Wednesday 25 August 2010

Why am I 'public service'?

Over on Spencer Wilsons blog he asks the question by proxy of why people are public service. I work in the public sector and have done for a while now, with a brief foray into private sector life at a shall remain nameless multi-national auditing consultancy, and I hope it's where I will be allowed to stay.

It started with a temp job in the HR Department with the London Ambulance Service, went via an admin post with the Community Service section of the London Probation Service which became a stint as a Probation Service Officer supervising young repeat offenders on the Intensive Supervision and Monitoring Scheme which then became, due to relocation, a stint as a Systems Tech/Admin for a Local Authority which has now become a post as a Multimedia Communciations Officer.

That list spans 13 years. There were gaps in between, as ISP connection tech which became Team Leader when I was but a bairn out of university, and as the aforementioned Team Secretary for the 4 letter auditing employer where I got the highest score on the inbox exercise they'd ever seen but where I fit in about as seamlessly as a penguin in a lion enclosure.

Over on Spencer Wilsons post, someone has already commented, and quite fairly, that there are two kinds of public sector employee.

I'd like to make the point that there used to be two kinds of public sector employee. That the sector is moving on, in some areas quicker than others. That my experience over 13 years has changed, that the people I meet in the jobs I work in have changed.

My current team is a beautiful example. There are no coat tail riders. There are no questions about working as late as necessary to get the job done. If there is an 'emergency', people change plans and work around it. If weekend or late evening working is needed, to attend Board meetings, well so be it. There are jokes made about tedium and hours lost forever, but they are jokes, they are not meant. They are passionate about their jobs. They love analysing, thinking, dissecting issues from numerous different directions. Opinions, I am told, are welcome and I believe that absolutely, and am already expressing my own, carefully. Others tell me there is no blame culture, and I believe that too. I can't think of a single person in the whole department who I would not go to to ask a question of, and not expect to receive a well thought, well reasoned, well argued response back.

I know not all Departments are like this. I know this very well. But every person in that office could be paid oh so much more somewhere else. Every single person in that office makes a conscious decision to stay, despite the 30-40% axe shaped numbers floating above their heads. They pay infinite attention to detail, but they do their jobs with grace and humour still.

None of these things, and I do mean none of these things, have I found in the private sector. Perhaps the difference is a motivation to work hard to earn the fabled 'job for life', perhaps they stay because of the pension promise. I don't think they do, but perhaps I am wrong. Instead I think they do it for the same reason I do it, because they don't mind waking up in the morning. Because going to work isn't a hassle or a chore. Because every day is different and no one knows in the morning how the world will look by evening. Because they are led well and with commitment. Because as a result that commitment filters down, as does the communication. Because thinking outside of the box means jumping up and down on it until it's absolutely flattened with treadmarks printed all over it. Because it's a challenge and it's hectic and it requires keeping very many plates spinning at once, but that's fun, that's the point, that's the challenge and that's the reason.

I perhaps paint an idyllic picture. It's entirely possible I couldn't walk out of the door tomorrow and go and work for some digital media agency and instantly double my salary. Perhaps I might not get such good pension deal somewhere else. Perhaps I might find inspiring passionate people who make me laugh, feel comfortable enough to actually express my opinions and where being a woman hasn't even crossed my mind since I stepped across the threshold of the Department.

I don't really care. I work as hard as I can to earn the money the public contributes to paying my salary. I think as fast and as thoroughly as I can, with as much enthusiasm and passion as I can, for as long as I can each day. I don't sneak off for appointments and not make the time up. I don't sneak off to go shopping for presents either. I don't take inappropriate gifts from people and I never make promises that I can't keep. I try as hard as I possibly can to be the kind of person you would want to give money to to do their job.

I am not alone. I am one of millions. I am proud to be one of millions, just one little cog in the wheel which means my little piece of the public sector keeps oiled and running. But most of all, I am proud to be in the company of an army of people who feel exactly the same way I do. Armies can win battles - and I fear that with the cuts which are coming, it's going to take an armies organisation and attitude to keep things running.


  1. Hi Louise, thankyou so much for writing this - I feel exactly the same - about the challenges, about the opportunities, about actually enjoying the work and putting 100% effort in, and especially about the team of colleagues I work with. I like your line that we are part of an army of people who feel the same - and its good to find people saying so out loud!

  2. Millions is the right word.

    There are many passionate hardworking people in the public sector, but that doesn't help the feeling it is simply too large. Too many roles are not really justified in these hard times. They are 'nice to haves' rather than needs, and I struggle to see value for money from the public purse at present. The public sector is still insulated from the realities of UK PLC.

    (oh and you would love working for a digital agency, think you'd learn a new level of job satisfaction)

  3. I knew there would be some stories out there that really got both the journey through and commitment to, public service, point across.

    Thanks for the reference, but mostly thanks for the contribution. Great story.

  4. I have to agree with Julia, your post was very much a reminder of how much I enjoyed working in the public sector and I do hope to go back one day. My experience of private sector is small but it has involved a constant nagging feeling throughout the team of "working my butt off for nothing so the boss can have a new Merc" - maybe it was that one boss but I never felt like that in public sector. It was more "working my butt off for nothing so we can all have a new health centre/safer streets/better education/a voice where it can make a difference".

    Working for myself is different again and this is certainly the best job I've ever had in terms of enjoyment (though not financially!), but oddly most of my fellow franchisees were public sector originally. I think that makes a huge amount of difference to the atmosphere and why our retention rates are so high compared with the competition. Public sector is a state of mind; service oriented, looking outwards, doing what you can for a community. You can still make money doing that and some private companies do. It's when the "I've got mine, screw you" mindset takes over that we all run into trouble.