Click to see the beacon journal online
Homes   Jobs   Cars   Shopping
HRLitehouse: Human Resource Management -- Community Blog

The Negative Branding of the Public Sector Workforce

by Dennis Doverspike on June 18, 2011

in Compensation-Pay,Doverspike Rant,HR General,Public Sector HR

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 “good work” 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):

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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 “the days of entitlement are over” 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. “It represents the way you do business and the promise you make to your customers – as perceived by your customers” (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.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

larry d. June 25, 2011 at 9:09 pm

Public sector employees could re-brand themselves quite quickly by tossing out the union thugs who have created the corrupt political machine with the democrats. As it stands, they’ve branded themselves pretty effectively as a big part of our budget problems during the Wisconsin fiasco.

Dennis Doverspike October 5, 2011 at 4:40 pm

Larry. Without agreeing or disagreeing with your statement, do you believe that the unions and the democrats are the reason for the negative image? Is that really the source of the public’s and the media’s perception?

larry d. October 8, 2011 at 10:41 am

Yes, I do. While average citizens might complain about the stereotypical “three guys leaning on shovels, one guy working” they see from time to time, or about the stereotypical bureaucrat slowing things down at the DMV, most of the criticism I see coming from proponents of the legislation comes in relation to unions, their leadership, and the political machine they have created with Democrat politicians. Claiming proponents of the legislation are anti-worker is a red herring, especially considering all the government jobs legislation in Wisconsin has proven to save. In short, it’s not an “image” problem, but a “reality” problem.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post:


© The Akron Beacon Journal • 44 E. Exchange Street, Akron, Ohio 44308

Powered by WordPress
Entries (RSS) and Comments (RSS).