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Vainius Smalskys and Jolanta Urbanovič

Civil service consists of civil servants and their activity when implementing the assigned functions and decisions made by politicians. In other words, it is a system of civil servants who perform the assigned functions of public administration. The corpus of civil servants consists of people who work in central and local public administration institutions. The concept and scope of civil service in a particular country depends on the legal framework that defines the areas of public and private sectors and their relationship. In many countries, civil service consists of an upper level, a mid-level, and civil servants who work for coordinating, independent, and auxiliary institutions. However, the scope of civil service in different countries varies. When analyzing/comparing civil service systems of different countries, researchers often categorize them as Western European, continental European, Anglo-American, Anglo-Saxon, Eastern European, Scandinavian, Mediterranean, Asian, or African. All European Union member states can be classified into two groups: the career system—dominant in continental Europe, with the prevalence of traditional-hierarchical public administration, rational bureaucracy, and formalized operational rules—and the position system—dominant in Anglo-Saxon countries, with the prevalence of managerial principles, pragmatic administration, and charismatic leadership. Neither of the two models exists in pure form. If features of the career model dominate in the civil service of a country, it is identified as a country with the career CS model; if elements of the position model dominate the country is identified as a country with the position civil service model. An intermediate version of this model, characteristic of a number of countries, is the mixed/hybrid model. Many civil service researchers claim that in the case of two competing systems of civil service—closed (the career model) and open (the position model)—reforms of the open civil service system win. It has been argued that the organizing principles of the open, result-oriented civil service system (the position model), which is under the influence of “new public management,” will permanently “drive out” the closed, vertically integrated and formal procedure-oriented career model. Scholars argue that civil servants of the future will have to be at ease with more complexity and flexibility. They will have to be comfortable with change, often rapid change. At the same time, they will make more autonomous decisions and be more responsible, accountable, performance-oriented, and subject to new competency and skill requirements.


Human resource management in public administration considers the civil service broadly to include all those employed in mostly noncommercial entities funded by the state. These entities may range from government bureaus and departments to agencies and authorities with varying degrees of uniformity, at both the central and local levels, and include those in such nonprofit services as health and education that are completely or mostly publicly funded. The terms civil servants, government employees, and public servants are used interchangeably. Human resource management may include such functions as planning, recruitment and selection, performance management, training, compensation, and labor relations. Key challenges of managing human resource functions include motivating and compensating public employees to reward passion for public service, managing the political roles of civil servants and their political responsiveness, selecting for salient identities to achieve representation and diversity, and reforming the civil service. These challenges impact individual and organizational performance. Motivation and compensation focus on what binds individuals to organizations and energizes those individuals. One approach, inspired by rational choice, identifies self-interest and extrinsic incentives, including performance-based pay, monitoring and surveillance to manage employees. A second approach, inspired by self-determination theory, focuses on altruism and prosocial values, and prioritizes intrinsic incentives, job design, and careful selection to nurture a passion for public service. A key challenge is to identify and nurture those with public service motivation, and reward competence and passion for public service. Selecting and nurturing those with a passion for public service includes taking care that compensation policies and practices do not crowd out public service motivation. An additional challenge focuses on the political roles civil servants play in government and the extent to which civil servants are politically responsive. Selecting civil servants based on merit, with separate career structures for politicians and civil servants, is generally associated with more effective governance and economic growth, with some important exceptions. The tasks, role perceptions, and behavior of the senior civil service are dependent on historical tradition and political culture, and on structural characteristics, such as the presence or absence of political advisors, and the support civil servants receive or need beyond government from clients and interest groups. The role of senior civil servants also depends on their specialization and the capacity of political appointees. Systems that encourage more explicit political roles for senior civil servants do not appear to sacrifice public interest. Preparing senior civil servants for these roles is a critical human management resource challenge. Authorities also use human resource tools to increase political responsiveness, including training, discipline, and changes to civil servants’ security of tenure. As identities such as race and gender become politically salient, representation becomes another key challenge for human resource management in public administration. Passive representation has had wide currency in both Western-style democracies and in the developing world. Passive representation has symbolic effects and may increase citizen trust in the bureaucracy, making bureaucratic action more legitimate in the eyes of minority communities. Moreover, minority civil servants may affect outcomes directly—for example, by influencing the implementation of a policy—or indirectly—for example, by influencing minority clients to change their behavior, or influencing nonminority bureaucratic colleagues to change their behavior or influencing organizational policy. Active representation may thus affect overall public service performance. Representation is mediated by a number of variables including discretion, salience of identity, agency mission, socialization, professionalism, and administrative level among others. Human resource managers also need to manage diversity training, which can improve outcomes. The final challenge, civil service reform, cuts across public human resource functions and themes. Civil service reform is a fraught domain, littered with experiments and not amenable to evaluation, which is a long-term enterprise. Still, some radical reforms have fundamentally altered the terms of the public service bargains between politicians and civil servants. Introducing “radical” reform, such as at-will employment, undermines commitment and fails to produce the expected performance payoffs.