Leaving the Senior Civil Service – public service bargain and beyond: The case of Estonia

Published date01 October 2019
Date01 October 2019
AuthorReelika Rattus,Tiina Randma-Liiv
Subject MatterArticles
Leaving the Senior Civil
Service – public service
bargain and beyond:
The case of Estonia
Reelika Rattus and Tiina Randma-Liiv
Tallinn University of Technology, Tallinn, Estonia
The article explores why apolitical public sector managers decide to or are forced to
leave the civil service in the example of the Estonian Senior Civil Service. The article
shows that the concept of public service bargain can help to understand and systematise
the causes of leaving the Senior Civil Service. It is particularly useful in distinguishing
between voluntary and involuntary turnover and in linking the turnover with political–
administrative relations and loyalty issues. Since public service bargain does not specif-
ically focus on voluntary exit, other approaches known from management literature are
relevant for the operationalisation of voluntary turnover and complementing the public
service bargain-based model for researching turnover of top executives. The empirical
study maps the people who left the Estonian Senior Civil Ser vice in 2009–2013 and
analyses and systematises various causes of their departure on the basis of semi-struc-
tured interviews (70% response rate). The empirical study shows that the turnover of
top executives can be considerable even without much direct political influence. It is
found that job insecurity combined with the domination of individual unwritten public
service bargains tends to lead to ambiguity in the perception of the roles of top execu-
tives, which in turn causes conflicts and dissatisfaction, materialising in high voluntary
Civil service turnover, Estonia, public service bargain, Senior Civil Service, top
Public Policy and Administration
2019, Vol. 34(4) 453–474
!The Author(s) 2018
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/0952076718804862
Corresponding author:
Tiina Randma-Liiv, Tallinn University of Technology, Akadeemia tee 3, Tallinn 12618, Estonia.
Email: tiina.randma-liiv@ttu.ee
This article explores why apolitical public sector managers decide to or are
forced to leave the civil service using the example of the Estonian Senior Civil
Service (SCS). Senior civil servants (SCSs) usually include (administrative) heads
of ministries, departments, bureaus and agencies within the core civil service and
other senior of‌f‌icials as designated within the central government of each country
(Halligan, 2012: 116). Previous studies have demonstrated that SCSs’ turnover can
bring along some positive developments, such as bringing in ‘‘fresh blood’’ with
novel ideas into the civil service and providing promotion opportunities to the
lower-ranked civil servants (Lee and Whitford, 2008; McElroy et al., 2001).
However, there can also be negative ef‌fects linked to SCSs’ turnover, such as
loss of institutional memory and competence, loss of organisational investments
related to the recruitment, selection and training of civil servants, and costs related
to f‌inding and appointing new public sector managers (Cho and Lewis, 2012; Lee
and Whitford, 2008; Moynihan and Landuyt, 2008). High turnover of SCSs may
also af‌fect collaboration within the civil service as inter-organisational relations are
often materialised within key SCSs and their networks as well as posing a negative
ef‌fect on common identity, ethos and values within the SCS which are particularly
important in counterbalancing recent individual- and organisational-centred ten-
dencies in public administration. Moreover, in academic literature turnover of
SCSs has often been related to politicisation and political loyalty of SCSs
(see, e.g. Christensen et al., 2014). This implies that both public administration
academics and practitioners may benef‌it from knowing the reasons of SCSs’ turn-
over in order to minimise its potential negative ef‌fects.
Although the practices of formally recognising SCSs as a separate group have
been mostly addressed in Anglo-American countries (see, e.g. Halligan, 2012; Kim,
2007), the Senior Civil Service (SCS) as a specif‌ic category of civil servants has been
largely neglected in Central and Eastern Europe. In addition to addressing turn-
over of SCSs in a less researched region, this study also explores turnover of SCSs
from novel angles that may interest broader readership. First, while the literature
on politicisation ref‌lects upon involuntary departure from the civil service, this
paper sheds light on both involuntary and voluntary exit. For many cultural con-
texts, voluntary departure from the SCS is an extremely rare and unexpected occa-
sion but in other settings – as the Estonian case demonstrates – in-and-out mobility
in the SCS is a common practice. While the involuntary exit is certainly a more
attractive topic to both academics and journalists, the voluntary exit should not be
left unnoticed. Second, while most existing empirical studies on public sector turn-
over address the sub-national level (e.g. Boyne et al., 2010a, 2010b; Meier and
Hicklin, 2008; Moynihan and Landuyt, 2008; Moynihan and Pandey, 2008;
Selden, 2006; Tekniepe and Stream, 2012), this article covers the entire core of
the central government – all SCSs leading the ministries and executive agencies
in Estonia. And third, previous public sector research has mostly focused on the
impact of political change on SCSs’ turnover, turnover intention, interlinkages
between performance and turnover, turnover behaviour, the ef‌fect of salaries and
454 Public Policy and Administration 34(4)

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT