EDITORIAL – Time for reflection: How does our civil service see itself?

In recent years, the idea of “engagement” has become a sort of philosopher’s stone of managerial alchemy – a one-size-fits-all metric for everything from boosting customer loyalty to teaching early literacy to fostering a productive workplace.

In that light, it’s not surprising that the Cayman Islands Government decided to “gauge the engagement” of civil service employees this October, or that according to the survey, the civil servants appear, in the main, to be satisfied with their jobs and their performance.

The press release accompanying the survey results touted an “overall engagement level” of 67 percent within the civil service. Frankly, despite prevailing trends, we remain unsure exactly what “engagement” means, how it relates to “performance” and whether it’s a measurement worth measuring (or even measurable).

Adding another grain of salt, 39 percent of civil servants’ “engagement” was low enough that they didn’t even bother to respond to their employer’s survey.

With those caveats, here a few top-level bullet points:

  • 80 percent said they are sufficiently challenged at work
  • 70 percent said they are proud when they tell others they are part of the organization
  • 56 percent said they would recommend their organization as a great place to work.

Our intention is not to find fault with civil service leaders for conducting this sort of study. Such surveys may be desirable or even necessary as part of a greater action plan for effecting fundamental change in a large organization.

However, “self-diagnosis” is never the most desirable methodology for behavioral analysis. Nearly all of us see ourselves in a far more favorable light than the rest of the world sees us. In our own minds, we’re better looking, more intelligent and even better drivers than we actually are. Put another way, we’re our own biggest fans.

A more objective approach, certainly for an institution such as the civil service (or the Compass), would be to query outside sources – customers, clients, those actually exposed to service providers and the quality of service they provide.

For the Cayman Islands, of even greater importance than the perceived “quality” of the civil service is the “quantity” of the civil service.

As we have written before, the fundamental reality is that Cayman’s public service (about 6,000 total employees) is far too large for the current population (about 60,000 people).

In order to fulfill existing salary, healthcare and pension commitments to government employees, our country faces a menu of options, including reducing the size of the civil service, increasing the size of population (and therefore the local tax base), or raising additional revenue through higher taxes and/or fees.

Our primary focus as a country should be on simplifying or streamlining our government and finding opportunities to transition civil servants into the private sector.

Returning to the survey, only 41 percent of civil servants said change is managed well in their organization, and 44 percent said they believed “senior managers” will take action on the survey results.

That is troubling because, in order for our civil service as a whole to be a viable and affordable entity, the defining feature of its future must be change.


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