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At will employment in government


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A primer on what academic literature says of at-will employment by governments in the US

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At will employment in government

  1. 1. At-will in the Public Sector:Integrating Classified & Unclassified Systemsfor a New Model of Government SHANTANU BASU INSTRUCTOR: DR. J. STROBERG-WALKER EAC 785 NORTH CAROLINA STATE UNIVERSITY NOVEMBER 20, 2008
  2. 2. What is At-will? Employee serves an employer so long as the employer permits or likes to maintain the employee-employer relationship “ With us, the rule is inflexible………a general or indefinite hiring is…….a hiring at will .” (1877, 136) – Horace Wood “ Men must be left, without interference to buy and sell where they please, and to discharge or retain employees at will for good cause or for no cause or even for bad cause, without thereby being guilty of an unlawful act per se” ( Payne v. Western & Atlantic Railroad, Tennessee, 1884) – Tennessee Supreme Court
  3. 3. Prevalence of At-will
  4. 4. Central Problems <ul><li>Does at-will employment lead to managerial flexibility? </li></ul><ul><li>What are the main effects of the at-will system, employees and managers perceive? </li></ul>
  5. 5. Sources <ul><li>Approx. 35 empirical articles related to at-will employment and civil service reform – qualitative and quantitative and multiple Internet based government and private databases </li></ul>RC Kearney G. Wilson Paul Battaglio Stephen Condrey LD Terry JS Bowman JS Gertz DB Stephens RL Williams JP West JP Kohl Richard Elling TL Thompson GC Sinnott S. Cohen W. Eimicke PJ Taylor R.Maranto CW Gossett JL Pierce Lee Haksoo JN Cayer PEW Trust J Walters SW Hays SC Selden Jessica Sowa JE Kellough L Hunter LC Nigro SC Coleman A Sproull
  6. 6. The Reality Of At-Will Graying Baby Boomers Vanishing Dollar <ul><li>Federal public debt $5.035 bn </li></ul><ul><li>Federal deficit $7.2 tr </li></ul><ul><li>51.8% of feds retire by 2012 </li></ul><ul><li>Similar for 4.2 m state employees </li></ul>
  7. 7. Potential Significance <ul><li>Mixed work forces do not necessarily have low governance ratings (Pew) </li></ul><ul><li>Recent economic developments drive down wages – opportune moment for govts. to recruit qualified staff at lower cost </li></ul><ul><li>Intrinsic and professional motivation of personnel </li></ul><ul><li>New Model of Government for the 21 st century? </li></ul>
  8. 8. The Framework <ul><li>Post-positivist structural contingency theory </li></ul><ul><li>Fit structure > Contingency > Adapt contingency </li></ul>ADAPTIVE STRUCTURE CONTIN-GENCY FIT STRUCTURE HYBRID SERVICE AT-WILL CLASSIFED CIVIL SERVICE
  9. 9. Limitations <ul><li>Surveys key relationships in specific areas – current research is apprehension-centric – not based upon age, sex, ethnicity, etc. </li></ul><ul><li>Time and cost </li></ul>
  10. 10. The Critics Argue………. <ul><li>Job Security </li></ul><ul><li>Motivation </li></ul><ul><li>Innovation </li></ul><ul><li>Accountability </li></ul><ul><li>Political Interference </li></ul><ul><li>Unfettered managerial discretion </li></ul><ul><li>Organizational Effectiveness </li></ul>
  11. 11. Managerial Flexibility <ul><li>No administrative devolution </li></ul><ul><li>No pay hikes </li></ul><ul><li>No due process </li></ul><ul><li>No collective bargaining </li></ul><ul><li>Studies voice apprehensions </li></ul><ul><li>If no empowerment of managers then why speculate? </li></ul><ul><li>Limited empirical evidence, other than perceptions </li></ul>
  12. 12. Job Security <ul><li>Perception related to grievable issue expansion </li></ul><ul><li>No real managerial flexibility </li></ul><ul><li>High involuntary turnover </li></ul><ul><li>Discharge for good cause not considered </li></ul><ul><li>Judicial intervention not considered </li></ul><ul><li>At-will manager to fire at-will employees? </li></ul><ul><li>Locus standi of at-will established? </li></ul>
  13. 13. Motivation <ul><li>No talent attracted </li></ul><ul><li>No dissenting opinion </li></ul><ul><li>No innovation </li></ul><ul><li>Unfair evaluations </li></ul><ul><li>Unfair incentives </li></ul><ul><li>No concrete evidence </li></ul><ul><li>Only conjecture </li></ul><ul><li>Is position far different from civil service system? </li></ul>
  14. 14. What is established…. <ul><li>At-will a reality </li></ul><ul><li>Political nature of at-will </li></ul><ul><li>Employee perceptions of loss of job security & unfairness </li></ul><ul><li>Managerial perception of easy-to-fire </li></ul>
  15. 15. …… .and what is not <ul><li>Evidence contradictory </li></ul><ul><li>No major increase in firings </li></ul><ul><li>Judicial protections and damages </li></ul><ul><li>Unionization of at-will employees </li></ul><ul><li>Professional & intrinsic motivation </li></ul><ul><li>No comparison of performance with classified civil service </li></ul><ul><li>Good civil service or poor at-will? </li></ul>
  16. 16. Defining the Phenomenon <ul><li>Lived by several thousand people across vast geographical regions </li></ul><ul><li>Not necessarily homogenous in functions or any ethnic considerations across states and federal governments </li></ul><ul><li>As the structure attempts to adapt to the at-will contingency, its incomplete transition causes the at-will personnel involved in it to develop complexes of fear, distrust and unfairness that affects motivation, job satisfaction, and security </li></ul><ul><li>External factors now may force the final adaptation of the at-will contingency as an economic necessity as also the means to achieving a fit performance level </li></ul>
  17. 17. Why Phenomenology? <ul><li>Describes universal essence </li></ul><ul><li>Job insecurity and lack of motivation by at-will common concern </li></ul><ul><li>Experiences not identical in all agencies and areas </li></ul><ul><li>Perceptions based on age, sex, ethnicity, etc. </li></ul>
  18. 18. Research Design Macro Level Phenomenology *RQ 1 *RQ 2 Identify themes at macro level Micro Level Phenomenology *RQ 1 *RQ 2 Phenomenological Case Studies Age, sex, ethnicity, skills and geographical area Lack of managerial flexibility, unfairness in promotions, rewards/incentives, arbitrary firings, legal protections, low motivation *RQ: Research Question
  19. 19. Unit & Levels of Analyses Transportation Security Administration (TSA) <ul><li>Airport Managers </li></ul><ul><li>At-will Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) </li></ul><ul><li>25% at-will employees </li></ul><ul><li>Lowest ratings for governance </li></ul><ul><li>Diversity of employees </li></ul><ul><li>Unionized at-will employees </li></ul><ul><li>High rate of attrition </li></ul><ul><li>Low pay & benefits </li></ul>
  20. 20. Subject Selection Selection Criteria List for Managers Selection Criteria List for TSOs *Wt. = Weight Name Dept. HR = 1 Non HR = 2 (Wt*: 0.10) Classified/ Unclassified C = 1 UC =2 (Wt. 0.20) Sex M= 1 F = 2 (Wt. 0.10) Age (years) 25-50 =1 >50 = 2 (Wt. 0.10) Edu Qual. HS< = 0 HS = 1 ≥ UG = 2 (Wt. 0.10) Prof Qual Tech = 1 Non-tech =2 (Wt. 0.10) Ethnicity Majority = 1 Minority = 2 (Wt. 0.20) Service (years) 20≤ = 1 >21 = 2 (Wt. 0.10) Name Dept. HR = 1 Non-HR = 2 (Wt*: 0.05) Age (years) 20-40 = 1 >40 = 2 (Wt. 0.20) Sex M = 1 F = 2 (Wt. 0.20) Edu Qual. HS< = 1 HS = 2 UG & > = 2 (Wt. 0.15) Ethnicity Majority = 1 Minority = 2 (Wt. 0.20) Service (years) 5-15 = 1 >15 =2 (Wt. 0.10) Centrality of position Specialist= 1 Generalist = 2 (Wt. 0.10)
  21. 21. Interviewing Phenomeno- Logical Study Level – I (Macro) Level – II (Micro) Managers At-will employees Managers At-will Employees First Supple- mentary Age Division Division First Supple- mentary Supple- mentary Sex Ethnicity Centrality of Position Qualifi- cations Job Security Motivation Managerial Flexibility Age Service Length Ethnicity Service Length Sex
  22. 22. Work Flow Trans- cription Significant Statements Interviews Supplementary Interviews Significant Statements Transcription Themes Textural Description TSA data Structural Description Validation Narration
  23. 23. Questions