Hello PPMA members and friends,

Everyone in HR, at some point in their career, comes across a “problem employee”. Someone who, for one reason or another, is known as “difficult”. Have you noticed that there is a tendency for organisations to trip themselves up with these individuals? Their reputation precedes them; their complaints cease to be taken seriously. They have cried wolf too often, their legitimate complaint is ignored and the organisation sooner or later finds itself at best wrong footed and at worst at the losing end of an employment tribunal.

Over the last two weeks, from my vantage point on a sun lounger (and thanks to my lovely new Kindle) I have got through more newspapers than usual. The public sector bashing was endless. Negative commentary abounded on a wide range of topics from senior pay in the civil service and in local government, to creative team building activities in the Foreign Office, on to free train travel for railway workers, then executive pay in the BBC, the cost of trade union facilities time in a number of public sector organisations, the payments made to BBC journalists for working at weekends and finally the cost of Council employees calling the speaking clock. (The explanation behind the last allegation was that the calls were not in fact made by employees but by computer software linked to traffic barriers.)

I confess that the more I read the more self righteous I got. And then I remembered those difficult employees who people cease to take seriously. Consider the parallels here between the difficult employee and difficult press.  Just because the press, like the difficult employee, are the source of a lot of irritating criticism, doesn’t mean that, at least now and then, they might have a point. Taking one of the above examples, have we got a good enough handle on the totality of trade union facilities time?  Is it an area where public sector practice differs from the private sector and if so, why?

There is of course always the other side of the coin. Is it right to expect that organisations in the public sector should not adopt practices that widely used and accepted in the private sector. Many successful companies use creative team building techniques for example. But would they continue if for some reason it began to offend their customers and lose them business?

With the difficult employee, it can sometimes pay to make the effort to stand in their shoes, to see things from their perspective. The context for public sector organisations today is that they are more than ever before being held accountable for wise use of their resources.  In this context, we need to demonstrate ever higher levels of understanding of the costs of employment and the overall impact of our employment practices.

So my “back from holiday” resolution is to assume no one is crying wolf, to take each assertion that appears in the press on its merits, and see if in fact there is merit in pursuing it. Watch this space!