Humanity is going through one of the most dramatic periods in its history today, associated with a large-scale, truly global spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, the consequences of which have yet to be deeply understood, explored, and drawn conclusions. One of the problems that the pandemic has revealed to date is the ability/inability of individual states to adequately respond to this “challenge”. South Africa can be attributed to the group of states of a transitional transit type. The more interesting is the HRM model of the country’s public sector during the COVID-19 pandemic. This model makes it possible to identify both specific “misses” and systemic reasons for the lack of a proper response of the state to this human disaster.
This is not only about the functional readiness of government agencies to fight the pandemic but also a certain type of relationship between state institutions, the ability to social mobilization, and a certain type of culture for ensuring public health. This topic actualizes and exposes many “sore points” of the development of HRM practices in the country and is aimed at describing the features of the state “crisis management” in emergency situations. In this regard, a comparative research cross-section of the features of the HRM systems of the public sector in South Africa was carried out in the context of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. This research is based on the collection of publicly available information and round tables and online discussions held in the country. The study was carried out in the country aspect with general and specific conclusions, which made it possible to provide three strategic directions for the development of HRM in the public sector.
Management Challenges During the Pandemic in South African Public Sector
One of the main early outcomes of the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in South Africa, as in many countries around the world, is the economic cost of the forced lockdown. South Africa had, compared to other African countries, sufficient financial resources to combat the spread of the coronavirus pandemic (Department of Public Service and Administration, 2020). As part of the quarantine measures, a state of emergency was introduced; recommendations have been developed for transferring the activities of state, public and private institutions to a remote work format; closed borders for foreign citizens; introduced control of food prices; monitoring of the dynamics of the spread of the pandemic by regions and notification of the population about this in the media have been introduced.
In order to support the income level of the population, social protection measures were expanded: subsidizing wages and unemployment benefits. As one can see, in South Africa, at the initial stage, the necessary institutional and functional measures of social support for the population were implemented, and a package was proposed to preserve jobs and maintain business processes (Nkate, 2020). Measures were also taken to mitigate or postpone the credit burden for the economically active population, despite the hard lockdown.
However, in the process of the unprecedented social policy of the state, the negative characteristics of state management and such “old sores” as systemic corruption were revealed. Many positive social initiatives of the country’s leadership could not reach the addressee in full (Chutel, 2022). At different levels of the bureaucratic hierarchy in the center and in the regions, there were facts of misappropriation of allocated funds, incompetent management, and mismanagement, which is unacceptable in the context of significant HRM practices.
As it can be seen, even the most impressive sums with inefficient institutions and systemic problems, when money does not reach the recipients, will not improve the situation, which also happened in South Africa. The distribution of public funds to fight the pandemic was sporadic and “campaign” in nature, along with significant social assistance to the affected population and, especially, doctors who were at the forefront of the fight against the disaster, support for the economically active population was clearly insufficient. In this regard, socially “sensitive” sectors of the economy are associated with public catering, services, trade in consumer goods, the leisure industry, and tourism (Ramaphosa, 2020). The damage lies not only in the general decrease in the gross indicators of the economy but also in the costs associated with a decrease in the quality of the state’s economic assets, paralysis of the economic activity of the population, hopelessness, and the closure of many businesses (Nkate, 2020). Designed for “business at public expense”, affiliated with the bureaucracy, could not take responsibility and the main burden in the context of the crisis associated with the spread of the pandemic.
Despite the fact that the state continues to take unprecedented measures to support vulnerable segments of the population, this does not stimulate the improvement of the situation in all other senses, such as stimulating socially active and capable sections of the population. This can lead to a decrease in human resources and, the washing out of social capital, an increase in migration sentiment among people, which significantly harms the HR potential of South Africa (Department of Employment and Labour, 2020). Unfortunately, state support measures are aimed at solving tactical problems. In turn, the strategic goals remain out of sight and may have a negative impact in the near future (Nkate, 2020). The emergency situation associated with the coronavirus crisis significantly affected the active participation of civil society in solving important problems of the development of the state, lowered the “sensitivity threshold” of society to human rights violations, and strengthened authoritarian tendencies in public administration.
The passivity and apathy of the socially active stratum of the population, thus disadvantaged, can lead to the inhibition of the mechanisms of support and participation of citizens in government and, in general, social activity. The alienation of citizens from their state can stimulate stagnant social processes and increase the state’s vulnerability to internal and external challenges. Here, one should move on to the problems of HRM in the public sector of the country, taking into account the presented issues of management in general.
Public Sector HRM in South Africa: Background
The public sector is a component of the nation’s societal development and economic management system. The efficiency of the state apparatus’s operations depends on the efficiency of the HRM system, the caliber of its staff, the productivity and professionalism of every public sector employee, and their capacity to handle challenging management duties in a constantly shifting environment. In the modern world, public sector legislation serves as a specific legal framework under which the state bodies of nations operate. A centralized HR management organization has been developed in order to oversee the HR strategy and standardize people management practices across international borders (Horwitz and Ronnie, 2021). It adopts a personnel policy that emulates the civil service of the nation and provides uniform guidelines. State agencies’ human resources departments function within the confines of official processes that have been clearly laid forth. The specific powers of public bodies and the fact that society pays careful attention to what public sector employees do are connected to restrictions.
The National Development Plan 2030: Our future-make it work aims to introduce new principles and methods of work, taken from the best practices used in business, assuming a focus on citizen satisfaction (National Planning Commission, 2012). Depending on how well government workers perform against predetermined goals, the system of financial incentives will be modified. In working with staff members in the public sector, the following tendencies have often been observed. The first part of this article introduces numerous people technologies (progressive assessment methods, personnel management) that are employed in worldwide practice. The second is the consolidation of recruitment for the public sector and civil servants’ transit through it, which enables cost savings and procedure unification while also making it feasible to gather comprehensive personnel data on government employees.
The following criteria are used to evaluate how effectively firms function financially and operationally, retain the existing customers and job involvement, adapt, and have the essential skills and expertise to do their tasks. The degree to which Human resource departments respond pro-actively, develop processes in line with the strategic objectives of the firm, and prepare choices based on relevant data are significant considerations. One of the crucial elements that illustrate the maturation of HR procedures in an organization is business effectiveness and the capacity to handle obstacles.
The public sector, which was mostly comprised of sizable transportation and mining companies with a high concentration of production workers, bitterly responded to the problems posed by the coronavirus epidemic. Organizations find it challenging to operate efficiently due to the significant cost effects of travel bans and border control restrictions, as well as the need to maintain safety and worker retention standards at big manufacturing sites (Wood and Bischoff, 2020). Within the scope of private and public sectors in South Africa, the greatest anxiety and difficulties with adapting to the new format of work were demonstrated by employees of the latter. Data on the underdeveloped IT infrastructure and the collapse of the hierarchical structure built on the executive mindset support this (Gillwald, 2017). The lack of freedom in decision-making and the minimal involvement of regular public sector professionals in managerial choices have complex repercussions during Covid-19.
One can also highlight the problem of changes in wages due to a decrease in financial receipts and reductions in benefits, guarantees, and bonus payments. Only a long-established strategy of devotion to the company and dedication to the profession will enable maintaining a reasonable degree of employee participation and keeping highly competent professionals (Horwitz and Ronnie, 2021). The implementation of new process control, digital culture, disturbing emotions about the future, and acquiring new social skills are all challenging issues.
The majority of businesses lacked a risk management strategy for crises like the coronavirus epidemic. The study revealed that companies with international managers had multiple risk response strategies, and these companies started preparing for the pandemic timely. These preparations were particularly focused on making sure the safety of employees and clients, as well as quasi-corporate strategy governance among management. The presence of an HR risk management system was least recorded in the public sector, where just under 10% of HR leaders answered that they had a plan and acted in accordance with it (Statistics South Africa, 2020). Moreover, the public sector is very limited in terms of remote desktop and Internet access. Perhaps this is due to the requirements for maintaining the secrecy of state-important information. Few experts have the possibility to operate alone, and many lack office supplies. All of this necessitates the creation of unique security measures in addition to arming government employees with cutting-edge IT equipment.
The research was able to pinpoint the major challenges that firms face during a pandemic in order to examine the efficacy of organizations. The challenges around employee societal moods, participation, and future worry, as well as the implementation of new people evaluation systems and adaptability to new working circumstances, proved to be the most challenging for businesses (Abdul-Kahar, 2020). All of this shows that managers need new communication skills that are founded on creativity, motivation, and readiness to lead. These include the capacity for stress management, self-learning, adaptability, accountability, and discipline for workers. HR professionals will increasingly need to possess the abilities of strategic advising, dispersed team coordination, managing stress, and staff well-being.
General Summary of Managerial Issues in South Africa in the Public Sector
The current coronavirus pandemic has shown that South Africa does not have a clear and coordinated system in terms of measures and mechanisms to counter such challenges. The national government structures responsible for overcoming the pandemic were “self-isolated” and failed to create precedents for coordinated work in the context of HRM. As a result, problems arose to support economic activity and create closed, clustered systems, production chains, and online trading platforms for life support in conditions of crises like what is happening. The country is still critically dependent on the import of medical equipment and anti-epidemic medicines due to the lack of production of its own medical products, equipment, and a significant range of medicines.
The situation demonstrated weak information infrastructure support and technological backwardness of both the region as a whole and South Africa in particular. All the talk about regional cooperation in the field of HRM did not provide interstate cooperation, even at a minimal level. The borders were closed even for the transit of humanitarian aid (medical equipment, medicines, food). Integration associations have shown their inefficiency and inability to respond to such non-traditional challenges promptly. This challenge once again demonstrated the relevance of institutional interaction and the creation of effective and responsible platforms for preparing and making joint decisions to counter such problems in the future.
The coronavirus has once again revealed and exacerbated the “generic” systemic “sores” of the states of the region, which have not completed the formation of sustainable and modernized sovereign systems of HRM processes. In most cases, the transition of the state to a new quality, which has not yet been completed, has a serious impact on the stability of emerging systems. There is no complete confidence in the ability of the HRM systems in the South African public sector to successfully respond to challenges and risks such as the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. After a thorough discussion on managerial issues in general and HRM problems in particular, three HRM strategies for the South African public sector can be provided
Strategy 1. Acquiring Appropriate Human Resources
Within the scope of the first strategy, it will be essential to apply human resource theory and development, which will be appropriate in the long run. This can be achieved through the advancement of CSR in the public sector in South Africa. The values of a public worker should be updated in light of the overall plan for the growth of the public sector, and HR managers should perform an assessment of corporate culture. A plan for putting the created values into practice must be made, and activities in the area of managing employee engagement must be scheduled.
Then, in the framework of long-term goals, it will be important to develop a significant HR strategy and planning. In order to maintain an equilibrium for flexibility in personnel problems, it is crucial to establish the procedures for communication between government entities and a single personnel management service. A plan for the progressive conversion of the national public service, which handles personnel management, to a contemporary HRM organization should be developed by HR managers. It will be an HR service with a long-term, strategic and systematic approach to human resource management.
Among mid-term aims, appropriate recruitment and selection, as well as job planning, should be mentioned. Government organizations should be permitted to recruit and hire HR professionals with HRM expertise in the private sphere on contract terms to modernize and improve the function of the HR service. It is also essential to update the standards for HR experts’ educational qualifications. In particular, it is critical to replace civil service roles with ones that emphasize the data and knowledge abilities, and expertise that staff members now need to be successful in their work in the digital world. In this regard, job analysis should be conducted, again, by HR professionals from other spheres so that their specific expertise could be utilized.
For South Africa, one of the pressing problems post-Covid-19 has been the digitalization of HR processes. In order to rapidly respond to social emergencies, closing the digital gap will increase people’s access to data and the speed at which it is received. It goes without saying that it is wise to establish broad administrative remedies in this area and to build a fast and transparent information platform. For instance, the present information support system and the current limits have profoundly impacted the viability of societies in the setting of the issue of access to data during the quarantine and the shift to distant modes of delivering public services. Therefore, it is crucial to enhance the Contact Centre, self-service, and raise the level of digitization of HR procedures, which can be considered a short-term aim.
Strategy 2. Enabling HR Potential
The short-term aim for the country’s public sector in terms of HRM is advanced performance management. Public officials’ performance is evaluated in order to ascertain the efficacy and caliber of their job. Regulations on the distribution of bonuses, promotions, retraining, rotations, downgrading, or dismissal are based on the findings of the evaluation of the actions of government officials (Maake, Harmse and Schultz, 2021). A noteworthy advancement in the public sector system is the use of the factor-score scale. As a result, the intricacy of the work performed, the unique knowledge and abilities necessary for the position, and the employee’s contribution to the institution’s fulfillment of goals will all have an impact on the compensation of a public servant.
Transparent and coherent career management is another important short-term aim for the sector. The study’s findings indicate that the bulk of candidates chooses the public sector in order to further their careers and take part in big national projects. This is unquestionably a significant benefit when developing a cost proposal for a prospective applicant of the public sector (Pradhan, Dash and Jena, 2019). The review of the existing situation reveals that career planning is only evolving gradually as a full-fledged field of activity in the managerial system in the public sector. Therefore, it is necessary to unify these processes by introducing a deterministic regulatory framework.
An examination of the training of public servants in other countries reveals that a public servant engaged in a professional role has to attend a variety of courses on a routine basis to upgrade their expertise and career development. In South Africa, the personnel service is in charge of setting up, reskilling, and specialized courses for government officials, as well as monitoring training, all of which are now required. The enhancement of leadership potential, critical abilities, and important talents are the core study areas. Therefore, a system for evaluating individual management abilities must be included in the system of people training and development (Asif and Rathore, 2021). It is essential to enable the formulation of individualized programs for the improvement of the assessment’s credentialed abilities in order to generate transparent career options. The establishment of training programs that concentrate on obtaining practical experience, addressing real-world problems and instances, and putting projects into action while taking into account the requirements of distant learning is also essential. Training and development practices should not neglect multi-generational talent management, given that such activities are long-standing.
Strategy 3. Managing HR Relations and Wellness
It should be noted that the third strategy is related to long-term aims, given that it involves employee wellness and HR governance as a whole. There is no doubt that managers, in the great majority of situations, like to have high-potential team members that are prepared to grow their individual capabilities while taking into consideration the organizational strategy. It is clear that the inspiration for such staff may be to offer possibilities for self through a toolset. Among these can be mentioned the following: online systems and access points for evaluating skills and expertise, intrinsic training using online courses to boost public sector employees’ efficiency at a time that is suitable for them, and providing helpful guidance on the preparation of specific development approach.
In order to keep the public sector staff motivated, it will be important to advance compensation management practices. In this vein, the UK experience seems to be a good option to implement. In the UK, a worker’s pay is directly correlated with how their performance is rated. This examination consists of a number of tasks, including certification and yearly interviews (Mylona and Mihail, 2020). A five-point rating system is used to evaluate civil service workers. A federal worker who achieves the highest score might anticipate a pay raise or other financial reward, as well as the chance of career advancement.
An employee will be offered the option to demonstrate their level of abilities, skills, and competencies in numerous areas of government and, as a result, with a respectable level of these components, start moving up the career ladder. This is one of the most fundamental and important principles of the public dimension in the UK. The pace and quality of labor market growth, as well as a public servant’s professional experience, significantly affect career progression.
Moreover, to avert various issues in terms of poor performance and terminations, it will be crucial to assess HR practices through specific HR metrics. It is suggested to use the following indicators: engagement ratio, cost per hire, turnover, revenue per employee, performance, and potential, the effectiveness of HR software, and time since the last promotion. Professionals from the field will provide reports on a monthly basis, which will ensure the greatest extent of transparency and coherence in terms of HRM in the public sector.
In addition to focusing on using the finest techniques and HR technology in the area of people management, the public sector is currently working on expanding the strategic role of HR. The following suggestions for enhancing the people management system are put forward in light of the research that has been done and the strategies that have been developed. Within the scope of the theme, HR strategies must be created and updated. Managers and other stakeholders must participate in strategic planning meetings to decide the overall course of development and to establish concrete objectives for the strategy’s execution. Additionally, depending on the HR strategy, a roadmap for the short, medium, and long terms must be created. Along with projected resources and deadlines, interim and final checkpoints should also be included in the roadmap.
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