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For a lengthy period, governments worldwide believed that civil servants should be linked to the authority of the state and could not be compared to employees in the private sector. This group of public employees were perceived as agents of the “Leviathan” (Hobbes), intended to uphold the rule of law and to implement government policies. In this conception, where the state was separated from society and citizens, it was inconceivable that civil servants could be compared to other employees. Towards the end of the 20th century, in almost all countries worldwide, reform measures have encouraged the change, deconstruction and decentralization of the civil service on all fronts. In the meantime, there are now as many different categories of public employees as there are different public functions, organizations, and tasks. Overall, the number of civil servants has decreased and some countries have abolished traditional civil service features. Moreover, working conditions and working life have changed. Thus, whereas for a long time, civil servants were very different from the employees of private companies, this distinction is much less clear in the early 21st century. Such a situation had been unthinkable 10 years earlier. Consequently, the traditional concept of the civil service as a distinct employment group and status is slowly disappearing. In addition, current organizational reform trends have made public administration as such into a somewhat heterogeneous body. In the early 21st century, civil services have become more diverse, less hierarchical and standardized, more flexible, diverse, representative and less separated from the citizenry than they were traditionally. Whereas the term “bureaucracy” had represented clear values (hierarchy, formalism, standardization, rationality, obedience etc.), new reforms have brought with them new values, but also more conflicting ones, and value dilemmas. Whereas most governments still agree that human resource management (HRM) policies should continue to be based on rational principles such as the rule of law, equity, and equality, the increasing popularity of behavioral economics and behavioral ethics and the trend toward the delegation of responsibilities to employees through different concepts such as engagement, lifelong learning, and competency development, illustrate that current trends run counter to classical bureaucratic styles. Moreover, digitalization and flexibilization trends are changing work systems and leading to an individualization of HR practices by facilitating the monitoring and measuring of individual efforts and engagement practices. Thus, the problem with this description of administration in the 21st century is obvious. Whereas the terms “bureaucracy” or “civil service” can be defined and broken down into concrete definitions, this is much less the case with the new civil service systems and new administrative models. However, stereotypes around public organizations and civil servants continue to survive, even though they were shaped in a world that no longer exists. Even in the early 21st century, many people still have the perception that civil servants work in an environment that is clearly separated from the private sector. Also, most public-service motivation theories start from the assumption that civil servants are different because they are civil servants.

Article

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.