(Not) Getting Sacked
At the moment I find it highly unlikely that I will ever get fired; made redundant almost certainly, sacked, exactly the opposite.
This is both because I consider myself to be a hard worker and fairly good at my job but also because I am a local government worker and sacking one of them is an absolute nightmare. I therefore find myself in the odd position of supporting the sentiment behind the policy suggestions put forward by venture capitalist and Conservative Party donor Adrian Beecroft who has argued that unproductive workers should lose their right to claim unfair dismissal.
I’m sure this post is about to prompt a flurry of upset from our readers as a member of staff who occasionally has to work alongside the incompetent (or the indifferent) I simply beg to differ.
One of my good friends still shudders when we mention his first management job in local government. He took over a team which had been radically under-performing and as a young (ish) manager he was managing people older than him who had been in the council for quite a while.
One of them was more than just a coaster; she was chronically incompetent. After spending six months trying to work with her to improve her performance, all of which was thrown back in his face, (including towards the end using the official council procedures) my manager decided that it was time to start the long process of removing her. What followed was a flurry of grievances, the threat of tribunals and intermittent periods of stress related sickness (for her not him). The process lasted a staggering 16 months (I think this included the first 6) and right at the end the member of staff resigned so that she wouldn’t be fired.
The whole process was grim for all involved and almost made my friend leave the sector (he now has). He’s not alone. I’ve known of an incompetent member of staff passed around the council to work on ‘projects’ as no-one can work out quite how to fire him. I’ve also known more than one manager brought close to tears trying to deal with their one bad member of staff and the crazy processes that surround getting rid of them.
As Mr Beecroft so accurately points out:
The rules both make it difficult to prove that someone deserves to be dismissed, and demand a process for doing so which is so lengthy and complex that it is hard to implement.
This makes it too easy for employees to claim they have been unfairly treated and to gain significant compensation.
On these cases I’m sure even the most sympathetic trade union official will agree that eventually it is best for all for the person to leave the council.
But what about the wider problem; that of the ‘coasters’ identified by Mr Beecroft.
I’m not talking here about the person who comes in, does their job and goes home again without any ambition to go beyond it. I’m talking about the person who does the bare minimum to get by; spends hours looking at ebay (or BBC news), has more cups of coffee than your average Costa Barista and generally cannot be relied on for anything. Everyone knows that their work is below average and that they don’t really deliver but there is nothing the manager can do if the person doesn’t want to respond.
I don’t know if the threat of the ultimate sanction of them losing their job would make any difference but it might do and to be honest anything that could help us manage our workforce in a positive way would make a positive difference.
Last year the BBC reported that:
In the Department for Work and Pensions, one of the largest parts of the public sector, in 2009/10 1,131 people were sacked – almost 1% of the workforce. The year before another 1,192 were sacked.
But of all these people, just 43 were sacked for capability.
Or take Doncaster Council, which in April 2010 the Audit Commission branded “failing” and incapable of making improvements.
Yet in the last three years just 10 people have been sacked for capability – out of almost 7,000 to leave the council.
I would imagine the picture would be similar across the public sector and whilst many local authorities are currently making use of their redundancy process to get rid of their failing staff surely we should be aiming for a long term solution that doesn’t rely on costly restructures and an acceptance of coasting.
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