[Outlook]Civil indolenceOne of my friends who worked as a journalist for another newspaper for more than 10 years recently became a public servant. I asked him how things are different in his new job. He replied that his new workplace was like heaven. He said he had interviewed public employees many times in the past, but had never really known their world. He wore a slightly awkward smile as he said this, as if it was something he felt bad about.
Sometimes, there isn’t much for him to do when he’s at work, so he opens a book. Then he decides against it, thinking, “I shouldn’t be lazy like this.” At six o’clock, it’s time to go home and he finds it hard to stay at work even if he wants to.
People who report to him apparently look unhappy because it’s difficult for them to go home if their boss is still working. His colleagues once planned to go on a one-night retreat, so he asked which weekend it would be.
The others looked at him as if he was from another planet. It turned out that they can go on a retreat, drink and have fun on weekdays, as long as they call it an “official event.” Of course, they work five days a week and never on weekends.
The work is half the load than at the newspaper. And the pay? The salary is slightly less than what he got as a journalist. But considering all the benefits, it works out to be around the same.
He concluded that he made the right choice in changing jobs, because the pay-workload-stress ratio is attractive. Nobody would mind this type of job.
But if we look at it from a perspective of evaluating the productivity of the public sector, it is a different story. The productivity of civil servants is around half that of journalists. If people worked as intensively in the civil sector as they do at newspapers, public organizations would only need half the staff.
There are two ways such organizations can become more efficient. They can either increase the workload or reduce the number of workers.
But even if they are given more work, it is very likely that the extra won’t be taken as important or urgent. If people think there’s nothing wrong with going on a retreat on a weeknight, we can’t expect much from their organization, even if they are given new tasks. Therefore, the answer is to reduce manpower.
When briefed by the Ministry of Strategy and Finance on March 10, President Lee Myung-bak said, “Public employees are servants of the people. You need to ask yourselves whether you were actually a ‘servant’ when you were at work.” He used to meet with many public servants when he worked as the CEO of Hyundai Engineering and Construction. What he probably wanted to say was he thought they weren’t “serving.”
Public employees work for the people and get paid with taxpayers’ money. But not many of them seem thankful to their masters for paying their salaries. That is because there are too many masters. Things that are unthinkable in private companies happen in the public sector because there are too many owners. In the private sector it is clear who owns the company. To have too many masters is technically the same as having no master at all. When all the people are masters, if one stands up and shouts “I’m your master!” public employees don’t even care. Others will ask the outspoken person what makes him think he is special, when others just remain quiet.
Another friend of mine moved from a private company to the public sector. He used to yell and complain when he thought things were wrong, but he found that he made his colleagues feel uneasy.
It was as if they were saying, “Nobody is getting hurt and everybody is happy. Why are you stirring the pot?” He then thought that because he was new, if he didn’t understand how things worked he would get in trouble. He soon compromised.
President Lee said, “Servants must get up earlier than their masters. That is their duty.” Reading an article about this in the newspaper, my wife said it felt very good to hear those comments. But we shouldn’t expect too much.
To be honest, public employees won’t turn into servants just because they got nagged. Everyone wants to have an easy life and public employees are renowned for this tendency. I must confess, I wouldn’t be any different if I became a public employee.
There is a resolution to this problem. It is hard to boost productivity in the public sector because of the characteristics of public organizations.
Thus, the only answer is to make them smaller. Making organizations smaller and reducing the number of workers is better than asking them to suddenly increase their responsibilities. So, public corporations must be privatized.
The job must start right away.
*The writer is the economic news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Shim Shang-bok