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May 22, 2008



Or is it they do "unpaid overtime" because they feel guilty for all the extra sickies they take?


This may be true, but there are other factors which outweigh the altruism of some public-sector workers. Part of the supposed public service ethos is a lack of consequences for poor performance, so the many who are clearly not motivated by altruism negate the efforts of those that are.


Might it not be the case that public-sector work is more monopsonistic in structure, so workers have less opportunity to move to a different employer (where less unpaid overtime is needed)? There is a control in the analysis for "job tenure" (p.15) which might be relevant but it's hard to know what it means (does changing jobs/nominal employers within what is effectively the same system count?)


It sounds like I'm desperately stretching for reasons why the paper's wrong, which I'm not - it's a perfectly reasonable idea.
Really I was just attracted by the picture. Mind you, I preferred CATS Eyes.


Those first two comments; Groan ..

First, lack of consequences for poor performance. Leaving aside the fact that there ARE sanctions in place - do you think that we don't give a toss about what we do and don't worry constantly about the consequences of our actions? If you are altruistic you police yourself - just as you exploit yourself.

There are piss poor staff knocking around, as everywhere, but the rest of us try to negate their effects, not the other way round. But now when management tries to deal with it, all we get is this performance assessment crap. The solution they come up with is to use a managerial tool rather than deal with what is simply a personnel problem. The result is that you impose some god awful system on everyone, piss off the 95% of the people who are good in order to put pressure on the 5% of tosspots.

The world of performance assessment has a perverse effect. By driving up workloads for all, it reduces the time and ability of those who are good and who care to deliver the service. The only way to survive is not to care - so this post is almost right. The donated labour remains and sometimes is longer, but much of it is used to do less productive work and ultimately the staff leave, frustrated and disillusioned.

As for sickies. People don't just get pissed off, they get ill. Not because of the real work, but because of the endless managing of cuts, the managerial bollocks and the crushing workloads and - yes - dealing with the latest fucking stupid 'reform' dreamt up by some loon who hasn't a fucking clue what really goes on.

We now live in a world where public sector workers are fleeing into the private sector for an easier life. Wake up and shake off your old prejudices.

Peter Risdon

The paper does seem persuasive, but your conclusion might be wrong. If people with knightly motives are now likely to opt for the public sector, there's no reason to suppose working in the private sector would reduce their motivation. Some might be demotivated by the real or imagined use of unpaid overtime to maximise profit (as the paper suggests), but they have no data at all for either part of this conclusion. Others might be motivated more by the absence of public sector targets, as is implicit in Peter's comment. And no, there's no data for that suggestion either.


Why is narrow self-interest mutually exclusive of “knightly motives”? What if my narrow self-interest is to gain prestige or even some form of personal satisfaction from working lots of unpaid overtime?

Tristan Mills

Three things which come to mind:

1) Narrow self interest can surely include 'knightly motives'. Financial reward is obviously not the only motive.

2) Is it possible that these people would do the same overtime in the private sector, but they would first try to make sure that they get paid for the work first? In the public sector overtime may be harder to get.

3) I'd assume that this paper would control for time contracted to work, but if it doesn't could the higher unionisation of the public sector (or other factors) lead to shorter working hours?

2 and 3 come from personal experience. My wife works in the public caring sector but works lots of overtime for which she is unpaid*. She is contracted for less time than she could be and doesn't have enough time to fulfill all her duties.
* She can only get 'toil' (time off in lieu), which she rarely takes because she has to do the work...


This all confirms a prejudice that I'd recommend to everyone:

The public sector and the private sector are different beasts. Generally, people in management positions in both sectors tend to pick their sector in their early 20s and stay in it until they retire.

The private sector is motivated in a totally different way to the public sector. Incentives are different, success is measured in different way, the sociology is different. And the private sector isn't always run more effectively that the public sector.

The sooner we stop trying to apply the ethos of one to the other, the better. And there is a need for a properly articulated public sector ethos.

Politically, being the ringmaster in developing one could be a huge bonus to the Tories in this country at this moment in time. Public sector workers are more likely to vote Labour, partly because they see the Tories as an anti-PS party (in the same way, historically, that working class people working for smaller employers were less likely to vote Labour because of what was called 'deferential' voting).

From a Labour Party point of view (mine) it is worrying that this could allow the tories to 'seal the deal with the electorate.'


"the not-for-profit caring sector"

Would anyone like to tell me why the not-for-profit sector is being taken as synonymous with the public sector?

What happened to charities?

Bishop Hill

Yes, "ad" has got it. The authors of the paper are clear that they are comparing the "for-profit" sector and the "non-profit" sector. The non-profits will include the charities.

Chris is therefore wrong to draw conclusions about public sector reform from this work.


"The private sector is motivated in a totally different way to the public sector. Incentives are different, success is measured in different way, the sociology is different."

Strikes seem to have the same goal, to judge from the demands of public sector unions. Which suggests to me that the motivations are not so different as all that.



Just to confirm that the authors don't mean to say that the non-profit sector is ONLY the public sector in their paper, I quote:

"We use 'non-profit' to refer to any organization that is not profit-making, which includes both not-for-profit organisations, as well as government organisations."

Since the state crowds out private alternatives to its "services", it would not strike me as surprising that many of the altruistic minded go for government work.


I spent 12 years working for one local government employer. Just after they made me redundant (!) I checked back over my time sheets, which probably under recorded if anything. Over that 12 year period I worked for 13 years, ie about 1 year unpaid. Not a huge amount by some standards but significant.

There used to be a public sector ethos going back to the days of people like Joe Chamberlain in Birmingham. That has now been almost entirely destroyed by a combination of active attacks from the Conservative party, beginning under Thatcher, and aggressive over centralisation and target seeking under Blair.

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