· Features

Public sector should learn from the private sector on handling redundancies sensitively

The recent suggestions that senior Whitehall civil servants could remain exempt from the severe cuts expected in the public sector have he potential to become not only a public relations catastrophe but also a human resources disaster.

Such a decision will have longer-term implications: redundancies must be handled properly to avoid serious resourcing and reputation problems in the future.

Public-sector employees are often drawn from the communities the organisation serves, so public- sectors leaders must realise that not only will they be unable to attract the skilled and talented professionals needed to manage large-scale transformation, but also their organisations are also likely to face a damaged reputation among their customers if the process isn’t managed properly. Moreover, if senior leaders do not experience the same levels of change as frontline staff, long-term trust in them is likely to suffer and the skills base may not match the sector’s requirements.

With the Comprehensive Spending Review in October, which will provide further clarity on where cuts need to be made, it’s important for HR professionals to start planning now. Employees will be looking to their senior leaders and HR teams to make sure that when inevitable redundancies happen, they are dealt with in a sensitive and appropriate manner.

These are exactly the kind of issues that the private sector has been faced with in recent years. It is a perfect opportunity for the public sector to look at some of the key learnings, to ensure that they don’t repeat the same mistakes and look for innovative solutions.

The private sector is more familiar with offering this kind of support for staff who leave their organisations, whereas in the public sector is has often only been used for senior-level employees. Being made redundant is a distressing experience, but many public-sector workers may have a reason to dread it more than others because unlike in the private sector, many of them have been with their organisations for years and years, during which they may not have sent out any applications or attended a single interview. The world has moved on. Not only does the job search look completely different today with all the technologies involved, but different skills are sought after and the methods have changed

Redundant employees need both practical and emotional support. And organisations must understand that it’s well worth offering it to them and public-sector organisations have an even greater imperative because it will ultimately save the public purse in the long term if they start a new job quickly.

Despite the clear benefits, our research shows that 73% of employees in the public sector didn’t receive any support from employers when being made redundant. Organisations have largely not used career transition services such as career guidance, CV or interview advice, due to a lack of internal resource to organise it and because it is not seen as important enough by management. HR professionals need to prove to them it is a worthwhile investment. Leaders should be aware that a total of 85% of public-sector workers believe career transition services should be compulsory and over half of employers in the public sector agree.

It’s not just about doing the right thing morally, but also recognising the organisational benefits. Professionals who only joined the public sector during the recession and were soon faced with pay freezes, uncertainty over their pension and job cuts, and will now be considering their options, yet highly talented individuals will be needed in the public sector to lead this period of change. This will be compounded by growth in the private sector, which is likely to lure these individuals away. If public sector employers don’t get this right, they might never attract the skills needed to make the changes that lie ahead happen.

Mark Staniland is managing director of Hays Career Transition Services at Hays