EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Low levels of job commitment among civil servants

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According to a public servants’ work commitment survey, civil servants have a lower level of commitment than private sector employees do. This may be due to the fact that public servants do not feel valued in society, in addition to perceived problems concerning salary levels and fair treatment. The study makes a series of recommendations to raise work commitment levels.

In December 2006, the market research and consulting company TNS Emor carried out a Survey of commitment and job satisfaction of civil servants (in Estonian, 1Mb PDF). Approximately 24,000 people work as civil servants in Estonia; the study was based on a sample of 1,028 civil servants.

Employee commitment index

Work commitment was measured using the TRI*M Employee Commitment Index, which consists of several indicators characterising job satisfaction and the work environment. This index was first developed by TNS Infratest in Germany in the early 1990s and the company continues to develop its methodology. Using the TRI*M index enables comparisons with the private sector survey in Estonia, which was conducted in 2006, as well as international comparisons. The indicators included in the index are, for instance, evaluations of general job satisfaction, recommending the institution to other workers, motivation of colleagues and success of the organisation. Each aspect is evaluated on a scale of 1 (most negative) to 5 (most positive).

The study shows that the civil servants’ commitment is lower than that of Estonian private sector employees (Figure 1). It is also considerably lower than the average rating for job commitment worldwide, which stands at a value of 59.

Figure 1: Commitment of civil servants compared with other workers, TRI*M index, 2006

Figure 1: Commitment of civil servants compared with other workers, TRI*M index, 2006

Notes: The global average in relation to job commitment is given for comparative purposes, and is based on a 1.4 million sample of workers from the Global TRI*M database. * The lower 33% represents the group recording the lowest level of commitment when the global workforce is divided into three groups according to their job commitment rating.

Source: TNS Emor, 2006

Although the average commitment in the civil service in Estonia is lower, at a value of 46, than in the private sector, which shows a value of 54, the commitment of workers in constitutional institutions – such as the Estonian parliament, government, courts or the State Audit Office – is much higher than the average, at a TRI*M index value of 66. Conversely, the index is lowest among employees in inspection and state agencies, at a value of 41. There is no perceptible difference between the commitment of managers and other employees, but newly hired civil servants appear to have a higher commitment, at an index value of 63. Commitment decreases notably with length of employment.

Work satisfaction

Commitment to work depends on various aspects such as work content and development opportunities, work organisation and target setting. Analysing satisfaction with different aspects of work reveals that public servants evaluate their work content and training opportunities quite highly (Figure 2).

Satisfaction with work organisation, target setting and management of the establishment were graded slightly higher than average. However, civil servants expressed low rates of satisfaction concerning their development opportunities created through the direct manager and in terms of regular feedback from this manager. In an overall comparison, civil servants indicated the lowest satisfaction grades in relation to the pay system. Specifically, satisfaction with the competitiveness of wages, link between pay and personal effort and results, and fairness of wages ranked low.

Thus, although civil servants find their work interesting and socially important, they do not feel that their job is sufficiently appreciated and evaluated. They also consider that the public attitude to their work is reflected in the relatively unfair and dissatisfactory pay system. Moreover, they are relatively sceptical about their career possibilities in their organisation, as well as in the public sector generally.

Figure 2: Satisfaction of civil servants with different aspects of work, scale of 1 to 5, 2006

Figure 2: Satisfaction of civil servants with different aspects of work, scale of 1 to 5, 2006

Source: TNS Emor, 2006

The issue of civil service pay has been highlighted before (EE0511101F, EE0405102N). The survey indicates once again that the remuneration of the public services is not competitive and the system should be made more transparent. Problems arise in relation to transparency due to the large proportion of remuneration paid as bonuses on top of the basic salary scale. For higher officials, the bonuses may even exceed the basic salary and, for lower ranking officials, this cultivates feelings of unfairness.

Strategies to increase commitment

The survey concludes that the commitment and motivation of civil servants should be raised by paying more attention to the problematic aspects identified in the study. Civil servants and their work should be valued more in society as well as in the public service and especially in their own organisation. This includes the issue of salaries but also other factors such as attention, appreciation and possibilities to participate in decision making.

Furthermore, employees should be treated fairly, in particular when it comes to determining salary systems and promotion criteria, as well as making information available and taking decisions. The low motivational value of the working environment, as well as employees having too little faith in the success of the institution, suggest that a more positive organisational culture and greater effectiveness in the institutions is required.

Managers should give regular feedback to employees and support their professional development. At the same time, managers should have the opportunity to progress in the organisation. Cooperation within the institutions, as well as between them, should be better organised.

Epp Kallaste and Liis Roosaar, PRAXIS Centre for Policy Studies

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