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UPDATED: April 20, 2015 NO. 17 APRIL 23, 2015
Should Civil Servants' Job-Hopping Cause Concern?


Zhaopin.com, a major online recruitment platform in China, recently issued a report on the flow of professionals between different sectors. It revealed that following this year's Spring Festival in February, civil servants, long envied for their privilege to dine from the "iron rice bowl," were the most active group in switching careers with many jumping to real estate, Internet and finance sectors.

Some have criticized their sudden career moves, saying these ex-public servants are motivated by greed. Others maintain that like their private sector counterparts, public employees also enjoy the freedom to change jobs so that they can have more opportunities for advancement and better prospects.

Give them a break

Ren Pingsheng (www.cnhubei.com): Every year after the Spring Festival, or the Chinese Lunar New Year, we see a sharp rise in job-hopping, but civil servants make up a small proportion of transient employees, so we can't take them too much to task.

For quite a long time, people thought that being a civil servant meant a stable income--supplemented by undeclared "gray income"--and leisure time during one's working hours, topped off by enviable benefits. However, with the ongoing fight against corruption, these privileges, which never should have been there in the first place, are being by and large rescinded. Meanwhile, with ongoing pension reforms, the last systemic thread tying civil servants to their posts is being snipped, so they are hunting for new openings with as much gusto as other jobseekers.

Some denounce civil servants who switch jobs, saying that they care only about money. However, I find that many surveys suggest that salaries are not primary among the factors that motivate civil servants to switch jobs. Many are more concerned about their future development and the realization of their personal values than income. The aforementioned pension reforms are intended to encourage the flow of talent between public and private sectors, as well as promoting social justice and fairness.

Corrupt officials and those remiss in their duties are fair game for criticism, but we can't point the finger of blame at civil servants who leave their posts to seek a better life. If the government wishes to retain excellent employees, it should do more to improve the working conditions for those who remain and create better prospects for them if they work hard.

Wu Zuping (www.jxcn.cn): In China, it is a deep-rooted belief that "he who excels in study can follow an official career." Today, graduates are faced with huge difficulties in finding jobs. Joining the civil service could easily become their career path of choice.

Given their government experience and learning, some public employees could find better use for their "human capital" in other areas. Too much talent clustering in government departments is undesirable; rather, such talent should be dispersed across various sectors to maximize economic development. Therefore, the public should not pay too much mind to civil servants' rising levels of interest in new careers.

Zhi Feng (www.rednet.cn): When more lucrative jobs are offered to those who regard their public sector jobs merely as a way of earning their daily bread and not as a way to channel their acquired knowledge and specialization for the good of society, they will naturally quit. If one chooses to be a civil servant with the perks foremost in mind, it's understandable that they would be particularly eager to change jobs.

It is true to say that civil servants enjoy the same freedom as private employees to change jobs. However, civil servants' job-hopping is no normal phenomenon as theirs is no ordinary post; rather it is one designated for public service. Before commencing their careers, civil servants have to go through examinations and a whole set of selection procedures. Their interests are safeguarded by a well-established system. In this sense, prospective public servants are required to be capable and ambitious as regards career development.

So do civil servants hop to other fields in the pursuit of loftier goals? In interviews during the civil servant examination process, such workers presumably did not claim they had applied for the job for money. However, now, it has been finally revealed that for many, money was their top consideration all along. Although they used to be civil servants, such persons are not driven by a burning desire to serve the public.

It is also unpredictable how many of these ex-civil servants will employ the knowledge and skills picked up in the civil service in their new positions. The majority of employers hire former civil servants because they need staff that can communicate with government departments and are familiar with the government's procedures, policies and systems.

Those whose first priority is money are not suitable for a civil service post, and it's dangerous to put public power in their hands. On balance, this probably means the departure of such individuals actually represents good news for the government.

Caution advised

Wang Yanhu (www.people.com.cn): Becoming a civil servant means one has signed a contract with the government, and should one wish to exit this contract, then that is his or her legitimate right. But it's also vital that civil servants cut ties with their respective departments once they are gone.

Civil servants' government backgrounds provide a helpful platform from which they can go wherever they please. New employers, of course, wish to take advantage of these employees' government connections, in addition to the political knowledge and experience they have accumulated.

Sectors such as real estate and finance are most likely to be affected by policy changes, so recruiters' interest in civil servants is eminently understandable. This, however, gives rise to a potential conflict of interest. When civil servants enter the business world, will they be able to influence government work via their political connections? Job-hopping among civil servants is therefore not simply a matter of talent flowing from one sector to another, and consequently, it's necessary to watch out for illicit behind-the-scenes practices.

Zhu Hengshun (www.people.com.cn): Despite the sharp rise in job migration from the public sector, it is important to bear in mind that this occurs in every industry and sector, public or private.

It does not matter what job you hold, as long as you are able to fully realize your potential. So when civil servants change jobs to put their talents to better use, their choice needs be respected. With their accumulated experience in government departments, civil servants who change over to relevant business areas might be able to better employ their abilities, thereby helping develop their adopted industries.

With further reforms, we can expect to see civil servants of all stripes leaving for greener pastures. In the past, as civil servants were covered by a pension scheme distinct from that offered to other employees, quitting one's post would mean negating a pretty good deal. This explains why most established civil servants would traditionally balk at switching careers. Today, pensions-wise, civil servants are being treated in the same way as those who work in businesses. Pensions will no longer be a significant stumbling block for civil servants seeking a change of pace. Thus, we should not at all be surprised if we see a further exodus to the private sector from public departments in the future.

Of course, while their decisions should be respected, civil servants' career moves should be regulated and standardized. According to current laws, if civil servants holding senior positions in their departments resign, they are then barred from working in businesses or profit-oriented organizations related to their previous roles for three years. The period for the corresponding ban on ordinary civil servants is two years. This regulation must be fully observed, and to ensure its implementation, public supervision should be encouraged.

Copyedited by Eric Daly 

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