Will health managers score with Croke Park II?

THE proposed Croke Park II presents special challenges for public service managers, especially for those who ‘sat on the sidelines’ when Croke Park I was adopted three years ago. The days when a few, low-level absenteeism initiatives counted as post-recession reforms and performance management are fast disappearing, writes Gerald Flynn*.

Under the new public service proposals, if adopted, managers will have to design new rosters and re-design flexibilities to take advantage of the potential savings from the 37-39 hour standard working week.  The adoption of flexi-time, to suit personal or family needs, will have to re-aligned with public service requirements.  All of this should kick-start at the beginning of July rather than the more leisurely approach taken with Croke Park I, where it took over one year for many of the reforms to be proposed.

Communication and consultation will be key to embedding new efficiencies. Those managers who opt to ‘outsource’ this to the Labour Relations Commission will soon come unstuck as decision-making is pushed up the ladder and, as happened under ‘social partnership’,  all initiatives are left to  national implementation bodies. This is no substitute to planning new rosters and work practices with local staff while showing a commitment to implement any agreed Croke Park II changes.

Effectively the balance of higher-level pay cuts, reduced premia payments, abolition of twilight differentials, incremental step-backs  and  two or three more working hours, amounts to potential savings of at least 10% to 12%.

Those managers who opt to ‘outsource’ this to the Labour Relations Commission will soon come unstuck.

There is a risk that some employees may initially respond with muted hostility retreating to a ‘work-to-rule’ approach. That will pass if the changes are seen to be extensive and encompass all employees. This is best achieved by reducing differentiation between disciplines or specialist services which have sometimes been reinforced by competing union loyalties and membership.

Unfortunately, the ongoing review of allowances –  Clause 2.29 – will cast a cloud over the new reforms as there is the continuing fear that there are further cuts around the corner, especially for those  in the ‘uniform services’.

A further management complication includes the increased centralisation of health initiatives and budgets at the expense of on-site decision-making. The second hurdle is the lack of leadership and management development since 2008 combined with a high rate of senior-level managers retiring since 2011.  Many of their replacements have little skill, experience or confidence in implementing effective change while bringing employees (and union representatives) with them.

Croke Park II reforms will be implemented against the backdrop of the new performance management systems being introduced for all those above middle manager grades. This will provide fewer hiding places for those reluctant to engage but also should be borne in mind by those eager managers whose wings may be clipped at more senior or political levels.

There is also a danger that the creation of hospital groups will ‘dumb-down’ performance and quality to that of the slowest ship in the hospital group convoy.

“I prepared new schedules and re-modelled services which would have projected savings of €X million but was told to leave it to the Croke Park national implementation body who have sat on it for nine months,” is a fairly powerful response in any serious performance review discussion. Will the day come that the HSE shifts from a blame culture to honest conversations?

There is also a danger that the creation of ‘hospital groups will ‘dumb-down’ performance and quality to that of the slowest ship in the hospital group convoy. This is where HealthStats will play an important role and they may be enhanced with Croke Park II if there is seven-day admission, treatment and discharge in selected hospitals. But that could lead to additional spending requirements as more people are provided with health care thus undermining the basic budgetary rationale – a real Catch 22.”

*Gerald Flynn is an employment specialist with Align Management Solutions which has provided transformation support for HR directors in the health sector. He is also a former policy adviser to the CIPD.  www.alignmanagement.net