A Budget of Austerity – A Public Servant’s Guide to Survival

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With the release of the federal budget on March 29, 2012, a sigh of relief could be heard all across Ottawa as the full extent of spending cuts and lay-offs were revealed. The cuts to Departments were lower than expected with most Departments being asked to find 5-6% in savings with variations both on the high end and low end. When all is said and done, 19,200 jobs are to be cut with an estimated 7,200 to be handled through attrition. The rhetoric on both sides has highlighted the extremes of the ongoing argument. On one side, this is a modest and necessary cut to the public service and on the other hand Canadians will be feeling the impact of these cuts in reduced services and programming. I personally feel the truth lays somewhere in between.

For a more direct employee point of view on the budget cuts please refer to my past post: Addressing Austerity and What You Should Do. Ultimately, the budget cuts are not as deep as everyone was expecting. My advice to fellow public servants remains the same. In a time of austerity, you are given a unique opportunity to exit the public service and get fair compensation for doing so. If you are not happy with your job and feel that public service is not a good fit then take advantage of swapping to give a job to a public servant who wants to stay.

Through all the spin, rhetoric and partisan speaking points it becomes difficult to keep things in perspective. At the end of the day, even one job loss represents a person losing their livelihood and the potential economic consequences of that on his/her family. As we go through the next couple of rough years, it becomes important to remember the human consequences of any job losses. If you are a GOC employee, I encourage you to visit the Job Swapping Forum (internal GOC link) and connect with your fellow employees who are looking for a job. If the public service is not the right fit, then leave on a high note especially since you are being given the chance.

For the public servants, both in GOC and elsewhere who are going through austerity measures, change and upheaval challenges the resiliency in us. Going through change lines up with the different stages of grief. You’ve probably recognize these emotions over the past few months


You will be numb with disbelief. You will deny that job losses will happen to you (they will happen to others). You will probably react to learning of the loss with numbed disbelief. You may deny the reality of the loss at some level, in order to avoid the pain. Shock provides emotional protection from being overwhelmed all at once. This may last for weeks.


As the shock wears off, you’ll begin to feel guilt over what is happening. You’ll start to wonder if there is something you could have done to prevent the job losses.


You will start to become angry and possibly lash out to your friends, family or co-workers. You may start asking “why me”. You may also try to bargain in vain with your managers (“They would never fire me right? I’m a valuable member of the team.)


At this stage, you become depressed. You enter self reflection and those around you may try to encourage to “snap out of it”.


As you start to accept the possibility of job losses, you will start to accept what must be.


As you become more functional, you start to organize your life and put your matters in order. You prepare for job losses.


You fully accept the possibility of job losses. You learn to accept and deal with the reality of the situation.

While grief is far more traumatic, your emotions do go through a similar cycle with the threat of job losses. As public servants spared by job losses, you will face increased workloads, you may lose co-workers/friends and you will be feeling a mix of emotions. It will be a difficult few years for all public servants. At the end of the day, remember why you joined the public service in the first place. You wanted to help people, you want to make peoples lives better and you want to change the world around you. If you feel you can’t do that in the public service, it might just be time for a career change. The public service is not the only place you can change the world. If you are staying in the public service, recognize the different stages of grief. Recognize the challenges ahead of you over the next few years and get ready. I don’t claim to be a certified coach or therapist so how you manage depends on your personality. Within the GOC there are services available (Health Canada’s version, contact your HR rep for your version) that can help you through the tough times ahead.

Scott McNaughton, thenewbureaucracy.ca

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Dick Davies

In a conversation about private sector startups this morning, it was pointed out that my frugal-not-cheap austerity record allowed the organizations to deliver more benefit per dollar expended, and that was to be encouraged. I realized it’s not about how little you spend, but about how to organize to get the most benefit for what you spend.

One other point, when founders are exempt from their own rules, that’s called foundering.