The Hellenic Food Authority – “EFET”- is the central competent authority for the official control of foodstuffs in Greece. It was established in 1999 followed by the law 2741/FEK 199/28-09-1999 (published in Greek Government Gazette No 199/28-9-1999-part A) and it is supervised by the Ministry of Development. The working environment of such a public organization in Greece can be defined as having a bureaucratic hierarchy.
In this perspective employees often perform a straightforward task and have a clear role perception, while promotion is based on seniority and annual evaluation of job performance (personal experience). Thus measuring employee performance can be a straightforward case, since no connection exists between performance and profitability.
An objective performance standard typically takes the form of comparing the performance of a worker to that of a co-worker and perhaps taking into account meeting certain deadlines, measuring goal attainment and reducing unscheduled absenteeism. To this extent, employees have a fixed pay (depending on their years of service, educational level, family situation, etc) and any occasional benefit (being mainly financial or paid time off) remains the same for everyone that is working in the same department (personal experience).
Moreover, once employed in the public sector there is a sense of permanence since an indefinite employment contract is signed and can be broken only under special circumstances, such as being involved in illegal activities, working against the organizations interests, as a few (personal experience). This case of being financially tied, as in continuance commitment (R. T. Mowday et al, 1982) to the organization creates a sense of “golden-handcuffs” (J. Churchill, 2006, p59) without although having to win the employers heart (affective commitment) J. P. Meyer (1997, pp 175-228).
Despite the fact these working conditions create a sense of financial security and keep levels of work related stress relatively low, it can also encourage poor performance and in some cases slacking, since a paycheck stays the same for everyone, even in the circumstance of an occasional reward or benefit regardless of the amount of effort and work input (personal experience). In certain cases this working environment may create feelings of anger and injustice between employees who overwork and employees who are more laid back, possibly generating counterproductive behaviors (S.
Fox, P. E. Spector and E. W. Miles, 2001) such as withdrawal or low organizational citizenship (McShane & VonGlinow, 2008, p 154). Under these working conditions and financial circumstances, employee retention is hardly an issue since turnover levels are extremely rare. However, to work in a job with maximum bureaucratic control lowers the degree of autonomy, which in turn weakens empowerment and limits motivation (McShane & VonGlinow, 2008).
Employees perform tasks and provide services that are usually specific and often not relevant to their qualifications and educational background (personal experience). Also job specialization is high since each worker is assigned a separate job and may often repeat the same set of tasks through an extended period of time (J. Churchill, 2006, p56). Compensation rates in the Greek public sector are determined overall by a pay level system based on the employee’s educational qualifications, work experience (length of service) and on the position held in the organisation (supervisor, director etc).
In this perspective the basic salary level is not determined according to the tasks performed on the job rather than to the level of education an employee held when being appointed to the public sector. The main factor that characterises the structure of EFET’s organisation is Internal Equity. To this extent the pay distribution evokes certain homogeneity as in a compressed pay, being less dispersed and spread equally across jobs and individuals (Matt Bloom, 1999). An employee may receive a monthly standardised by law benefit for having a postgraduate degree (for example Masters or Doctorate).
Other paid benefits may include ‘computer operating skills’ (only for employee’s holding Information Technology degrees) or a one day paid off benefit (every two months) for employees not holding a computer degree however operate one daily. Certain public organisations have particular benefits such as monthly paid overtime and according to specialised tasks involved. For example EFET performed food control and supervised food safety during the Athens Olympics in 2004 and shortly after all employees received a special pay ‘Olympic benefit’ for good performance and overtime input.
Miscellaneous public sector employee benefits could be health care, child and family benefits, paid time off, paid sick leave, payments for holidays not worked (public holidays), paid time off for jury duty and voting duties, for time lost due to death in the family or other personal reasons. For workers paid in the public sector in jobs that jeopardize their health and safety, from the government’s side, the most important issue may be the bonuses and a re-examination of the system by which these are granted.
In particular, it is stated that attention must be shifted away from procedures for providing financial compensation for workers to procedures for improving health and safety at work. The competent ministers – those for the interior, public administration and decentralization, finance and labour and social security – have stressed that bonuses do not remedy damage suffered by workers, and the rationale of granting them creates conditions of inertia rather than eliminating risk. Public compensation systems in Greece are highly inflexible and provide little in the way of incentives for performance.
Instead compensation can be based upon performance of specified goals in a satisfactory manner (Perry, Petrakis and Miller 1989) just like in the case of the ‘Olympic Benefit’ at EFET. To a further extent, a promotion-based incentive system can also be ineffective since promotion is somewhat independent of performance and based mainly on seniority. Redesigning the existing compensation plan would involve considering critical factors of the public sector such as the structure, the culture, the legal frame and the lack of adequate resources.
Funds for providing benefits often demand policy changes at the level of elected officials. Thus remedying some of the shortcomings in the present compensation system would suggest a multilevel approach. In view of the structure and culture in public organizations working environment (described earlier), improving motivation and effectiveness through a comprehensive compensation plan would involve optimizing work force and ensuring people are in the right job positions according to qualifications and accountabilities.