Recently, along with Tom Doverspike, I authored an article for IPAC's Assessment Council News on the Negative Branding of the public sector workforce. The entire article can be found at the IPAC site, but that is available only to members. I have posted some of the highlights here:
The Negative Branding of the Public Sector Workforce
Professional and Scientific Affairs Committee Column
By Dennis Doverspike and Thomas G. Doverspike
Address correspondence to
The public servant and the public sector are under attack. In an attempt to balance state and local budgets, politicians have targeted public employees as being overpaid, underachievers. Although a number of employee groups have been the target of this broadside attack, teachers and university professors have been signaled out as exemplars of the problems endemic to the public sector.
The surprising element in this attack is the apparent acceptance by voters, taxpayers, and the general public of this attempt to paint public employees in a negative light. Apparently, at least at some level, a negative general impression of the public sector exists, which makes it easier for the intended audience to accept the argument that the public sector is now suffering from a malaise of entitlement.
Themes and Negative Branding
We believe that many of the arguments used by proponents of the legislation speak to broader themes and a negative branding of the public sector. The ease with which the general public seems to have accepted some of these negative arguments should be a matter of concern. In particular, it suggests that the âgood workâ view of public service has its perceived dark side.
In order to identify the elements or factors underlying the negative side of the public employment reputation, we reviewed speeches, newspaper articles, and blog postings. We also listened to quite a bit of talk radio. (In addition, we would like to thank graduate students from a summer compensation class for their contributions). Based on this review, we identified the following four general themes (at this point these are initial impressions and are not based on any more rigorous, scientific methodology):
- Overpaid and underworked. This theme reflects the idea that public sector pay is too high. At the same time, performance and productivity in the public sector are seen as declining. In addition, there is a perception that there are simply too many employees.
- Overly Generous Benefits. Although related to the first theme, it has unique aspects. The benefits in the public sector are seen as too generous. This includes a failure of public employees to pay their fair share for benefits. Pensions are also seen as too generous. Finally, job security represents an additional benefit.
- Pay Not Based on Performance. Pay in the public sector is not seen as connected to merit or performance. Seniority and other irrelevant factors are seen as contributing to pay.
- Other factors. At this point, a catch-all category. This category includes factors such as nepotism, restrictive unions, and a need to change leadership.
As an additional comment, these critiques are not new to the public sector. The same arguments were used under the general banner of âthe days of entitlement are overâ during the 1990s to argue against the strong influence exerted by unions in the private sector.
In order to change the negative perception of public employees, we must take control of the argument by reshaping the brand image. To paraphrase Forsberg and Gurjian, your brand will define what politicians and the general public think about your organization and your employees. âIt represents the way you do business and the promise you make to your customers – as perceived by your customersâ (page 6). We must consider how we want to be perceived as doing business and what promises we are delivering to the public. The message we deliver should emphasize the substantial public benefits, contributions, and the good work delivered by the public sector.