Widgetized Section

Go to Admin » Appearance » Widgets » and move Gabfire Widget: Social into that MastheadOverlay zone

Civil Service Commissions Are Locked Into the Past

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Howard Risher
August 25, 2023

It’s rarely acknowledged that employees play essential roles in virtually all public services. Now job vacancies are creating problems at every level of government. When jobs go unfilled, it adversely affects an agency’s performance and increases job stress for those asked to “fill in”—and that prompts more workers to quit or retire, exacerbating the vacancy problem.

There are critics who argue vacancies save payroll dollars but that ignores the performance issue. In the private sector, vacancies are known to be costly. The problem impacts team and company performance, increases worker turnover, distracts management, creates unhappy customers, harms the company’s ‘brand’ as an employer and prompts consideration of less qualified job candidates. 

Business experts estimate the costs range from maybe $5,000 a day to as much as $50,000 for jobs requiring high level skills. Governments’ vacancy costs are difficult to determine but would have to follow a similar pattern. The “costs” in certain job families have to include preventable fatalities.

Today, employers in virtually every industry are experiencing mounting job vacancies. Although the problem has only recently been in the headlines, employers began experiencing staffing problems prior to the COVID crisis.

What is frequently missed by media reporters is that the vacancies are linked in part to two demographic trends—fewer young people entering the workforce and hundreds of thousands of Boomers reaching the age when they begin to retire. The trends are projected to continue for years. That was captured by a recent column on the website Business Insider entitled, “The Forever Labor Shortage.”

Public Employers Need To Be More Competitive

For decades, public agencies could simply post job vacancies, sit back and wait for applications. There were 5 to 10 applicants for every vacancy; staffing was routine. Once hired, employees stayed with their agency until they retired. From the first years of civil service reform in the late 1800s, workers were seen as interchangeable, like light bulbs, and easily replaced. 

At the federal level, the U.S. Civil Service Commission (CSC) was created in 1883, with the goal of creating a merit-based employment system. Over the next half century, states and cities created similar offices, making them responsible for virtually all employment issues, including the resolution of employee grievances. The model was adopted in a large number of countries. In Canada it’s the Public Service Commission.  

COVID-19 triggered important changes in the country’s labor markets. Employees now have different interests when they look for a better job. As a Forbes column argues, “Flexibility is top of candidates’ wish list…Working at home gave them “more time for themselves…they don’t want to give that up.” It’s now a “sellers’ market” and job seekers know that. 

It’s forcing employers to reconsider what is referred to as the Employee Value Proposition (EVP)—that is the financial and non-financial benefits of a job. For young workers, pay is important but they also look for a healthy work-life balance, flexible hours, training opportunities, good managers, respect and a positive workplace culture. As workers mature, fair pay and job security are important. A core problem is that the costly pension benefits important to older workers are near the bottom of the list for young job seekers. 

According to Gallup, employers “must ultimately sell their…EVP…to potential job candidates. The art of talent attraction requires the creation of a total promise to potential hires…” 

Public employers have an additional problem related to the diversity of jobs and recruiting in very different labor markets. To emphasize the point, recruiting lawyers and police require different strategies. Prison guards, public health nurses, airport ground crews, etc. are each hired from different markets. Staffing is far more complex than in business.

The Commission Problem

Today’s labor market dynamics clash with the reality of the CSC model—it’s best understood as a quasi-judicial agency that defends and perpetuates existing employment practices. Commissioners are typically selected for reasons other than their HR expertise. Their mandate is at odds with the need for reform.   

An added problem is bureaucratic administrative routines. One state posted a 20 ‘box’ decision flow chart to illustrate how grievances are handled, ending with “Ask for Reconsideration” or “Appeal the Decision” to a state court. The delays in resolving problems and the time of everyone involved would never be tolerated in the private sector.

The feds acknowledged the problem, replacing its CSC in 1978—45 years ago—with the Office of Personnel Management. New agencies were created to handle grievances and labor relations. It’s been called “the most important reform of the federal civil service since its founding.” A few states followed with similar changes but government at all levels continues to rely on practices that are not competitive.

It’s clear reform is needed. Many HR leaders agree but workforce issues are typically not high on the agenda of elected officials. As a suggestion, ASPA should address this problem.

Author: Howard Risher has 40 years of experience as a consultant and HR executive with clients in every sector. He has published frequently in HR journals and websites. He is the author or co-author of six books and a growing list of ebooks. The most recent is Older Workers Ready to Hire. He is associated with Grahall Consulting Partners. He can be reached at [email protected].

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (1 votes, average: 3.00 out of 5)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *