A public sector that shows the way? Part 4

24 Jul

A personal viewpoint, written for the August 2017 issue of Your Voice, by Patrick, secondary school IT manager and Voice member (England). The views expressed are those of the author.

In my previous article (April 2017), I drew together some of the issues that arise from job evaluation under Single Status.  Here, I will paint a picture of the impact of these on local government.

In the Single Status era of local government, we have three major issues in staffing terms around recruitment, retention and reward.

Firstly, we have job descriptions that are written at one time, often by people with little to no experience of the actual role, and then left to gather dust.  Many are scripted to be as generic as possible, essentially in order to save time and money.  We then find that we have quite a blurred picture of who should be doing what, and who should be accountable for what, with evolving job roles diverging ever further from what’s on paper.

Secondly, we have these job specs pinned against a single pay grade, to which they may remain stubbornly affixed forever more.  Aside from any uplift in the national pay spine – which is highly unlikely for the foreseeable future – those salaries are effectively baked in.  We then find that we aren’t always able to recruit the best talent within a field, or to retain our more experienced people who can (often quite easily) find a similar job on more money in industry, or to reward those colleagues who put in sterling work.

Thirdly, the combination of the other two has led to a ‘spot and fill’ approach, whereby skills development is effectively siloed and even horizontal career progression can be impeded.   We then find that we have to squeeze our often multi-talented staff into an ill-fitting straitjacket with a fairly narrow focus on a particular role within an individual department or service, without leaving much room to consider the wider benefits of breadth as well as depth of skillset within a multi-disciplinary team.

So, where do we end up after all of this?

Well, we have absolutely, definitely made sure that a man cannot be paid more than a woman for doing the same work – or, indeed, vice versa.  A noble goal, to be sure, but it came at a cost.  When a workforce loses flexibility and incentive, it also loses ingenuity and drive.  It begins to haemorrhage talent as many colleagues begin their exodus en masse, while those who remain may be lucky enough to glean some career progression from this rigid system, but only if that happens to fit within the constraints of a staffing structure where job evaluation is king.

But perhaps the greatest irony of all is that it has been disproportionately women who were – and are – affected by this, regardless of intentions at the outset.  While there is a wealth of good practice across the public sector in some respects – much of which could be a shining light for many organisations in the private sector – in others we can perhaps acknowledge why we are seen by some figures as ‘just not good at innovating’.  The introduction of Single Status is a prime example of this, having failed to provide us with a way of closing the gender pay gap without shooting ourselves in the foot.

In the next article, I will explore some ways of rebalancing ourselves to regain the ingenuity and drive that would free us up to lead the way.

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