Addressing Austerity – What should you as a public servant do?

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For public servants across the world and more specifically in Canada, austerity measures being introduced by their governments represent a threat to their livelihood. Public service has traditionally been viewed as a cushy, secure job with wonderful benefits. Public service is not the most well paid job but the job security and benefits more than made up for that. With the shift of the West to a knowledge economy and away from a manufacturing economy, many private sector firms have started to offer lucrative and attractive employment offers to knowledge workers. Public service compensation lags behind private sector compensation for equivalent level positions (with that gap growing as you enter middle and senior management levels). Benefits in the private sector are often the same as the public sector if not better than the public sector. Many public servants choose their public service career because of the job security and the generous pension plan. However, austerity offers to change pensions and erode job security. Should you be worried about austerity?

Austerity is a necessary measure (at least politically) as balanced budgets are seen as a measure of the government’s economic stewardship. Whether we as public servants like it or not, austerity will happen and the bureaucracy represents a viable and politically friendly area to begin belt tightening and cuts. Public servants have every right to worry as austerity will have impacts both on those who are cut and those who remain. Many people will feel the impact of the cuts but it is important to keep things in perspective. I’d like to offer some advice to all public servants who are going through austerity. In times of austerity, you have a chance to truly reflect on your own career and how the public service fits into your career.

Step 1: Putting things into perspective

If you find that you are dreading going into work or that you’re in a dead end job, what makes you think that sticking around to collect a paycheque is going to change your circumstances? Take a moment to truly think about why you are in your job. Your job should be your passion. You should love coming into work everyday. If you don’t feel engaged by your work then something is wrong.

As cuts get deep, your work will only get heavier and more stressful. If you don’t love what you do now, then what happens when you’re doing the work of 2 people? 3 people? 4 people?

Step 2: Why do you want to keep working in the public sector?

So you’ve decided that the public sector is your choice for employment. But why is that? Is it the stability or the benefits? Maybe the pension plan? The compensation? It is safe to say that many of the traditional “benefits” of public service employment are lost. Jobs are not as secure as they once were. Pensions are being increasingly readjusted to be less beneficial to the employee. Compensation is for all intents and purposes frozen for many classifications. Don’t stay in the public sector if stability or benefits (inc. pensions) or pay are your sole motivators.

Step 3: If you do decide to walk away from your job…

The initial few weeks will be tough as you re-adjust your budget to fit the lack of employment income coming in. While the government, through workforce adjustment programs has attempted to minimize the impact, it will still put a strain on your budget. We all have bills to pay, food still has to be on our table, and we still need clothes on our back. However, there are many public servants who are truly engaged in their work and are contributing so much to the overall public good. I’d personally prefer to see those public servants have continued employment as truly engaged employees leads to better overall outcomes for all Canadians.

Times will be tough and I’m not going to say that walking away from your job will be easy. It takes courage and it takes guts. But, if that drastic action is the motivation you need to get out of your dead end job and get into a job you want to do, then you will be better off in the long run. Weather some short term pain for long term gain. You’ll be glad you did.

Step 4: Make an informed decision

Before deciding anything, talk to your manager, talk to HR, your union rep and your family. Don’t jump into any decision without consulting those you trust. Visit the Treasury Board website for more information on workforce adjustment.

Scott McNaughton, thenewbureaucracy.ca

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Great post. I’d also add – sometimes you might not like your boss/division/agency but I would not say that automatically means you don’t like working for government – perhaps you just need a new job at another agency

Scott McNaughton

Great point Steve. You may not just like your current Department and need a change of scenery. I’m not sure about the US public service but in Canada I suspect sometime in the near future, there will be plenty of opportunity for lateral movement to other Departments. The government is establishing a job bank as a “matchmaking” service for public servants leaving of their own choice and those looking for lateral movement.

At this point, only time will tell.