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?
“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?
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
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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
 Need to become more strategic
 Need to change from dominance of

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
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 requires :
 a better model for managing human resources
and
 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
 Someone has to take personnel decisions
 Who takes decisions is related to issues of

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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
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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
HRM
Organizational Performance
Lots of evidence showing an association between
more high quality human resource practices
and performance in private and public sectors
HR and profit per employee in the private
sector (FoW study)
4000
3000
2000
1000
0 to 4
5 to 7
8 to 10
Number of HR practices
Sourc e: FoW (N=297)
11+
Labour turnover and performance
40
30
20
10
0 to 4
5 to 7
8 to 10
HR practices (UK)
11+
A Refined Model
Recruitment & selection
Training & Development
Employee
competence
Performance appraisal
Financial rewards
Feedback
Employee
motivation
Job design
Involvement systems
Communication
Opportunity to
participate
Internal promotion
Security
Fair treatment
Met psych. contract
Employee
commitment
Enhanced
employee
performance
What Do We Mean by “Good” HR
Practices?
(examples)
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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
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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
30
Per cent of workplaces
Number of
HR practices
in the public
(N=546) and
private sectors
(N=1277)
20
10
WERS data
Public sector
0
Priv ate sector
16
15
14
13
12
11
10
9
8
7
6
5
4
3
2
1
0
HRM and Performance in the Public
Sector
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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)
 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)
 Study of HRM and performance in Welsh local
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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)
 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
 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
 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)
 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?
 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
 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
 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?
Bullying and Harassment in the UK
NHS. Regional Comparisons
25.0
21.6
% Satff reporting B&H
20.0
17.3
17.7
17.8
17.9
18.0
18.0
18.4
17.2
West
Midlands
North
West
Yorkshire
and the
Humber
East of
England
South
Central
South
West
East
Midlands
South
East
Coast
16.2
15.0
10.0
5.0
0.0
North
East
London
Bullying and Harassment at a London
Acute Hospital 2004-2008
35
30
% reporting B&H
25
20
15
10
Host organisation
National Acute trust average
5
0
2004
2005
2006
2007
2008
Bullying and Harassment by Care Group:
2007
40
35
35
33
% Reporting B&H
30
26
29
29
Dental
Liver & Renal
27
24
25
20
20
15
13
11
10
5
0
Co rpo rate &
Facilities
Specialist
M edicine
Clinical Services
Cardiac &
Neuro sciences
Finance
Wo men's &
Children's
Care Group
Critical & Surgery
M edical Care
Evidence on Bullying and Harassment
from Staff Surveys and Interviews
 Bullying associated with increased stress
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/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
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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
 The hospital has all the right HR policies and
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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
 Line managers have responsibility for much HR
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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
 Health managers prioritise patient care over
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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
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
 Some indication in the public sector that more
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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
[email protected]
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David Guest - 8th Public Administration Reform Symposium and