Are the kids alright?


Lazy, good for nothing time wasters.  No, this isn’t a deserved rant against the England football team, it is paraphrasing the message delivered recently which discussed the productivity of local authority workers (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-11034769)

To quote directly:  “Junior staff in local authorities are, on average, productive only 32% of the time during working hours.”  It said this compares with an average of 44% in the private sector, the argument being therefore that we could shed 500,000 jobs and see no difference in service delivery.

I know, I know – you will no doubt point to our very own site, which looked at a number of different ways of wasting time – and you would not be 100% wrong to do so.  However, that article was actually some general advice offered to any and all who work in a large office, a category that whilst local government workers certainly fit in, I would also argue that many private sector workers do too.

So do I agree with these consultants?  I have to say I think I both agree and disagree with them (who said working with politicians would rub off on me…)

On the agree side of things, I know that a huge number of local authority workers are not working at 100% all of the time – frankly, besides some Ceebeebies presenters, no-one can be.  However, we all know that most workers can and should work harder and smarter, and that’s smart in the real sense of the word as well as the jargonisitic one.

Junior workers are particularly susceptible to this, as they are often new to the workplace and unsure of how things should be done.  This is why a few young people really shine in the workplace whilst most fade into Wigan-style mediocrity, those who actually make an effort are the exception to the general rule.

In public sector organisations these individuals have often been left to their own devices, given little responsibility (certainly in comparison to their pay grades) and allowed huge degrees of freedom.  This stems from an old preconception that they will be in that job for the rest of their lives so will have plenty of time to improve, combined with the ridiculous difficulties managers have in getting rid of staff who are underperforming.  With the sheer scale of bureaucracy ahead of them, many managers would prefer to let someone tick along in their job, doing just enough, rather than asking them to sh*t or get off the pot (a wonderful phrase some American friends taught me).

There is also the problem of organisational culture, whereby people generally conform to the norms displayed by those around them – if they are surrounded by people screaming, shouting and panicking all day every day they would tend to do the same; conversely, if they are surrounded by people not looking like they are doing much and accepting that whatever you try to do, things will take an indeterminate amount of time to happen, people will easily slide into that mould as well.

As for disagreeing with it, there is simply no way that losing half a million workers could be done without any impact on current workforces.  Yes, many people could worker harder and smarter, but not to the extent that they could add huge amounts to their workloads and then carry that for the foreseeable future.  Staff sickness in the public sector is notoriously bad, and this would not go any way to making this better.

Any organisation would suffer from losing so many staff, with the remaining workforce then feeling under huge pressure and struggling to maintain existing standards let alone improving.

My thought is that we need to change the atmosphere of work in the public sector, and in fact this financial crisis is doing just that.  People aren’t in jobs for life any more, they haven’t got the ability to be carried in a team and they need to be producing results.  No longer can projects be started just because they are a good idea – we will have to do less with less, so if it’s not essential it won’t happen.

Young workers entering the workplace now will have to survive in a pretty harsh environment compared to that over the past ten-fifteen years or so, if they can do it should set them up for a very positive career.  I do worry about the young workers who are already in jobs and stuck in the old rut of local authorities though – it’s going to be a long road for them.

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4 Comments on “Are the kids alright?”

  1. localgovaswell Says:

    Managers in the public sector need to do a better job at managing their staff; driving performance and delivering a vision which staff members can sign up to and reach for. Productivity will then improve and staff will have less incentive to read blogs during the day…

    • localgov Says:

      Agreed – something that private sector companies have to do merely to survive.

      Maybe we’ve all just got a little too comfortable and need this sort of crisis to shake ourselves down and refocus on what’s really important.

      Maybe I should draw together a thirty person working group and produce a paper on this…


  2. [...] a cull wouldn’t hurt?  Councillors are (mostly) just normal people after all, so if we use the same logic as suggested for workers then they are only productive 32% of the time anyway, let’s get rid of a few and get the rest to [...]


  3. [...] grain and didn’t get upset when the Audit Commission went away, and we started seeing some silver lining appearing in the growing economic crisis facing local [...]


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