundant redundancy terms?

July 26, 2010

BRITAIN-BUDGET/CUTS-Owen Morgan is the commercial director of HR consultancy Penna. The views expressed are his own.-

As the pace of change in the public sector increases, the government is starting to reveal additional information around how it plans to deal with the funding crisis that the sector faces.

Amongst a range of controversial plans, one issue has recently caused particular consternation — the revelation that the Government plans to limit the generous redundancy terms offered to some civil servants.

While some of those in the private sector applaud the initiative, asking “why should private sector workers see their taxes go to funding severance packages that are far in excess of what they could ever expect to receive”, those directly affected are, unsurprisingly, up-in-arms.

Unions threaten industrial action and those tasked with implementing the change perceive they have just been handed another difficult issue that makes their work even more challenging. For those workers who are seeing their redundancy terms altered it’s likely to lead to increasing pressure at a time when many will be fearful regarding what the future holds.

So what can be done? How can the government navigate these proposals through the statute books whilst still retaining a motivated, loyal and performance-driven public sector, something that will be of key importance when we emerge from the restructuring phase?

Equally, how can public-sector staff who are likely to lose their roles be treated sensitively and with due care during what, for anyone, is a very difficult time.

Two potential solutions emerge. From an organisational perspective, the public sector needs to speed up the adoption of practices that include identification, attraction, retention and development of those who are most likely to drive the change that public sector organisations require in the short, medium and long term.

Ensuring that these individuals feel  increasingly aligned to the organisational objectives will go some way to mitigate the changes proposed. There are numerous examples of where public-sector organisations have implemented these practices and those lessons now need to be shared more widely, inspiring others in the sector to become the best they can be.

As far as identification of talent goes, many of these individuals are already in post and are undertaking great work — however does the culture always allow them to flourish; is line-management capability commensurate with need and does the organisation really give them the autonomy to perform to their best?

It’s not easy to hold a mirror to oneself sometimes, but for the public sector, now is the time to do it, to identify capability gaps and to look at where improvements can be made. At a time when some employment terms and conditions are under threat, it important to offset these with improvements to the role or the perception of value in the job elsewhere.

For those individuals who will leave the organisation, the government has already identified that enhancing voluntary severance packages can make a significant difference.

This is a positive move. There will be many people who are keen to leave for a variety of reasons, and, if handled well, this can minimise the disruption to front-line services that are so vital to this society.

Voluntary severance or progressive redeployment initiatives can speed up the change process, reduce the number of mandatory redundancies and save money given that difficult and length selection processes can be avoided.

Offering career development support as part of the severance package to help individuals assess their skills and secure alternative employment quickly and efficiently has worked well in the private sector for many, many years and it can now help to minimise disruption and angst in the public sector.

As mentioned above, maintaining motivated and “work-ready” employees  is key to a successful future. And the public sector is generally resilient.

Recent research undertaken by Penna plc has found that publi- sector workers are generally more motivated than their private-sector peers following change and redundancy exercises – whilst nine percent of ex-private sector employees felt that their motivation around work would be lower moving forward, only 3.4 percent of ex-public sector workers expressed a similar view.

Clearly much can sit behind these findings, but they do demonstrate that, in general, public-sector workers are motivated and committed to the roles they undertake and, while no-one would argue with the fact that reducing our overall public-sector budget is an economic necessity, how it is done and how employees are supported through these changes will have a direct impact upon their ultimate outcomes.

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