Headlines: July 4th, 2011

A Lack of understanding of the psychology of public sector service risks greatly exaggerating the effect of cuts on the public sector and could help cause industrial action, according to Rob Briner, Professor of Organisational Psychology at Birkbeck University of London

Professor Briner claims that the politicians’ poor grasp of the ethos of public sector service has resulted in the breaking of the “psychological contract” between workers and employers. Workers feel betrayed and, due to the collective nature of public sector work, are likely to react with industrial action.

“Public sector workers are more likely than private sector workers, to have an intrinsic commitment to, and belief in the value of the service they are delivering,” says Briner. “There is an implicit understanding that the lower levels of pay found in the public sector are accepted on the basis that other aspects of the work, such as flexibility, pensions, and job security are better than in the private sector.

Professor Briner said: “Holding collective psychological contracts is important because violating or breaking such contracts will affect thousands of workers at the same time. This may well amplify reactions and lead to different types of responses, such as industrial action, which would not happen where the psychological contract and its violation is more individualised.”

Andrew Mawson, managing director of AWA, shares Professor Briner’s concerns and believes that the problem is exasperated by poor engagement. “Key to any organisational change is good, clear and concise communication,” he says. “Even when there is no precise information to give to employees, employers must explain why that is so and keep up an ongoing dialogue. It appears in many cases where there have been cuts in the public sector, there have been grand, yet vague announcements about the cuts and risks to jobs, without any offer of explanation as to what these will mean to individuals.”