• May 29th, 2020

The greener side: Public or private sector?

Many times, the public sector is often compared to the private firms. With applause to the latter and criticisms to the former. 

However, the two entities operate on very different grounds and, as much as private sector should be commended for its performance, for someone who has an experience on both ends, the grass is not always as greener as the photo makes it appear.

Performance of employees is most often questioned. It has been said that employees in the private sector are high performers as opposed to those in public sector. Most attributable to the capabilities of the managers/supervisors.

Public sector critics attest that supervisors in government are irresponsible, weak and unable to govern their subordinates as opposed to the managers in private sector. 

However, there is a difference between administration and management. Whilst an administration (government) aims to serve, private sector management aims to control. The manager in a private firm is often seen as the master, almost untouchable, whilst management in public administration is part of servitude.

It is safe to say that private sector cares about the bottom line, which is profit margins. A friend of mine once went through a very trying time in his life. He had just resigned from a promising career at a reputable private firm. 

He confided in me and said “If this had happened while I was still at the firm, I would not have recovered as quick as I have. They would not have cared about what I was dealing with. They would have expected me back at work no matter the cost. They only care about their profits.” 

From what he described, it should not take a neurosurgeon to understand the kind of pressure my friend worked under, knowing that there is no human being at the end of the management cadre. 
The difference between a machine/robot and a human being is the ability to be human. The element of empathy is what some describe as humility. Unfortunately, this much needed humility displayed (at times) in public sector can often be described as weakness or carelessness. 

Numerous media reports on a local who was unfairly dismissed or abused at Chinese firms create a lot of social media backlash. However, in hindsight, this is the kind of management assertiveness the public sector is often criticised for not displaying.

It appears very likely for the control possessed by managers in private firms to turn into abuse of power with the subordinates left to endure it because being victimised or losing your job in private firms occurs every so often. The stats are fortunately lower in public sector due to the modus operandi of the institution.  
The public sector is often criticised for its supposed weak disciplinary measures. However, when faced with a work related complaint, I spoke to two Human resource practitioners. The one from a private firm was adamant that I should be very careful as to how I address it, as I could easily be victimised and unfairly lose my job in the process. 

The HR officer from the government advised on the channel to lodge my complaint and more emphasis on equal rights for all government employees despite their level. 
Of course abusive managers can be in both sectors, but because those in private sector have so much control, this control can easily turn into abuse. 

Although mental health has been a great area of concern for scholars and practitioners of psychology, it seems to only be receiving the necessary attention from a wider population in recent times.
With the increasing pressure to be successful, unemployment and poverty rates being high, the need to have a job is imminent. Job-related burnout rates are thus rising among many professionals, with these rates comes depression, hypertension, anxiety, substance abuse, premature death and lastly suicide.

Although workplace stress has been off our radar and not much attention has been given to it when assessing suicide rates, it has been reported that there is a correlation between job burnout and suicide.  
Additionally, I would assume that due to the very strict set up in private firms, mental health issues caused by work stress is likely more common in the private sector than in public administration.

Government is the biggest employer in our country. And despite the fact that there are concerns about the wage bill being high, it still remains the administration’s responsibility to create employment for the many unemployed graduates who are increasingly resorting to demonstrations for employment. 

Before being wrongly accused of advocating for laziness, underperformance and carefreeness in government, the aim of my writing was to illustrate that despite its many flaws, the constant comparison to the private sector is fallacious. 

However, it is important for public servants to note and understand that the best way for the public sector to maintain its sense of servitude, every individual needs to practice a high sense of self-governance and self-regulation and knowing your responsibilities as equally as you do your rights.  

* Paulina Moses is journalist and author.

Staff Reporter
2019-07-26 11:16:37 | 10 months ago

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