Should I Take Risks In The Public Sector At The Moment?

I work in the Public Sector as do a lot of my friends. In the current climate the talk of cuts has made us all very nervous and therefore reluctant to try to put in place plans that might open us to higher risks of being made redundant despite obvious benefits. For example, taking part-time secondments at higher grades when there is a risk that the substantive post may vanish if it stops being done. Or trialing a part-time role to fit with child-care arrangements when the option to come back full-time if the money doesn’t stretch that far will vanish.

What are your thoughts and advise about how to make these decisions?


There is a sense of anxiety in the public sector at the moment, which can be made worse by not knowing, and not being able to take action or take control.  We know the axe is going to fall, but we don’t know where or how badly, and we don’t know if we should be doing something about it or not. It’s hard to keep this anxiety in perspective and not allow it to cloud your judgement.

  • Opting to work part-time instead of full-time could work in your favour – part-time workers are cheaper, and often do nearly as much as their full-time equivalents as they are desperate to prove they are still up to the job.  However, it might then be difficult to increase your hours again in the short-term, particularly if you have just proved that the job can be done part-time!  On the other hand, if you are flexible about what you are prepared to do, there might be opportunities to take on work done by those just made redundant or by consultants.
  • Secondments (and temporary promotions), in theory, give good security.  If the post you are seconded into disappears, you can return to your old job.  And if your old job disappears, the secondment may lead to a permanent opportunity.  However, if your employer isn’t planning to replace you whilst you are on secondment, you may be right in sensing that the post is vulnerable.  Even if you don’t take the secondment, it may be vulnerable anyway.  If you do take a secondment, make sure you keep a high-profile with the team/organisation you will return to – don’t let them forget you!
  • Lateral transfers can work for or against you – you need to compare whether the new job is in a more secure area of work than your old post.
  • Taking a job with a new employer can also have the additional issue of whether you would still be entitled to the same pensions and benefits as established employees.  You might also be more vulnerable to redundancies.

Before making any decisions, I would advise making the best possible assessment you can of your employer and the best possible assessment you can of your own situation.
Your Employer

Many employers have already drawn up plans for how they would make cuts  of 25% and of 40%, although this may not have been made public.  Even if they haven’t drawn up formal plans, senior managers are bound to be talking about the issue.  Talk to people who may be in the , but try to avoid the rumour mill.

There are a number of ways that employers typically cut jobs:

  • Get rid of whole projects, services or production lines. These are most likely, in the public sector, to be non-essential services that perhaps give additional benefits or a more in-depth service.  ESF funded projects (or any projects that rely on match-funding) could be vulnerable.  Any service which people could reasonably be expected to pay for could be vulnerable.  Services to people who are less vocal are also an easy target – services to the elderly, people with mental health problems or those already marginalised.  Environmental projects in areas that the public take less interest in could be vulnerable.
  • Management Restructuring. You may be part of an organsation which has, say, one hundred managers.  A new structure is drawn up, with perhaps just fifty managers, in a flatter structure with larger teams.  People can apply for the fifty jobs, but those that don’t succeed are made redundant.  This is often a covert way of weeding out managers that are perceived as weak.
  • Merging organisations. Whole organisations can be merged, or just share some central services.  Functions like HR, IT, finance and marketing, can be run by smaller teams from one central base, so are vulnerable to redundancies.
  • Last In, First Out. Sometimes employers will start by getting rid of their newest staff, or those on temporary contracts.  This could be a disincentive to change employer or take on a temporary post.

Try and make an assessment of your organisations, and which areas and job roles are most vulnerable to cuts.  If you are making decisions about taking on a new job role or a temporary promotion/secondment, you might want to consider how vulnerable the new job is vs your old job.

What About Your Own Situation?

Redundancies can be a disaster, but they can also spell new opportunities.  Similarly, being in a part-time job and not being able to increase your hours could be a major headache, but could also be a prompt to take on more of a portfolio career.  Make an assessment of your own situation too.

  • How many financial commitments do you have?  Think about debts, mortgage repayments, costs of childcare/child maintenance and any other outgoing that you can’t decrease.
  • How much do you have in the way of financial savings?
  • Do you have partner?  If so, could you live on one persons salary for a brief period?  How secure is their job?
  • If you are thinking of working part-time, what would you earn?  What else could you get in benefits/tax credits?  Take up-to-date advice about this, as things are changing in this area.  (Citizens Advice Bureau are good for this sort of thing).
  • If you were made redundant, what sort of payout would you get?
  • How employable are you?  Do you have skills and knowledge that are in short supply or area needed by a wide range of organisations?  Could you skills transfer well to other organisations?  How would you feel about being self-employed or working as a consultant?
  • Do you have any health or disability issues that limit the kind of work you can do?  Do you have family or caring commitments that limit what you would be prepared to consider?  Are you prepared to re-locate for a new job?
  • What kind of emotional support you have?  Do you have friends and family locally who are there to support you when times get rough?  Do you have plenty of other activities in your life that give you a sense of purpose and identity?
  • Are you the kind of person who bounces back easily from setbacks?  Are you resourceful enough to turn a disaster into an opportunity?

Having emotional support, financial resources, good mental health and a range of transferable skills means you can probably afford to take more risks than someone who has less of these resources at their disposal.

Yes, I’ve MAde My Assessment But I Still Don’t Know What To Do!

Having made the best assessment you can of the situation, you will then have to make a decision (probably based on incomplete information, unfortunately).  If you have made the best assessment that you can, and nothing is jumping out at you, you probably need to put the public sector cuts to one side, and do what feels right to you.  Would you enjoy the new opportunity?  Would it give you better work-life balance and time to do the things that are really important to you?  Would it help you develop new skills?  Would it raise your profile?

There is no decision without risk, and even staying put in your current situation entails risk, so you just have to make the best decision that you can, and then not allow yourself to be plagued by worries.

When the chips are down, employers want to keep staff that are positive, happy, motivated, willing to embrace change and willing to take on new challenges – not staff who feel trapped and unhappy in their jobs.


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