The government offices in India need to be reinvented in terms of the work culture. Critically discuss the present work culture in India in government offices. Also suggest some ways to improve the work culture in government settings. (15 marks)

Work culture is an important part of any organization, especially when it has to provide citizen-centric service to the public at large. Recently the government has noticed the need of reinventing the work culture because of various issues ranging from delay in the delivery of service to failed mechanism to address the increasing public grievances and has put special emphasis to improve the work culture in all the government offices as part of efforts to ensure improved government functioning.

Work culture in government administration:

  • Discipline and order:  Lack of discipline at all levels, basic mistrust of authority, poor superior-subordinate relationships.
  • Absence of teamwork: The present rigid hierarchical structure effectively rules out teamwork so necessary in the present context where an interdisciplinary approach often is the need of the hour to respond effectively to emerging challenges.
  • An extended hierarchy with too many levels: Government of India has an extended vertical structure which leads to examination of issues at many levels frequently causing delays in decision making on the one hand and lack of accountability on the other. Another feature of the structure is that several levels are redundant as they do not contribute to the decision making process.
  • Risk avoidance: A fall-out of a multi-layered structure has been the tendency towards reverse delegation and avoidance of risk in decision making. Another aspect of the existing structure is an increasing emphasis on consultations through the movement of files as a substitute for taking decisions. This leads to multiplication of work, delays, and inefficiency.
  • Separation of policymaking functions from execution: In any large organization, the imperative of efficient management requires that higher echelons concentrate more on strategic decisions and policymaking whereas the lower echelons focus on operational decisions and implementation of policies. In the context of Government, this would require the Ministries to give greater emphasis to the functions while delegating the implementation functions to the operational units or independent organizations/agencies.
  • Coordinated implementation: Coordination is essential in implementation as in policymaking. The proliferation of vertical departments makes this an impossible task except in cases where empowered commissions, statutory bodies, autonomous societies have been created. There is considerable scope for more such inter-disciplinary bodies in important sectors. This should be pursued urgently. In cases where these already exist, the tendency to reduce their autonomy should be reversed.
  • Lack of Accountability: The present multi-layered organizational structure with fragmented decision making leads to a culture of alibis for non- performance. The tendency to have a large number of on file consultations, lead to diffused accountability
  • Avoid delegation: A typical characteristic of a government organization is the tendency to centralize power and avoid delegation of authority to subordinate functionaries or units. However, this leads to delays, inefficiency, and demoralization of the subordinate staff.
  • Criticality of operational units: Government organizations have tended to become top-heavy coupled with fragmentation and lack of authority, manpower and resources at the operational levels that have a direct bearing on citizens’ lives. Rationalization of Government staff pattern is necessary, commensurate with the requirements of the citizens.
  • Undue emphasis on routine functions: The Ministries of Government of India are often unable to focus on their policy analysis and policy-making functions due to the large volume of routine work that they are saddled with. This leads to national priorities not receiving due attention. Often, functions which are best carried out by the State or Local Governments or could easily be outsourced continue to be retained with the Union Government.

Suggestions to improve work culture in Government offices in India

The 2nd Administrative Reform Commission suggested the following ways to improve work culture in government offices.

  • Reorganization of Ministries and Departments: Revisiting and redefining the role of the Ministries and Departments in the context of the evolving role of governance and the need for greater collaboration.
  • Uniformity: There is a need to bring greater uniformity in the description of the roles and functions of various Ministries/Departments
  • Performance Management System (PMS) : For each public service, the major components of PMS are the service’s aims and mission, strategic objectives set by the organization offering it, breaking down of the objectives for the components of the organization, the identification of agreed-upon targets of individual manager and his/her key result areas, periodic reporting of performance against targets and standards, review by superior authority, and remedial action.
  •  Strengthening Accountability Mechanisms:  Ensuring accountability and promoting an ethical approach in governance institutions is vital to improved governance. The Commission has already made detailed recommendations on this issue in its Fourth Report on Ethics in Governance.
  • Timely resolution: Ensure effective and timely resolution of public grievances as part of efforts to ensure improved work culture in government offices.
  • Encourage technology: Identification and repeal of rules or processes and archaic acts and to encourage the use of information and communication technology in the submission of information.
  • Redefining collector’s role: re-defining the collectors’ role, as many schemes or programs are being executed through the collectors. 
  • Training: In order to sensitize officers of all India services about the recommendations of the 2nd ARC on issues like citizen centricity, equity, ethics, the primacy of law and accountability, the central training institutes have been asked to conduct training programs at the induction and mid-service level.
  • Corruption Free: Elimination of corruption is not only a moral imperative but an economic necessity for a nation aspiring to catch up with the rest of the world. Improved governance in the form of non-expropriation, contract enforcement, and decrease in bureaucratic delays and corruption can raise the GDP growth rate significantly.
  • Integrity: Integrity is much more than financial honesty. Public office should be treated as a trust. There are two facets to corruption: (1) the institution which is highly corrupt; (2) individuals who are highly corrupt. There is a need to work on public profiteering and also value to be attributed to the services rendered by officers. Interlocking accountability is a process by which evaluation could be done easily and accountability ensured.
  • Good governance:  Good governance must be founded on moral virtues ensuring stability and harmony. Confucius described righteousness as the foundation of good governance and peace. The art of good governance simply lies in making things right and putting them in the right place. Confucius’s prescription for good governance is ideally suited for a country like India where many of our present-day players in governance do not adhere to any principle and ensure only their own interests.
  • Ethics: There is a need for ethics in every profession, voluntary organization and civil society structure as these entities are now vitally involved in the process of governance. Finally, there should be ethics in citizen behavior because such behavior impinges directly on ethics in government and administration.

Other suggestions:

  • Promoting informal work culture: maintaining relationship-centered not individual-centered by focusing on networks of relationships that affect service quality and the well-being of clients. The structure should ensure a free flow of information among all departments and levels in the organization.
  • Participation-based not authority-based by involving everyone in policy and practice decisions that affect service quality and individual client well-being. Decentralization of operations and authority must take into account technological and operational constraints
  • Periodic changes in policies – Like private organizations, government organizations are not immune to dynamic changes. Policies need to be evaluated and reformed periodically to enhance productivity. 
  • Job Enrichment Motivation through work innovation or job enrichment is not only possible but also desirable from the point of view of both job performance and human satisfaction, since ‘work becomes more challenging and interesting for employees as their knowledge and skills improve and as they are increasingly able to influence decisions affecting their jobs’.

Nolan Committee on Standards in Public Life in the United Kingdom

  • Selflessness: Holders of public office should take decisions solely in terms of public interest.
  • Integrity: Holders of public office should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organizations that might influence them in the performance of their official duties.
  • Honesty: Holders of public office have a duty to declare any private interests relating to their public duties and to take steps to resolve any conflicts arising in a way that protects the public interest.
  • Objectivity: In carrying out public business, including making public appointments, awarding contracts or recommending individuals for rewards and benefits, holders of public office should make choices on merit.

Public administration in India faces immense challenges. These include the need to maintain peace and harmony, to alleviate deep poverty, to sustain a healthy and inclusive economic growth, to ensure social justice and to achieve ethical, efficient, transparent and participative governance. The development of positive work culture with full of ethical values in public administration or government offices is vital to address all challenges.

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