What challenges do HR professionals face moving from the public to the private sector?

by Natasha Mughal

The differences between the public and private sector have long since been a hot topic within HR and the working world. This is mostly to do with the preconceived notions of the sectors and how the private sector workers are regarded higher than those within the public sector. Public sector workers are, by some, seen as being inflexible, having a lack of initiative and unable to get a grasp of the commercial setting of the private sector.

Back in 2010, Peter Reilly, director of HR research and consultancy at the Institute for Employment Studies, commented that "If you're in the private sector and you've got two candidates, one has got private sector experience and one has worked in local government all their life, all other things being equal, you'd probably take the person with private sector experience,". This quote made us wonder why this is the case, as surely all HR professionals who are committed to the HR industry would be capable of doing the job, regardless of what sector they come from.

These preconceived notions would make it difficult for someone to transition between the two sectors, although it would be somewhat easier for someone who wanted to go from the private to public sector. There are many reasons for someone to want to transition from the public to private sector, this could be anything from wanting a change in culture, structure, salary and even benefit packages. All of which have changed due to the recession. In many organisations, this has led to spending cuts, resulting in cuts to wages, employees and a change in the working environment.

One of the major changes within the private and public sectors has been salaries; salaries within the public sector are increasing for the first time in three years, and overtaking those within the private sector, across all levels. For example, in 2015 a HR Administrator in the public sector was earning £26,446 and in the private sector it was £24,874. A year later, the same role now earns £26,541 in the public sector and £27,088 in the private sector. Due to the recession and budget cuts, the public sector has had to downscale, in order to cut spending costs, which is said to total £35 million over the next four years (statistics via People Management Pay Survey 2016).

This downscaling within the private sector has made the environment highly competitive or “dog-eat-dog”, increasing the stressful nature of the majority of jobs within this sector. Whereas the amount of work in the two sectors may be the same, the public sector is regarded as being more personable and friendly. Typically boasting a more understanding culture of work-life-balance, the public sector often has perks such as flexible working hours and childcare benefits are another as built in benefits. However, this is something that has been highlighted for the private sector to replicate, in order to go back to the status that it once was, and we are seeing an increasing amount of private companies mimicking the culture and benefits of those in the public sector - no doubt as a tactic to attract some of the best professionals over to their side.

Another perk of working in the public sector is the highly regarded pension. The sector has always had a reputation of having a worthwhile pension scheme that many gravitate towards because they think they are protected but this may no longer be the case. With the Trade Union Bill making it harder for all sectors to strike, all pension or pay worries may become unanswered and the public sector may slowly merge into the private sector. The private sector has also implemented their own pension scheme that is now standard practise across the board, but the public sector pension is still said to be worth five times more.

There are pros and cons of working in both the private sector and the public sector and it is only natural for an employee to want to switch between the two. This may prove to be especially difficult for someone in the public sector because of the preconceived notions that these workers are not as hard working or are used to an easy life. The environments may be difficult but that is no reason for why the switch cannot occur as the individual is most likely to have required enough transferable skills to switch effectively. It has been suggested that HR professionals should specialise in a role in order to make that switch.

We put the question to you, do you think an HR individual can switch between the two sectors effectively, and is there a stigma attached to one or the other? What tips would you give to someone considering or going through the transition. Tweet us @NetworkHRJobs

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