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Public sector lacks the people management skills to respond to adversity, says CIPD

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A people management "crisis" is the biggest threat to the public sector, according to groundbreaking research from the CIPD.

In its Building Productive Public Sector Workplaces series, the CIPD has highlighted the sporadic and often inadequate quality of front-line management in the public sector that results in high levels of absence and an inability to tackle poor performance.

Compared with the private sector, on average, public-sector employers are three times less likely to discipline staff, rate their line managers' conflict management skills more poorly and take much longer to manage formal disciplinary and grievance cases.

The report reveals low levels of trust and confidence in senior management among public-sector employees, as well as their dissatisfaction with consultation over change.  These factors need to be addressed to build the employee engagement necessary to deliver on political and public expectations of public-service reform.

Ben Willmott, senior public policy adviser at the CIPD, said: "Delivering ‘more with less' is precisely what many organisations have had to do in the recession - and it is achievable where there are high levels of employee engagement and shared purpose.  But the public sector is heading for extremely tough times, and political and taxpayer expectations are high. The challenge for policymakers is to chart a course that can motivate and engage the public-sector workforce in the delivery of change, despite the need for pay restraint, redundancies and pensions reform.

"Success could bring a productivity dividend and public applause. Failure risks derailing efforts to reform public-service delivery and get a grip on the public finances.

"There are question marks over the public-sector's people management capability to emulate the best of the private-sector response to adversity. While there are excellent managers and examples of great performance in the public sector, across a range of aspects of management including senior leadership, capacity to effectively manage change, absence, conflict and performance management generally, the sector is in urgent need of improvement."

The CIPD recommends a thorough review of public-sector management training to identify how to improve people management capabilities among front-line managers, and action to ensure staff involved in the delivery of public services are equipped with people management capabilities.