Bureaucracy is a problem in public institutions

Employees at the public research institutes operated by Italy’s National Research Council (CNR) took part in summer 2012 in a survey on well-being at work. The study was prompted by the Italian government’s 2009 reform of public administration, which called for more transparency and integrity in the sector. The survey results highlight the problems of a highly bureaucratic management style, which appears to be a major obstacle to promoting trust among CNR employees.

Background

Government reforms introduced in Italy in 2009 brought in several compulsory measures aimed at increasing transparency and improving performance in the country’s public administration sector. As part of the reforms, well-being at work was among the issues to be monitored through annual surveys of employees.

An independent evaluation body, the Organismo indipendente di valutazione della performance (OIV), part of the National Research Council (CNR), was given the task of monitoring and helping to plan the activities of public administration bodies. Guidelines were developed by the newly established nationwide Independent Commission for Evaluation, Transparency and Integrity in Public Administration (CiVIT).

About the survey

A survey was carried out in summer 2012 of employees at the CNR’s network of research institutes across Italy following an extensive literature review (in Italian, 378KB PDF) on organisational well-being published by the CNR in March 2012, and the development of an appropriate methodology and questionnaire. The survey results were published by the CNR in October 2012.

According to the executive summary (in Italian, 1.6MB PDF), 2,110 employees (26%) out of a possible 8,165 completed the survey questionnaire, which was downloadable from an internal website and uploaded after completion. The online tool was designed to respect respondents’ anonymity. The response rate ranged from 40% at the National Institute for Geophysics and Volcanology (INGV) to 73% at the National Statistics Institute (Istat) and 76% at the National Institute for Labour and Training (Isfol).

Key findings

The final report uses a seven-point scale from -3 to +3 to give an indication of the impact of various factors on well-being (see figure). The factors ‘sense of belonging’, ‘positive attitude towards diversity’ and especially ‘workplace characteristics’ and ‘work–life balance’ were found to be strong positive contributors to the well-being of employees at the CNR research institutes. The quality of relationships, especially with colleagues, and the distribution of responsibilities and tasks had a positive but less marked contribution. Organisational change at the workplace, information flow and the style of human resource management (HRM) were found to have a negative effect on well-being.

Factors affecting well-being at work

Factors affecting well-being at work

Note: Findings of survey of employees at CNR research institutes.

Source: CNR (2012)

The CNR report emphasised the importance of employees’ vertical relationships with superiors as this is thought to be a major factor in shaping organisational well-being.

The survey found a consistent perception by respondents of a clear prevalence of formal rather than informal management style (see table). Just over half (53%) of respondents felt management style was ‘formal’ compared with 30.9% who felt it was ‘informal’; the rest had no strong view either way. Respondents also saw management as being authoritarian (53.8%) rather than relying on personal esteem (20.9%).

Superiors were seen by respondents as hostile (58.5%) rather than friendly (13.9%) and conflictual (56.7%) rather than collaborative (16.8%). This seemed to be the cause of difficult relations with 46.8% of respondents and a source of malaise among 39.4%, with only 24.5% reporting a sense of well-being.

Despite this negative picture, more respondents reported a peer-to-peer style (40%) than a dominantly hierarchical one (35.5%). The report attributes this to the existence of a spontaneous willingness to cooperate despite the dominantly bureaucratic approach.

Quality of relationships with superiors (%)
 

-3

-2

-1

0

1

2

3

 

Formal

13.7

21.7

17.6

16.2

10

10.4

10.5

Informal

Involving

10.7

10.2

11.1

28.9

17.3

14.9

6.8

Distant

Ineffective

10.7

19.4

21.6

25.0

6.6

7.0

9.7

Effective

Hierarchical

6.3

14.2

15

24.5

17.6

10.8

11.6

Peer-to-peer

Easy

10.0

7.0

10.4

25.7

16.7

19.4

10.7

Difficult

Hostile

14.5

21

23

27.5

5.1

3.4

5.4

Friendly

Relying on personal esteem

6.0

6.1

8,8

25.4

15.4

21.5

16.9

Relying on authoritarian relationships

Source of malaise

8.5

16.6

14.3

36.0

10.1

6.4

8.0

Source of well-being

Conflictual

13.9

21.3

21.5

26.6

7.8

3.8

5.2

Collaborative

Diffident

19.1

19.7

17.6

25.4

5.9

5.2

7.0

Trust-based

Note: Percentages show the distribution of respondents’ views on various aspects of the relationship with their superiors across the seven-point scale from one extreme to another of each aspect.

Source: CNR (2012)

Commentary

Monitoring organisational well-being is seen as one of the most positive benefits of the 2009 reform. Surveys carried out in CNR research institutes during 2011–2012 have played an influential part in testing the different methodological and conceptual approaches, paving the ground for the 2012 CiVIT guidelines.

The CNR survey in summer 2012 demonstrated that management is relying on a bureaucratic approach, which appeared to be the main obstacle to promoting trust in the organisation. Meanwhile, cooperation was shown to be the main factor in promoting organisational well-being and increased performance, especially among research institutes.

Reference

Organismo indipendente di valutazione del CNR (2012), Indagine sul benesse re organizzativo nel CNR: executive summary (1.6MB PDF), Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche, Rome.

Mario Giaccone, Ires

Useful? Interesting? Tell us what you think. Hide comments

Eurofound welcomes feedback and updates on this regulation

Adaugă comentariu nou