The gender impact of TR is not an abstract concept

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The gender impact of TR is not an abstract concept

Gill Kirton and Cecile Guillaume have published an abstract based on the research into probation post-TR that they undertook with the assistance of Napo during 2015. The study explores professional workers’ experiences of restructuring/outsourcing of core public services where the workforce is predominantly female. It highlights three dimensions of job quality that are all shown to suffer deterioration – work, employment and engagement; and although a very academic paper is well worth a read.

In the course of their research, which was commissioned by Women in Napo, Gill and Cecile visited many probation workplaces across England and Wales and had informal conversations with many practitioners and some clients. They also spoke to Napo branch officers, conducted interviews and attended branch meetings as well as attending and running workshops at the Women in Napo conference in June 2015. In addition, members will recall the online survey conducted with the agreement of Napo, which attracted nearly 1,000 responses from members.

Gill and Cecile say that the study shows probation “as an exemplar of the impoverishment of a female dominated occupation arising from the restructuring and privatisation”. In addition to looking at outsourcing aspects of TR, it also considers how the fragmentation of the service affected those allocated to the NPS and explores the experience of staff in the post-TR environment – an aspect relatively neglected in other studies, which focus on management strategies and financial performance.

The finding that “restructuring public services may also negatively affect quality of working life for staff remaining in the public sector … (who) suffer worsening working conditions, significant work intensification, increasing job insecurity, exposure to public spending cuts and psychosocial risk” will certainly resonate with members in the NPS.

While the high measure of job insecurity and the “culture of uncertainty” generated by the privatisation will strike a similar chord with CRC members, with fears of job loss and redundancies reverberating across many of the different employers.

Gender blind!

Gill and Cecile say that most studies of organisational change tend to be gender blind ignoring the fact that there is a real link between feminisation and restructuring in public services and the undervaluation of areas of work where women predominate. (The probation workforce is now 70% female, women comprise around half of senior management grades and the gender pay gap is relatively small at 4%). The study focusses on the impact on this majority female workforce to demonstrate how the deprofessionalisation and casualisation caused by the restructuring and outsourcing results in the devaluing of largely female occupations generally.

The study also looked at physical working conditions. It reports that pre-TR “practitioners typically worked in open plan spaces of various sizes, which could be quite noisy with lack of privacy and telephone calls with clients occurred in the open plan space”. However there was usually a staff kitchen which was an important space where they could interact informally and talk about professional problems, thereby alleviating stress. However, after TR the organisation of space changed and with it the supportive environment as the NPS and CRC had moved their respective staff on to different floors and into different sections. One interviewee described the split as like “taking an axe” to the service, symbolising the speed with which the split was executed and the havoc staff felt it wrought.

Stress

Stress levels were compounded by targets, deadlines and staff shortages. The extensive stress and heavy workloads in the CRCs were due in large part to volume and CRC practitioners spoke of factory-like conditions; whilst in the NPS it was the intensity of cases which was the main issue as practitioners dealt only with high risk cases without a mix to provide balance to their work.

Another concern highlighted by the study relates to part timers and the fact that their work targets are inadequately adjusted for the hours worked. Napo branch officers reported that part-timers (mostly women) were feeling the pressure even more keenly. While for many full time staff high workloads and unrealistic deadlines resulted in long working hours and the accumulation of time off in lieu which they were unable to take because of staff shortages. Overall the work-life balance had deteriorated for a large minority of those responding to the survey – both men and women.

The study concluded that overall the restructuring of probation services exemplifies the negative employee outcomes identified in previous research. The research points to there being very little difference between men’s and women’s experience at least in the two main grades, indicating that ‘minority men’ in a female-dominated profession can suffer from the same detrimental effects of restructuring. Aside from formal equality policies, the probation case adds to the evidence that public services no longer advance gender equality in job quality for highly qualified women.

If you would like a copy of the Abstract – Work, employment and engagement conditions in a female-dominated public service occupation after restructuring/outsourcing – contact Shireena Suleman ssuleman@napo.org.uk

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