POLICY ALIENATION AMONG EMPLOYEES OF THE LABOR OFFICE OF THE CZECH REPUBLIC.
This paper deals with the consequences of reform of the labor offices in the Czech Republic for the employees of those institutions. We consider this reform to be an example of a policy failure. The decision-making process for the reform had a top-down design that lacked communication or discussion with the employees of the labor offices. The reform caused many problems. We assume that without the involvement of the employees of the labor offices as professional public servants in the design and implementation of the new policies, they could not be successful. In short, one of the causes of that policy failure was lack of communication and discussion by management with the employees who would have to implement the new program. This led to alienation of the employees from the policy and consequently to low job satisfaction and low organizational commitment. We focus only on one element of this policy failure, lack of communication and discussion with employees, the importance of which has been highlighted by many experts, e.g., Bovens and 't Hart (2011), McConnell (2015), Bovens, 't Hart and Peters (2001).
The major goal of this article is to learn whether we can use Tummers's previously validated scale for measurement of policy alienation under different conditions, that is, in different history, cultures, target groups, and public domains. The Czech Republic was part of the Soviet Bloc (from 1968 to 1989). The regime was autocratic and this long experience can currently influence the present policy-making process (its formal and informal rules). We have not found any article in the literature on policy alienation in the Czech Republic and in other states of Central and Eastern Europe. In the West, however, the concept is often discussed (see, for example, van Engen, 2017). We consider the examination of policy alienation in the Czech and Eastern European context to be the first contribution of this article.
This article's second contribution is related to the assumption that policy alienation influences job satisfaction. Like Tummers (2012 and 2013), we want to find out whether and to what extent job satisfaction is influenced by the degree each of the sub-dimensions of policy alienation is present among employees. We assume that the links between the policy level (particularly the implementation level) and the psychological level in the minds of employees are very important and studying them can offer a new perspective to policy-makers.
A third dimension, the employees' commitment to the organization ('organizational commitment') is also related to the assumption that policy alienation affects job satisfaction. Organizational commitment has not yet been studied in relation to policy alienation. We consider our examination of that relationship to be a third contribution of this paper, because we believe that the several sub-dimensions of policy alienation negatively influence organizational commitment as much as they do job satisfaction. We would like to find out whether and to what extent that is true.
In general, our paper is based on an assumption that without communication by managers, top-down policy-making leads to a high degree of policy alienation among employees, stemming particularly from their powerlessness to affect policy and the lack of meaningful input they are allowed to provide to policy-makers (Tummers, 2012). We believe such feelings can cause low job satisfaction and low organizational commitment. In the end, those feelings impact performance of the employee's duties and the employee's attitude toward their clients (Farmer, 2011; Cole, Panchanadeswaran and Daining, 2004). This article is focused on the policy level and on the impact of policy-making on employees. We believe that the policy level is as important as the organizational level (see, e.g., Asencio, 2016; Mendes, Carlos and Lourenco, 2014).
This article is structured as follows: first, we provide a brief overview of the reform of the labor offices. Second, we discuss the theoretical framework, which predicts policy alienation and its impact on job satisfaction and organizational commitment. Third, we use a quantitative approach, analyzing a survey of 1,334 employees of the labor offices who work in the employment department and the non-insurance social benefits department. Our analysis is based on descriptive statistics, correlation and linear regression. In the conclusion, we discuss the contributions of this paper to the literature.
Brief overview of the government's reform of the labor offices
In 2011, the Czech government introduced an organizational reform of the labor offices under the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs. This reform was extensive and focused on two functions of the labor offices. The first area was employment assistance and the second was non-insurance social benefits (particularly need-based payments and disability benefits).
The first stage of the reform concentrated on the organizational structure. It meant a big change in that structure, from decentralized to centralized control. Seventy-seven labor offices, each of which had been its own legal entity, were transformed into one centralized Labor Office of the Czech Republic. We analyzed and explored the history of these state institutions from their establishment in 1990, when the labor offices were set up with a decentralized structure. In this time, they realized their own local labor policy (they were allowed to adapt their internal policies to their clients - the unemployed and companies) and we can say that the labor offices created a productive and competitive local labor market. They independently provided public employment services, mainly job brokerage, active labor policies, and administration and management of unemployment benefits. The reform was unexpected and unwanted by the Labor Office employees.
The second stage of the reform involved changes in the content of the public employment services provided by the labor offices. The new services were all non-insurance social benefits (particularly need-based payments and disability benefits). Before their addition to the labor offices' activities they were provided by municipalities. The basic goals of the reform were to unify the agency's structure and decision-making, and to increase savings, efficiency and effectiveness. These goals can be viewed as resulting from the influence of the 'new public management'.
The whole reform ran into a number of problems during the approval process and its implementation. The approval process is generally considered to have been too quick, non-standard and unprepared. Stakeholders complained that during the decision-making process, communication from management was lacking, the controlling legislation was poorly drafted, and the timing of the reform was ill-considered (during the worldwide financial crisis). The stakeholders disputed the contention by the proponents of the reform that it would lead to budgetary savings. Implementation problems included the dismissal of many employees resulting in a labor shortage in the offices, an untested and unworkable new integrated ICT system and inappropriate space in the offices (see also e.g., Kotrusova and Vyborna, 2015).
The theory of 'policy alienation' was developed by Lars Tummers and his colleagues, Victor Bekkers and Bram Steijn (Tummers, Bekkers and Steijn, 2009, 2012; Tummers, 2012; Tummers, 2013). They assume that professionals are alienated from a policy if they have difficulty in personally identifying with its goals, which frequently focus primarily on efficiency and financial transparency. The concept of policy alienation is based on the assumption that professionals want to participate in decision-making with regard to policies which they will have to implement. They want to be autonomous and provide society and their clients with added value. If they cannot do that, they become stressed, frustrated and dissatisfied with their jobs. They feel powerless in the implementation of the policy and find the policy to be meaningless to them (for more also, see, e.g., Elpers and Westhuis, 2008; Farmer, 2011).
The theory of policy alienation is based on the sociological theory of work alienation, as well as on theoretical concepts of bureaucracy and policy implementation. One of the early, key writers on worker alienation was Karl Marx (1961) who connected work alienation with economic factors (the main cause is capitalism and private ownership) and with objective meaning. Objective work alienation means that workers do not consciously feel that they are alienated, but because they do not own the product of their labor or the means of production, they objectively are in fact alienated. In contrast to Marx, current scholars focus more on subjective work alienation (that is, how much alienated workers actually feel they are from their work). The most important paper about subjective work alienation is by Melvin Seeman (1959). He theorized precisely five basic dimensions of alienation: powerlessness, meaninglessness, normlessness, isolation and self-estrangement. These categories are all significant in theory, but each subsequent researcher has focused on a different, convenient dimension in his or her study for empirical investigation. Another author, Robert Blauner (1964), followed up Seeman's work, and distinguished only four dimensions of work alienation: powerlessness, meaninglessness, isolation and self-estrangement. Like Blauner and Seeman, Lars Tummers and his colleagues (2009) suppose that alienation is a multidimensional concept. Tummers however focuses on policy alienation, whereas Blauner remains focused on work alienation. We can call both concepts forms of 'local alienation'...
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