Sector Perceptions among State-Level Public Managers
Feeney, Mary K., Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory
In the face of widespread retirements, the reform or removal of civil service protections, increased outsourcing, reduction-in-force layoffs, and other efforts to do more with less, public agencies face the ever-growing challenge to attract and retain skilled managers. Government agencies at all levels face an impending crisis as a large percentage of "baby boomer" managers and professionals approach retirement. The human capital crisis is furthered by the reduced effectiveness of the once popular model of public sector employment--grooming managers from entry-level positions. In response to concerns about impending retirement and hiring restrictions, personnel systems at all levels of government have undergone continuing waves of reform, including adopting special "flexibilities" in hiring and pay (Government Accountability Office 2004; Hays and Sowa 2006; Partnership for Public Service 2005), whereas some state governments have been reforming or eliminating civil service altogether (Hays and Sowa 2006; Kellough and Nigro 2002; Walters 2002).
Unfortunately, reforming civil service, making government positions available to external applicants, and expanding at-will-employment does not address an additional challenge facing the public sector, its image. Surveys continue to find that top students and mid-career professionals regard government as offering limited opportunities for challenging and exciting work (Partnership for Public Service 2002) and professionals and managers view working for the government as constraining and lacking independence, advancement, and increased responsibility (e.g., Kilpatrick, Cummings, and Jennings 1964). Governmental personnel systems have been the focus of criticism for decades (Goodsell 2004) and continue to face misconceptions of public sector work. The challenge to attract recent graduates and mid-career professionals and managers to government work (Partnership for Public Service 2002, 2004) is compounded by fierce competition from the private sector. Recent Council for Excellence in Government polls (1997 and 2002) found that adults are more than twice as likely to prefer working in the private sector compared to the public sector. A 1998 Pew Research Center poll found that 70% of respondents would prefer a private business as an employer (Partnership for Public Service 2005). These polls paint a dark picture for the public sector in the competition for talent.
In the face of widespread retirements, hiring and promotion restrictions, image problems, and competition from the private sector, state-level public managers' sector perceptions, and the determinants of those perceptions continue play an important role in the ability to attract and retain talented workers. Many government agencies have shown increasing attention to their employees' opinions, attitudes, and quality of working life in order to attract and retain talented workers. Researchers have conducted surveys to investigate government workers' opinions and views about sectors, their own organizations, and many other dimensions of their experiences at work. These developments indicate the value of continuing efforts to analyze and understand perceptions of workers and work life, by sector.
Although massive federal surveys provide valuable information about work attitudes and opinions in the federal government, they rarely ask employees about other important matters such as career histories, reasons for making career decisions and choices, and sector perceptions. Furthermore, little public administration research addresses the attitudes and work experiences of state employees, who, in this era of devolution, are increasingly shouldering the burden of administering public programs.
The analysis provided here investigates variations in sector perceptions among state managers in Illinois and Georgia. This analysis makes an important contribution to our understanding of sector perceptions, investigating the relationships between job choice motivations, career histories, and sector perceptions. …