by Christoph Demmke
About the author
Christoph Demmke is Professor of Public Management at the University of Vaasa, Finland. He has published numerous books on comparative HR reforms and ethics.
Most European Union countries are abandoning conventional, bureaucratic (Weber-type) human resource management approaches. Yet there is no concerted shift towards a standardised model built on best practice. Nor are governments adopting privatised delivery of public services. Instead, the latest reforms show how governments are embracing more flexible models, and diverse practices and organisational arrangements. These trends also suggest that, in future, long-standing concepts – the separation of government and society, rationality, and even the rule of law – might no longer apply. In this article, the author examines the implications of today’s shift towards a more fragmented, flexible and individualised civil service.
Summary of the article
Public administration is a constituent part of the system of government. As history shows, countries may survive without government but not without public administration. Until today, no government has completely privatized the delivery of public tasks and no public administration works like a private company. Despite its importance for millions of people, the nature of public administrations is not well known to the wider public and public administration as such rarely enjoys a high reputation. At best, public administration reform is an interesting subject for experts. Moreover, civil service and HR reforms are mostly dealt with by lawyers, HR specialists and civil servants themselves. This is strange, as public administration and civil services should serve the citizenry and therefore, public administration reform should be of great interest to the wider public. However, despite the importance of public administrations, many people are not interested in the workways of government.
However, People have high expectations, for good reasons. People have a right to request that the delivery of public tasks follows ambitious objectives: They want employment systems that guarantee observation of the fundamental values, administrative law principles and ensure a focus on effectiveness, efficiency and accountability. Government policies should also ensure equal treatment and fairness, be attractive and competitive with respect to the private sector policies while managing tax payers’ money as prudently and while also rewarding individual performance. Increasingly, employment structures should also be diversified and representative while ensuring the merit principle, the equality of chances and the principle of non-discrimination (which is being defined much broader than decades ago).
For a long time, it was relatively easy to define civil services. In all countries the civil service status was linked to the state as a sovereign power and the rule of law doctrine as well as to the principle of legality. The question who should be given a civil service status was always linked to the task of exercising national public powers, safeguarding the general interest of the state and a traditional nation-state philosophy.
In fact, in Europe the emergence of independent and impartial civil services is also closely linked to the emergence of the Republican State (firstly in France) and the Nation-State (especially after the Congress in Vienna in 1815) (Schulze, 2004:39). In France, the public law status was “invented” during the French Revolution in order to link the civil servants to the State and not to the Monarchy or other individual interests. Therefore, Bekke/van der Meer (2001) and Rosanvallon (2015) define modern civil service systems as depersonalised systems which differ from traditional modes of government. However, the realization of an independent, impartial and merit - based civil service was more difficult than expected. « Indeed, for much of the nineteenth century (...) the spoils system dominated personnel policy. (...) Public office was perverted into a private fiefdom as arrogance, greed, and opportunism prevailed over honor, openness and prudence. Favoritism, cronyism, intimidation, corruption, waste, scandals and rampant dismissals were widespread in that squalid era. Rather than governance; its highest priority was to reward its friends, to grant favors for favors given » (Bowman et West, 2008 : 183)
In the 19th century, the biggest changes included the introduction of centralized recruitment procedures, the adoption of civil service laws, the centralization of HR policies and the introduction of merit principles (including entrance examinations, job tenure, career service, political neutrality) which were adopted – as a moral guardian to democracy – and which should shield employees from politically inspired employment actions. The status of the civil servants evolved into a protected status with many specific employment features that differed to ordinary employment patterns. Overall, the purpose of the creating of this type of bureaucratic civil service was a response to the emergence of the liberal state which was based on the rule of law. All Member States designed their public organizations in specific ways because they expected a certain behavior on the part of civil servants would result from specific organizational features.
In the 20th century, countries introduced hierarchical and formalized organizational structures, scientific management methods (according to Taylor and Fayol) clear and rigid career paths, life-time tenure, full-time employment, seniority, advantageous pension systems and rigid remuneration systems were introduced in order to reduce as far as possible the risk of too much political influence, corruption, misconduct, the exercise of private interests and instability of government. Following this, at a minimal level, administration was considered to be good and ethical if it achieved the implementation and enforcement of the existing laws and policy goals of the Government of the day. Moreover, ethically good or acceptable behavior was defined in terms of rationality, law obedience, impartiality and standardization. From the ethical point of view following law or superior’s orders is usually not problematic. It is still a very relevant guideline for public officials, as it highlights the importance of the rule of law and loyalty to democratically elected government.
Dicey expressed the meaning in this way: « when we speak of the “rule of law” as a characteristic of our country, not only that with us no man is above the law, but (which is a different thing) that, every man, whatever his rank or condition, is subject to the ordinary law of the realm and amendable to the jurisdiction of the ordinary tribunals. Thus no one is above the law, and all are subject to the same law administered in the same courts » Until today, this traditional rational, technical, legalistic and instrumental understanding of “public organizations” and of “people” have not completely vanished. With central public administrations still being closed off and separated from society and citizens, central public employees are still a relatively protected category of staff. Because of their still existing specific treatment, civil servants are supposed to have a specific Public Service Motivation (PSM) (Perry/Hondeghem, 2008), having different values and different personalities, being motivated by different incentives, working differently than employees in the private sector, being more security-minded, performing differently, being more rule-oriented and more oriented to the common good.
Current trends in HRM have opened public employment for ever more diverse employment innovations. Whereas most governments agree that politics should not try to form the character or cultivate the virtue of its citizens, the increasing popularity of behavioral ethics (Wieland, 2010), the “affective turn in economics” (Priddat, 2010) and the popularity of nudging (as an instrument), destandardisation trends and the trend towards the delegation of own responsibilities to employees through different concepts such as engagement, life-long learning and competency-development (as HRM policies) show that current trends in HR policies are leading towards an individualization and “psychologisation” of HRM (Godard, 2014).
These developments run counter to a grand administrative tradition: For a long time, HRM in the public sector was dominated by rational, legal, standardized and technical approaches. Today, traditional HRM is in trouble, both theoretically and practically because it is challenged by ethical, financial and budgetary, behavioural, managerial narratives and developments in the neurosciences (Thompson, 2011, 363). Currently, the discipline of HRM integrates new evidence, especially from the behavioural sciences. This is a reaction to the traditional focus in the field which was based on technical and legal ideas that ignored psychological aspects, although evidence existed since the Hawthorne Experiments (and even well before) that individual behaviour is largely influenced by justice and fairness perceptions, emotions and feelings, such as hope, fear, aspirations, expectations etc. Today, instruments such as nudging have become tremendously popular. For example, in the field of ethics, approaches that are based on laws and compliance-based approaches are believed to be ineffective since they guard only against intentional forms of unethical behavior (and not unintentional forms). Disciplines like behavioural ethics explain why people overestimate their ability to do what is right and why they act unethical without meaning to (Bazerman and Tenbrunsel, 2011). This turn towards behavioural approaches can be explained as a counter-reaction and because of the shortcomings of traditional (bureaucratic) approaches.
However, they are neither new, nor without problems. Already decades ago, Lindblom suggested that “decisions within this political setting can never be wholly rational but (…) are of a “bounded rational” nature. That is to say, instead of insisting on an “optimal solution”, the public policy maker must be satisfied with what is “good enough”, or as Lindbloom suggested: must “muddle through” (Lindblom, 1959).
In the 1950th Simon did not deny the possibility of change processes as a result of rational processes. However, he showed that organisations never work purely rationally or perfectly: “We forget sometimes that an organisation is a group of people behaving, These people are not tools or machines. They have feelings, hopes, and fears. They get sick, hungry, angry, frustrated, happy, sad. Their behaviour is subject to a whole range of influences extending back to their births…” (Simon, 1973, 55). According to Simon, at the root of public administration are continuous conflicts and communication blockages due to :
- Barriers of language (misinterpretation and misunderstanding);
- Differing frames of reference (different mental understanding of definitions);
- Geographical distance impeding the communication process (over Units, Countries, Ministries);
- Status distance as a filtering process throughout hierarchical levels of organisation;
- Self-protection (individuals tend to communicate more those things that are to their benefit);
- Pressure of work (people tend to overlook important matters);
- Censorship (limitations on the flow of information by authority or force)
Thus, already many years ago experts arrived at the conclusion that, in reality, work in the public sector is paradoxical, individual, value-laden, emotional, pluralistic, political and unpredictable. The classical bureaucratic approach (Weber and Taylor) neglected the importance of individuals because of their focus on the concept of “administrative neutrality” and the dominance of rational and legal approaches. There is no place to confront the two approaches and to discuss all pros and cons. In fact, the ultimate measure of any HR system is the quality, efficiency, impartiality, professionalism and responsiveness that it delivers and how it furthers the possibilities to reach and fulfil objectives and helps delivering services of good quality to citizens. New behavioral approaches (OECD, 2018) are to be welcomed as long as they do not lead to a new “moral relativism” and the revision of rational thinking as such. With the popularity of behavioral insights, classical concepts (and instruments) such as the rule of law and principles of administrative law are questioned.
As discussed, the key phenomena of modernity were assumptions about universal values, absolute norms, bureaucracy and rationality. Contrary to this, postmodernism is a term in which « fundamental assumptions are being discredited as final and absolute. Assumptions about some kind of objectively real and universal human nature, or natural law, or absolute values and ultimate truths [...] no longer hold...» (Cooper, 2006, 45). According to Fukuyama (2018), universal concepts are being challenged by partial forms of recognition based on nation, religion, sect, race, ethnicity, or gender, or by individuals wanting to be recognized as superior. « The rise of identity politics in modern liberal democracies is one of the chief threats that they face… » (Fukuyama, 2018, xvi). Also, in the field of public management, the era in which obedience, hierarchical decision-making and treating all persons in the same way meant treating everybody fairly is not anymore the paradigm of our times (Menzel 2011). Consequently, theories on organizational justice are gaining in importance.
« The age of standardization and the decline of patronage government were well suited for the belief in and practice that equal treatment for all is fair treatment. Postmodern societies along with ethnic, racial, gender, and age diversity have challenged elected officials and administrators around the world to rethink how to treat people unequally and yet to be fair » (Menzel, 2011, 122). However, as a consequence, a new challenge is to design fair HR systems under decentralized and individualized conditions, « the challenge in the longer run ….is to design organizations that combine the efficiency and service capacity of decentralized organizations with the uniform and legalistic nature of hierarchical organizations » (Peters et Pierre, 2003:6).
In the field of HRM, destandardisation, diversity and individualisation reforms have been introduced in a wide range of HR policies and HR structures. These concern the:
- destandardisation and flexibilization of working time,
- destandardization and individualisation in pay (through trends towards the differentiation of pay and performance related-pay),
- destandardisation of recruitment methods and procedures which were based on qualifications and not on skill development and competencies,
- destandardisation and individualisation of training, e.g. coaching and career development policies,
- destandardisation and individualisation of skill development and competency management policies,
- flexibilisation of retirement policies and retirement ages,
- flexibilisation of contracts and employment policies,
- introduction of diversity policies,
- decentralisation of HR competences to line managers,
- reform of the organisation of work and provisions for more job autonomy,
- the possibility for more public-private, interministerial, intraministerial and intra-career-mobility,
- the abolishment of traditional career progression policies such as automatic seniority progression.
All of these developments create new opportunities, but also new challenges. For example, European countries offer a greater variety of employment relationships. Given the diversity of contractual relationships, it happens more often that civil servants working side-by-side with public employees, or fixed term-contracts and all carry out the same tasks. Destandardisation trends have arguably placed the morality of legal approaches and standardized and merit-based HRM practices increasingly in the hand of managers, line managers and HR experts who have discretion and decision-making powers in these fields. The decline of standardized approaches has left many employees more vulnerable to individual discretionary, opportunistic and subjective behavior. Moreover, digitalization and flexibilization trends are changing work systems and leading to an individualization of HR practices by facilitating the monitoring, measuring and recording of individual efforts and engagement practices (Sundararajan, 2016; Lupton, 2016). A case in point are trends in some countries to increasingly measure the engagement levels of categories of staff, or even individual leaders.
Measuring engagement of workforce diversity: Insights from the UK Civil Service People Survey
Cross-government analysis of the UK People Survey results can be produced for different diversity groups. This analysis sheds light on the different experiences of staff within the civil service. Overall, women are more engaged than men, as are ethnic minority staff when compared to their white colleagues. There is no strong difference in the views of lesbian gay and bisexual (LGB) staff compared to heterosexual staff, while disabled staff are substantially less engaged than those without a disability. These patterns have been relatively stable over the seven years that the survey has been running.
These global patterns mask some interesting insights when looking at further sub-groups. For example, although women overall are more engaged than men when they are compared at each grade level, there is no difference in the engagement levels of women in senior management roles compared to men at that level. Again, overall ethnic minority staff are more engaged than their white counterparts, but senior ethnic minority staff are less engaged than white senior managers. When looking at LGB staff, there is no difference between them and their heterosexual colleagues, regardless of grade, while at every grade level, disabled staff are significantly less engaged than their non-disabled colleagues. Overall, while LGB staff do not appear to report different levels of engagement and overall attitudes towards their work, they are 1.5 times more likely to report experiencing discrimination or bullying at work.
These variations are not uniform across departments and agencies. For example, when looking at the differences between non-disabled and disabled staff at the civil service level, there was a -9 percentage point difference in levels of employee engagement in 2014: the Department for Communities and Local Government had a -16 percentage point difference, while the National Crime Agency only had a -2 percentage point difference.
In early 2015, the civil service made publicly available extensive analyses of the People Survey for different diversity groups, in addition to their usual publication of civil service-level and department/agency-level results.
Source: UK Cabinet Office, Civil Service People Survey, Cabinet Office, London.
This throws more into question “the morality of contemporary HRM and increases the significance of engaging in moral evaluation of the behavior of directors, managers and HR practitioners” (Pinnington/Macklin/Campbell, 2012, 3). On the other hand, these trends towards destandardisation of HR practices, visions on self-reliant individuals and trends in the field of individual competency and skill policies also challenge classical merit-based concepts. How to maintain merit, fairness and equal treatment in a fragmented, decentralised and individualised context?
For a long time, civil servants in the same age cohort, with the same rank and the same qualification were paid the same salary (which, often, was increased regularly in conformity with the principle of seniority and automatic pay progression). Traditional remuneration systems were established decades ago and for a long time they changed very little. The traditional focus on careers, stability, seniority and positions made sense when the vast majority in the public service had similar qualifications and jobs. The classical pay system was adapted to the dominant values at the time: bureaucratization, standardization and equality. Thus, whereas public pay systems were based on the principle of equality, private sector pay systems were based on the principle of autonomy Today, the era in which treating everybody the same meant treating everybody fairly is not anymore the paradigm of our times. Today, most people believe that everybody should be treated differently in order to be fair (Cooper, 2006, 53).
Consequently, traditional pay systems with their career ladders and time-based pay increases are increasingly reflecting a slowly disappearing concept of employment. Today, employees themselves expect immediate rewards and recognition for their individual accomplishments. So far, little research has been carried out on the impact of destandardisation trends and the change of merit-based approaches on workplace behavior and perceptions of organizational justice (amongst employees). Overall, pay diversity as such has increased within the national systems and amongst the different occupations and ranks (OECD, 2017). In the meantime, there is a large gap between senior managers compensation, middle managers compensation and technical staff. Also compensation amongst countries for the same categories of staff differs strongly.
Also, the structure of the systems has become more diverse. For example, today it is perceived as fair if civil servants earn higher salaries if he/she demonstrates outstanding performance and receives positive performance evaluations. However, this logic also leads to the question whether and how professional and fair performance assessment are possible at all is possible at all that justifies unequal pay. This trend towards pay dispersion creates problems as long as managers do not succeed to increase employees' perception of legitimacy of pay dispersion (and organizational fairness perceptions), which suggests that procedural fairness of the HR systems can maximize the effectiveness of distribution of organizational resources, such as pay.
Public employees constantly compare their performance with the performance of their colleagues (Note: and mostly believe that they are better than others. On the other hand, managers always believe that they have the necessary skills to measure performance)). Often, employees believe that their pay is not fair since they perform better than their colleagues. Many also believe that their performance is not managed, assessed and measured in a professional way. Consequently, fairness perceptions have changed and differ from the past. From now on, new feelings of being treated unfairly (for example by those who measure performance levels) emerge and, in many instances, people are even more demotivated and frustrated after the introduction of PRP. Since people constantly compare themselves with other colleagues, they also tend to believe that colleagues who receive bonuses and PRP do not deserve them. On the other hand, employees who do not receive PRP may also be demotivated since they expected to get bonuses etc. Another dilemma concerns the fact that many employees do not trust their superiors to take fair decisions on the allocation of PRP. Consequently, many people feel that they are treated unfairly because of unprofessional or unfair pay decisions of their superiors. In all of these cases, the expectation to be treated individually conflicts with the expectation to be treated equally. As it seems, the individualization of pay and growing differences in pay also produce higher levels of perceptions of distributional injustice.
The case of pay differentiation illustrates that people are increasingly attentive to the justice of events and situations in their everyday lives across a variety of contexts (Matrinko/Gundlach/Douglas, 2002). As a consequence, perceptions of unjust and unfair treatment can strongly influence the individual behavior and may exert a good or bad impact on individual and organizational performance (de Schrijver/Delbeke/Maesschalck/Pleysier, 2010).
In the past, national civil services always used common and standardized recruitment frameworks (such as concours). Overall, people were recruited based on qualification (and diplomas). Most countries also installed merit-based recruitment systems that set common standards for civil servants to meet through, for example, standardized testing. These systems were designed to ensure a high degree of professionalization (as opposed to politicization) of the civil service, and to ensure that all applicants are provided with equal opportunities. While such systems responded to values of internal equity, professionalism and equal access, they were criticized because they underperformed in a context of competition for particular skill sets (OECD, 2017c, 75). Moreover, they underperform because they are based on skills and qualifications (ratings) that were achieved (and evaluated) in the past and not on the development of new (social and technical) skills and (soft) competences.
Today, politicians and managers repeat the mantra that economic competitiveness depend crucially on the skills and investments in training of the workforce. Everywhere, governments, politicians and management experts agree upon the key role that skills, training and long-life-learning play in securing competitiveness and social-cohesion. Within this discourse, it seems that skills are the answer to a whole set of economic and social problems. With the increasing importance of skill policies, also the notion of skills has also become considerably broader and differentiated compared to the past. Today, the popular skill discourse uses very different notions like enlarging basic skills, employability skills, adapting skills, key skills, management skills, future skills, IT skills and leadership skills (Payne, 2000). The term skill as such has also become indistinguishable from personal characteristics, traits, competences, behaviors and attitudes.
Why have skill development policies become so important, other than because of economic factors? One of the main reasons is the shift from traditional and hierarchical structures towards “flat” services and more job autonomy, with the need for employees to have more relational, communicative and problem solving soft skills. However, technological developments and organizational renewal are not the only factors that require skill renewal. Overall, the decentralization, fragmentation and individualization of structures and processes also require the decentralization and individualization of skill development and training policies.
In “Training and Human Resource Development in the European Union Member States”, Bossaert et al (2008) observes that trends towards more individualistic HRM approaches can also be seen in the field of training, “where the “catalogue” philosophy in the sense of standardized training activities is increasingly replaced by tailor-made “action” programmes, which are more frequently based on concrete individual needs and whose main concern is the transfer of competence” (Bossaert, 2008, 6). Moreover, countries increasingly try to recruit, promote and reward civil servants based on specific competency and skill sets - in a competitive market. For example, the digitalization of public administration requires employees to quickly adapt to digital change. Therefore, more countries are expecting their civil servants to take a proactive approach to their jobs (OECD, 2017, 15)”.
Public administrations respond to the new challenges by a destandardisation and individualization of recruitment policies and the alignment and finetuning of recruitment methods to specific skills needed (OECD, 2017, 76). Increasingly, this is done by the introduction of more diverse and external recruitment practices, or separate practices, for exp. for top-officials. Moreover, different public administrations increasingly design specific competency profiles for different categories of employees. Today, countries wish to develop employment policies and recruitment frameworks that are driven by individual qualities, skills and expertise (OECD, 2017, 10) in order to match new skill requirements and competency developments. However, this trend towards different competency expectations, skill development ability and self-reliance on skill adaptation marks a clear departure from the traditional view of the compliant bureaucrat (OECD, 2017, 61) and standardized recruitment policies.
These trends challenge the fairness und merit-based recruitment systems and raise the question how individual skills - under decentralized and individualized conditions - are designed, evaluated and assessed (OECD, 2017, 67). At present, destandardised recruitment systems are more vulnerable to integrity violations than standardised systems. During the last years, especially the decentralized and destandardised central European civil services have been increasingly politicized and polarized (Itrich-Drabarek, 2015: 245).
Of course, the question of where do all these reforms lead to is difficult to answer: The question of what has resulted from the many reforms is obviously an absolutely fundamental one. Yet it is not at all simple. In reality, experts have no clear understanding of how public administration is changing. There is also little evidence as to whether change processes produce better results; and if so, which change processes and which reform instruments? “A full discussion of ‘results’ therefore embraces the wider question of ‘results for whom, defined by whom, against what objectives?’” (Bouckaert/Pollitt, 2011).
The case of organizational reform illustrates that the problem with civil service reform is not that there are not enough reforms or too little innovation. In fact, the real challenge is the lack of evidence on the effects of the above-mentioned trends: overall de-bureaucratization, the emergence of hybrid new work systems, de-standardization of work practices, individualization and psychologicisation of HRM and the increasing influence of behavioral economics in the field of civil service reform. Unfortunately, the field of civil service reform is loaded with theories that reflect personal opinions, images and perceptions. To avoid making ideological or personal judgments about the effects of reforms it may be wiser to start from a general point of view to which the outcomes of civil service- and HR reforms can be positive and/or negative, effective and/or ineffective, but they may also produce a number of unintentional positive and negative side-effects, such as more bureaucracy, higher stress levels, more job intensity, less job control, higher leadership skill expectations, more ethical challenges, conflicts of interests etc. Thus, the difficulty seems to be to accept that current reforms have various reform effects at the same time (Hesse/Hood/Peters, 2011). Moreover, effects of reforms do not only depend on the impact of budgetary constraints but also on many other variables such as leadership, skills, perception of organizational justice, organizational culture, qualification, age, function, ranking, experience etc.
In Organizing Leviathan (2018), Dahlström and Lapuente show that systems that are based on merit have lower levels of corruption and higher levels of government effectiveness. Despite the fact, that merit is an important element of bureaucratic systems, bureaucratic systems have no positive effect. Also, the understanding of “merit” is changing. Paradoxically, the more the concept of meritocracy has become a reality, the more it seems to legitimate a hierarchy of privilege. The dilemma with the principle of meritocracy lies with the problem that our systems which reward talented people leave no hiding place for those who fail in the competitive struggle. Thus, the consequent application of the merit principle seems to undermine one of the most important foundations of the national public administrations: the principles of equality and equity. Bovens and Wille (2009) show that Plato´s ideal of the state which is run by the best and the brightest has (almost) become a reality. A further serious deficiency in the ethical grounds of meritocracy is its virtual absence of discourse on what areas of “merit do not do justice to vast differences in status, reward and power …” (Menzel, 2011). Another problem is that the principle of meritocracy can, at times, be self-defeating, “The more opportunity there is for people to succeed in society, the less value such success is likely to have for them” (Dench, 2006). If all people invest in more and better education and invest in their competences and skills, the process ends as a race to the top. Everybody is likely to become disappointed quickly. “If there is one thing worse than being blocked, it is seeing others succeed where you have failed” (Dench, 2006: 190).
Merit, as the basis for employment decisions, is one of the core values. Yet employee faith in the application of merit principle is relatively low and appears to be in decline in many countries. Thus, the new civil services are neither fairer, nor immune against politicization. Therefore, perceptions of organizational injustice and lack of recognition are gaining in importance. Experts in the field of organizational justice (Molina/Cropanzano/Martinez-Tur, 2017), often make a distinction between distributive justice, procedural justice and interactional justice. As such, the importance of injustice perceptions is not new. Already in the 18th century Immanuel Kant concluded that nothing causes more indignation than injustice. However, today, perceptions of increasing levels of inequality correlate with increasing perceptions of lack of recognition of “identity”. In fact, it seems that the demand for identity, diversity and recognition is constantly increasing in the field of HRM. Increasingly, people are attentive to the justice of events and situations in their everyday lives across a variety of contexts and to various actions and decisions made by organizations and their leaders every day (Matrinko/Gundlach/Douglas, 2002). Unjust and unfair treatment and the perception of a lack of recognition can strongly influence the individual behavior and may exert a good or bad impact on individual and organizational performance (de Schrijver/Delbeke/Maesschalck/Pleysier, 2010). Fukuyama claims that indignation and perceptions of injustice are increasing because of perceptions caused by a lack of recognition (Fukuyama, 2018).
Overall, despite all popular and critical images, work in the civil services will remain interesting, challenging, important and “a key to a better society and world” (Rosenbloom/Kravchuk/Clerkin, 2009:548). However, future civil service reform will also become more paradoxical. At present, all discussed trends challenge the classical arguments for a specific civil service. Despite this, there are reasons to expect that, also in the future, civil service policies will continue to apply some specific bureaucratic features that will remain in place to sustain the principle of rationality, separation between the public and private sector and to defend core democratic values like equality, fairness and legal security. No other institutional actor can combine expertise, continuity in office, professionalism with impartiality and fairness. Because of this, the 21st-century needs civil services and civil servants more than ever (Raadschelders/Toonen/Van der Meer, 2015, 369).
While expectations of government are increasing, the resources available to meet these expectations are diminishing. Civil servants of the future will have to be at ease with more job intensity, stress, complexity and flexibility. They must be comfortable with change, often rapid change. At the same time, they will take more autonomous decisions, be more responsible, accountable, performance-oriented, and subject to new competency and skill requirements. The central workforce will be smaller, mobile, better qualified and more diverse than ever before. If budgetary constraints persist, it is likely that levels of job satisfaction, job commitment, trust in the organization and trust in leadership will further decline. Countries must take these developments serious and introduce measures to halt these preoccupying trends (Demmke 2016). Instead, what is need is saving resources while introducing “smart” austerity measures, create innovative workplaces, reform and modernize work systems and professionalize HR policies.
An important driver of innovation is a certain degree of worker autonomy. “Further analysis found that the way how work is organised implemented in bundles and combined with practices that promote employee participation, the probability of innovation is increased further. The explanation for this impact is thought to lie in the opportunities for learning and knowledge-sharing combined with the scope to act independently that such practices give to employees. Workers absorb new ideas when they are exposed to external developments in their area of expertise and beyond, and when they interact with other organisations. The ability to exercise autonomy motivates people to use their discretionary effort – the effort above and beyond that required by the job – which makes this knowledge-enriched environment a fertile ground for innovative thinking. Other practices, such as provision of training, use of incentive pay and employing a high-skills workforce – collectively described as human resource practices – also boost innovation both individually and when implemented collectively along with practices to promote employee participation. Again, these are practices that enhance the knowledge and skills in an organisation, building innovative capacity, while rewarding initiative and workers’ ability to act independently”.
European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions in Europe (2017), Living and Working, Luxemburg, p.33
Professionalizing HR policies can only be done together with the employees and not – in a top-down manner – without employees. For example, if organizations want engaged, satisfied and committed employees they must accept that “employee engagement is best seen as an outcome of managerial activity to build perceptions of trust, fairness and organizational justice, especially procedural and interactional or interpersonal justice. These are the antecedents of engagement. The question remains on how trust, fairness and justice are built. Each are essentially processes of the quality of interactions between management and employees” (Purcell, 2012:13). Unfortunately, reforms in times of budgetary constraints rather lead to less trust and, often, the quality of interactions is lacking.
Current trends are paradoxical: Whereas the boundaries between the public and private sector are blurring (and countries continue to align working conditions between the public and private sector), they nonetheless subscribe to the idea that “Government” differs to the “Private Sector” and civil servants are needed with specific working conditions. In a way, this is good news: Still, presently government employment systems are corresponding better to a Rawlsian principle of justice and are more “employee friendly” than current trends in many other private sectors which produce many forms of injustice, stress and job intensity, bureaucracy and sometimes perverse results about the rewarding of individual performance.
Despite all shortcomings of the current reform processes, this does not suggest that we plead for a return of the traditional concept of bureaucracy. Rather for better ex-ante evaluations of present reform processes. Overall, civil service reform is about political choices and civil service reform is also a political reform process.
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