Austerity negatively impacting public sector staff commitment

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The government’s austerity measures have led to a drop in the commitment of public sector workers towards their organisations, research by Warwick Business School has found.

The research, conducted by Tina Kiefer, professor of organisational behaviour at Warwick Business School, with the University of London’s Neil Conway, the Open University Business School’s Jean Hartley and Rob Briner from the University of Bath School of Management, looked at the consequences of the 2010 comprehensive spending review, which was predicted to lead to the loss of 490,000 public sector jobs by 2015.

According to Kiefer, these cuts led to an increase in “broken promises”, as perceived by employees.

She said: “Those promises related to promotion or training opportunities, benefits or pay packages, job security or fair treatment at work. Such implicit or explicit broken promises constitute a psychological contract breach and individuals take measures to compensate.”

The paper, Doing More with Less? Employee Reactions to Psychological Contract Breach via Target Similarity or Spillover during Public Sector Organisational Change, found although the cuts led to public sector workers reducing their commitment to the public, it did not mean they provided a poorer service.

However, it found that those with high public sector commitment before the cuts did reduce their service to the public more than participants reporting lower commitment.

“This could be because people highly committed towards working in the public sector may be more disappointed and hurt when promises are broken, and therefore feel more of a need to adjust their contributions,” Kiefer said.

The research also suggested those who reported high job insecurity in the wake of the cuts increased their efforts to serve the public, compared to those feeling more secure.

Kiefer added: “In the short term, our findings suggest employees’ reactions to widespread organisational change following austerity measures are affecting contributions towards the organisation, but are not spilling over to affect customers beyond the perceived initiator of the breach.

"It remains an open question as to whether and under what conditions this will be the case in the longer term, as further cuts to the public sector are being imposed.”

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