Hello PPMA members and friends,

One of the great things about working in the public sector is having a clear sense of purpose about what you are there to do. Many colleagues have told me what a positive feeling it gives them to know that the job they are doing makes a difference.  Whether in a support role or directly providing a service to the public, surveys of people working in the public sector reinforce this view.

Escaping from the end to end rugby world cup that is dominating our household,  I have been reflecting this week on the so-called “public service ethos” and how it might be faring in the current climate of shifting public expectations, austerity, cuts and public service reform.

All of the wealth of research around employee engagement, organisational values and trust indicates that when an organisation can be clear about its sense of purpose in the world its employees are much more strongly motivated to do well and to bring their “whole self” to work.  This creates more purpose and meaning in the workplace. It is what motivates many people working in public services, particularly those working directly with the public, to “go the extra mile”.

The concept of a public sector ethos has gone hand in hand with a close fit between the  professional values of many individuals working in the public sector and the traditional values of public service. However, the shift in public expectations to have much greater personal choice about services that are provided has for some time been challenging many professionals in public services to re-think their roles. The economic crisis and the resulting cuts to public finances alongside the radical programme of public service reform are challenging not only professional values in public services but the whole meaning of public service in today’s world.

This represents a profound challenge for HR leaders and practitioners working in public services today. While organisations are reviewing and re-thinking their purpose, focus and priorities, our employees are concerned that they might not be able to do the best for their customers and service users, or that their professional skills and knowledge might no longer be valued or wanted by the organisation.

There are no easy answers here, but it is imperative that HR leaders and practitioners pay attention to these issues and reflect on the implications for workplace culture, behaviours and engagement, and ultimately for the future performance of our organisations.  There are new and still changing expectations of public services, both in terms what they are there to do and how they do it. It is our role to assess the scale of the shift in our own organisation and to plan accordingly. It is our role to put in place the right support for our leaders and managers and for the workforce as a whole as a new sense of purpose is defined.

Remember that how people feel about their organisation as a whole, its sense of purpose, how it is led, the resources they have to do their job, the recognition they receive for their efforts (from their customers and from the organisation) all contributes to their overall experience  of work and to their levels of motivation and engagement.  We need to maintain our focus on all of these dynamics if we are to sustain a public service ethos that will be relevant in the public services of tomorrow.

Anne