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Improving Human Resources in the Public Sector – A Key to Successful Reform?. David Guest Professor of Organizational Psychology & Human Resource Management King’s College, London. What is Human Resource Management?.

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improving human resources in the public sector a key to successful reform

Improving Human Resources in the Public Sector – A Key to Successful Reform?

David Guest

Professor of Organizational Psychology & Human Resource Management

King’s College, London

what is human resource management
What is Human Resource Management?

“All those activities associated with the management of work and people in organisations”

(Boxall and Purcell, 2011)

why do human resource matter in the public sector
Why Do Human Resource Matter in the Public Sector?

Usually the major cost factor. Therefore effective management of human resources should:

  • Reduce costs
  • Result in more effective utilisation of human capital to provide better, more cost-effective services
problems challenges in managing public sector human resources
Problems/Challenges in Managing Public Sector Human Resources
  • Sheltered and distorted labour markets
  • Excessive job security/jobs for life
  • Political influences
  • Bureaucratic ineffective HR practices
  • Administrative systems which do not reward productivity or service quality
  • Strong trade union influence
  • Powerful professional groups/interests
  • Tradition of model employer
  • Poor capacity for change
pressures for change in public sector hr
Pressures for Change in Public Sector HR
  • Need to become more strategic
  • Need to change from dominance of bureaucracy focus to performance focus
  • Need to move from standard employment to flexible employment
  • Need to make full use of, and ensure the service commitment of staff
  • Need to control staff costs – doing more and better with less.
a new approach
A New Approach

A new approach requires :

  • a better model for managing human resources


  • a better way of allocating responsibility

“Human resource management is too important to be left to human resource departments”

some basic assumptions about human resource management
Some Basic Assumptions About Human Resource Management
  • Someone has to take personnel decisions
  • Who takes decisions is related to issues of power, influence and size of organization
  • There is an identifiable set of core decision areas
  • We now have considerable evidence about what constitutes “good” human resource management
some core areas of hr decisions
Some Core Areas of HR Decisions
  • Recruitment and Selection (and Branding)
  • Training and Development
  • Careers and Internal Labour Markets
  • Job (and organization) design
  • Appraising performance
  • Reward systems
  • Ensuring appropriate treatment of staff
  • Managing employment relations
  • Dealing with problem issues and cases
  • Managing downsizing and exit
the evidence base for new public sector model of hrm
The Evidence Base for New Public Sector Model of HRM

Lots of evidence showing an association between more high quality human resource practices and performance in private and public sectors


Organizational Performance

a refined model

Recruitment & selection

Training & Development

Enhanced employee performance

Performance appraisal

Financial rewards


Job design

Involvement systems


Internal promotion


Fair treatment

Met psych. contract

A Refined Model

Employee competence

Employee motivation

Opportunity to participate

Employee commitment

what do we mean by good hr practices examples
What Do We Mean by “Good” HR Practices?(examples)
  • Selection based on quality and attitudes/approach to work
  • Use of psychological tests in selecting all staff
  • Extensive provision of training
  • Deliberate development of a learning organization
  • Formal appraisal of all staff at least annually
  • High basic pay and organization-based contingent pay
  • Harmonised terms and conditions for all staff
  • Design of jobs to make full use of skills and abilities
  • Staff/teams responsible for their own quality
  • Extensive two-way communication on work and organization issues
  • Regular use of attitude surveys
adoption of hr practices in the uk
Adoption of HR Practices in the UK

Number of HR practices in the public (N=546) and private sectors (N=1277)

WERS data

hrm and performance in the public sector
HRM and Performance in the Public Sector
  • Growing number of studies in healthcare
  • Some studies in local government
  • A few elsewhere
  • Major problem of performance indicators
  • Standard challenge of level of analysis (division, workplace, organization: e.g. school or local authority)
hrm and mortality in acute hospitals west et al job 2006
HRM and Mortality in Acute Hospitals West et al (JOB, 2006)
  • 52 Acute Trusts in the UK
  • More high quality HR practices associated with lower death rates
  • Persists after controlling for other possible influences including past performance
  • Good appraisals have the strongest influence
hrm and performance in local government messersmith et al 2011
HRM and Performance in Local Government (Messersmith et al 2011)
  • Study of HRM and performance in Welsh local authorities. Each has 8 departments.
  • Data from 119 departments and 1755 staff.
  • Performance data from Welsh government
  • Explored link between HRM, staff attitudes and behaviour and department outcomes.
  • Found strong link between HRM and performance and HRM and attitudes
  • Found strong support for path through employee attitudes and behaviour
hrm and performance in universities guest clinton 2007
HRM and Performance in Universities (Guest & Clinton, 2007)
  • Survey of HR managers in all UK universities on HR practices
  • Independent published performance data
  • Found no association between HRM and performance
  • Poor quality HR practices, poor HR departments and poor implementation
initial conclusion
Initial Conclusion
  • There is good evidence of an association between HRM and performance across different parts of the UK public sector
  • Highlights potential if you can implement high quality HR practices
  • Raises question of who is responsible for implementation and the role of HR departments
the implementation challenge
The Implementation Challenge
  • Khilji and Wang (2006) and others highlighted a gap between intended and implemented HR practices
  • Implies that it is not enough to have good HR policy and practice
  • Draws attention to the roles of ‘implementers’ - HR specialists, top management and line managers
towards a theory of hr implementation guest bos nehles 2012
Towards a Theory of HR Implementation(Guest & Bos-Nehles, 2012)
  • Stage 1: Decide to introduce a practice
  • Stage 2: Determine the quality of the practice
  • Stage 3: Line managers agree to implement the practice
  • Stage 4: Line managers implement in a quality way
  • Stage 5: Staff accept rationale for practice and respond accordingly

Implementation at Stages 3-5 cannot occur without Stages 1 & 2

who is responsible for implementation
Who is Responsible for Implementation?
  • Stage 1 HR and top management
  • Stage 2 Primarily HR
  • Stage 3 Line managers
  • Stage 4 Line managers

So line managers’ views on HR practices and their competences become central issues

the challenge of implementation of hrm in local government
The Challenge of Implementation ofHRM in Local Government
  • In 32 London boroughs very similar HR practices are in place
  • External audit reveals differences in borough ratings
  • Research reveals key differences in effectiveness of HR implementation explain much of the variation in ratings
implementation of bullying and harassment policy in the nhs
Implementation of Bullying and Harassment Policy in the NHS
  • UK healthcare has one of the highest levels of reported bullying and harassment of any sector – e.g. much higher than the military
  • Annual NHS survey question: “ In the last 12 months have you experienced harassment, bullying or abuse from any of the following” (manager/team leader/colleagues/ patients/relatives of patients?
evidence on bullying and harassment from staff surveys and interviews
Evidence on Bullying and Harassment from Staff Surveys and Interviews
  • Bullying associated with increased stress /reduced job satisfaction/higher intention to quit
  • Bullying affects patient safety and service quality through reduced motivation and concern to do a good job
  • Bullying by staff associated with unsupportive work environment and lack of faith in effectiveness of relevant HR systems
  • How does this relate to HR policy and practice in the hospital?
best practice in management of bullying and harassment
Best Practice in Management of Bullying and Harassment

Implementation of a Formal Bullying Policy

Zero Tolerance Approach

Selection of Staff

Implementation of Awareness Campaigns

Address Environmental Problems

Training and Development for Managers and for Staff

Providing Informal Advisory Services

Data monitoring

Support for Victims of Bullying

All are in place at this hospital

implications for hrm
Implications for HRM

The hospital has all the right HR policies and practices in place but bullying still very high. Why?

Reflects the gap between ‘intended’ and ‘implemented’ practice

Reinforces need to focus on implementation

Is this likely to be particularly challenging in public sector professional bureaucracies?

the role of the line managers
The Role of the Line Managers

Line managers have responsibility for much HR implementation.

However key issue concerns motivation and competence to implement.

UK line managers “are neither capable nor motivated to take on these issues” (Hope Hailey et al,2005)

Dutch line managers more motivated and capable but hindered by time pressures

line managers clinicians in healthcare
Line Managers/Clinicians in Healthcare
  • Health managers prioritise patient care over care of workforce
  • Limited reinforcement of relevant policy – e.g. no evidence of zero tolerance
  • Our evidence suggests some avoid HR issues
  • But: evidence on bullying shows wide variations between clinical divisions. So how can we understand and explain these variations?
the nature of a strong hr system
The Nature of a “Strong” HR System

Bowen and Ostroff (2004) argue that the link between HR strategy and HR practices and outcomes will be stronger if there is a ‘strong’ HR system perceived as high in:

    • Distinctiveness: visible, relevant, understood
    • Consistency: consistently applied
    • Consensus: agreed by key stakeholders
  • Role of top management in embedding and reinforcing ‘strong’ HR is likely to be crucial
  • HR cannot do HR on its own
conclusions and policy implications
Conclusions and Policy Implications
  • Some indication in the public sector that more high quality HRM is associated with better performance
  • Need to strengthen focus on factors affecting implementation of policy and practice
  • HR still mainly an administrative rather than a strategic function
  • Major challenge of HR implementation in public sector professional bureaucracies
  • A ‘strong’ HR system is likely to help
thank you for listening

Thank you for listening