Worrying trend as a growing number of civil servants abandon ‘iron rice bowl’

Government should ensure that public sector jobs remain attractive and rewarding as a stable and loyal civil service is pivotal to good governance

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 April, 2016, 11:01pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 April, 2016, 11:01pm

Unlike the private sector where staff turnover can be high at times, the public sector is generally more stable. Most civil servants tend to stay in government for life because of good appointment terms and job security. There are relatively few who leave for greener pastures. However, the number of resignations in the civil service has been on the rise recently. According to papers tabled to the Legislative Council, the resignation rate has steadily crept from 0.4 per cent to 0.55 per cent over the past few years. Taking into account retirement and dismissals, the departures stood at 7,300 last year.

For a workforce of more than 160,000, the data may not seem alarming. But what is worthy of attention is that over half of the 900 staff who resigned last year did so while still on probation. About one-fifth of those who resigned were in the police force, while the Department of Health accounted for 7.2 per cent of the resignations.

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Of those who responded to an exit survey, 28 per cent switched to the private sector. Those who resigned for family reasons or to further their studies accounted for 18 and 14 per cent, respectively. It is difficult to attribute the trend to any particular reason, as career decisions are affected by various factors. What is certain, though, is that new recruits have to go through a relatively long three-year probation period under the current appointment system. The situation is further compounded by an increasingly demanding public and a highly politically charged environment in recent years.

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High staff turnover is as much a loss of human capital as a waste of resources. The time and resources spent on training new recruits, as in the case of police officers, can be substantial. The loss is even greater when those higher up in the chain of command resign. What they brought to the table were not just skills and experience, but also continuity and stability.

A stable and loyal civil service is pivotal to good governance. The government should closely monitor the trend and ensure that civil service jobs remain attractive and rewarding.