Guest Article by Sanjay Gora, AGM, SAIL and Gold Medalist in Journalism. Authored a book “Know yourself for better work life balance.” Co-authored two other books. Views expressed are personal and non specific to any particular organisation. (Views expressed are personal)
One often hears about public sector employees that they have an easy going well paid job with nothing much to do. As a public sector wala for more than two decades now, I have heard a lot of comments with underlying tone being the same.
So I thought of highlighting few challenges that come with a public sector job. Individually these are not unique and exclusive to public sector but collectively co-exist only in public sector.
First line of this article is an example of the continuous public scrutiny and perception battle public sector goes through. Even those who don’t have much to claim in the area of social service and economic contribution, make comments like public sector employees are using public money. They don’t have any qualms about lecturing on different aspects of public sector working with zilch experience.
Unlike their private sector counterparts, public sector is accountable to multiple authorities. Apart from internal auditors, there are government auditors, CAG, CVC and other institutions. Questions can be asked in parliament about the performance and other aspects of public sector. Public sector has to be in tandem with vision and direction of controlling ministries. All this is required and essential as public sector mandate is different. But it poses challenges nevertheless.
It sounds childish but it is a fact. I was told by a senior media person how their media group had an unwritten rule that news coverage of the public sector has to be kept bare minimum. With such biases and prejudices, any public sector will find it challenging to carve a place for itself in the minds of general public. But yes if there is a crisis in any public sector, the media will jump in the fray and newbies will give sermons on how the public sector should be run.
L ONE SYSTEM
Selection of vendors in public sector is mostly done on L-1 basis as far as financial terms are concerned. While this has its advantages like getting the best price for the product or service and ensuring a systemic process to minimise subjectivity, the system has its challenges. At times, the creativity, quality and timelines are impacted. A joke aptly sums up the scenario. When asked about the uniqueness of his mission, Neil Armstrong replied, “It is nothing short of a miracle that we could succeed in spite of the fact that majority of equipment were procured on L-1 basis.”
MAZE OF RULES
Call it prisoners of precedence or maze of rules, the problem is complicated. In my view the crux lies in lack of proper documentation and knowledge management. While each funny or silly rule must be reviewed from time to time, the revision becomes difficult when there are no records to show why the rule was introduced in the first place. If that can be traced, review becomes easy and fast keeping the change in circumstances and context in mind. Hopefully with gradual adoption of big data and artificial intelligence in public sector, the knowledge management will improve. One funny real life example of silly rule was when a branch office in a public sector company could not hire air coolers in February as the circular said cooler hiring is allowed from April 1 every year. That is ridiculous but such things do happen in large, multi location public sector companies. Changing such outdated rules requires movement of files and following them through the channel.That is a challenge which might not have a parallel in private sector.
NEEDLE OF SUSPICION
You are not innocent until proven you are not guilty appears to be the working principle in public sector units. In a speech at a management convention, Mr. Deepak Parekh summed up the situation like this, “Any policy initiative taken by the most honest people in the government leads to suspicion. If they think out of the box, people accuse them of some vested interest and corruption…after their retirement, someone may accuse them of doing something wrong and file cases against them…. One State Bank Chairman once revealed many years ago that he could become the Chairman of the State Bank because he signed every file that came to him….If he had taken any initiative, he would not be sitting on that chair.”
Now, can you beat that.
This is something very peculiar. All of us work to earn our livelihood and have decent pay rise at regular intervals.A disclaimer to begin with, I think our pay is far better than many. But there are times when companies are going through tough times, there are cuts in perks. At other times, there are umbrella circulars which are applicable to all companies but do not take into account sector or industry specific conditions. The company employees lose out on such occasions. But strange thing is that support staff posted from other companies get full pay, perks and revision on host company cost. Here again those who make losses themselves lecture on the virtues of professionalism and profitability, while enjoying all the perks and pay hikes. Can there be a bigger challenge to motivation than this?
If you look at major industry segments, like steel, oil, gas and power, you will see that the senior positions are mainly occupied by retired or former employees of public sector companies. Conflict of interest in a broader sense, yes. Privy to inside information, trade secrets, customer links and info, yes.This is not to say this happens in every case, but it happens. I have seen youngsters opting for public sector jobs when private jobs are scarce, but not losing a second in jumping boats when situation changes.
CSR has become a buzz word now, but public sector companies have been doing CSR by other names for more than 50 years now. In fact, most industrial public sector enterprise units were set up in remote locations to facilitate development of surrounding regions and communities. Townships, hospitals, schools, sports facilities of some public sector units have become the primary resource for such amenities in their respective regions. Public sector companies may not be very keen and proficient in encashing goodwill for these projects, but the continuous support and improvement in these facilities has a financial impact, which is absorbed in the spirit of service and responsibility. People forget this yeoman service aspect, while giving their expert views left, right and centre.
Public sector units also act as force multipliers for schemes by central or state government schemes. So be it Swacch Bharat or Mid-day meal schemes, public sector units with their presence across the country join in the efforts of the government to make a meaningful difference to the society. Pooling of resources, capabilities and expertise creates a force multiplier effect in implementation of these schemes simultaneously across the nation. Naysayers may choose to ignore this aspect also, but in a country like India, we need more such symbiotic partnerships aimed at social change.
One can keep adding to this list. No one is saying that private sector does not have challenges or constraints. They have their own unique bottlenecks and concerns. But the whole point of this article is to broaden the perspective of those who have a tunnel thinking on public sector job and what it entails. If this listing does not change their view, I will remind them of the age old saying, grass is always greener on the other side.
This article is part of GDP Magazine’s 3rd Annual PSU Handbook 2018
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