What does a horrible boss do?
He belittles his employees. Never has a good word to say about them or their work. He calls them lazy, incompetent, and stupid. And not just to their face, but in public. He shouts his abuse to everyone who will listen.
He doesn’t understand the work that his employees do. He won’t take the time to learn the first thing about their day-to-day work. He doesn’t even look at the amount of work they do in a day because he already knows that they don’t do enough.
He doesn’t want to pay them a fair or competitive wage. He begrudges every dollar that he has to pay because he’s certain that every dollar that comes out of his pocket is wasted. As far as he’s concerned, Ebenezer Scrooge paid Bob Cratchit way too much. He wouldn’t be happy even if his employees worked for free because he’d begrudge them the cost of rent for their cubicles and the pens and paper they wrote on.
You’d sure hate to work for a boss like that. You can’t imagine that you’d ever be a boss like that. But, if you’re like most Americans, you already are.
You don’t think you’re the boss of anyone?
Consider this: When you cast a vote for president, you are electing the chief executive of the civil service. When you cast a vote for your congressmen, you are electing the paymasters of the civil service. And, when you pay your taxes, you are paying the salaries of the civil service.
You, as a voter and taxpayer, are the ultimate boss of the civil service. And you, collectively, give direction to the civil service. By voting for one candidate or the other, you are voting for one style of management or the other. When you write a letter to your congressman or to the newspaper, or even when you talk to your friends over dinner, you are issuing instructions to the civil service.
More significantly, when you listen to a pundit on television or radio, when you buy a newspaper or magazine, you are not just listening to their words, you are endorsing their attitudes. The politiciens who ultimately manage the public service pay close attention to the news and commentary that you consume because that, next to polls, is their best indicator of why you vote the way you do.
You may think that you are powerless to make any change in the massive bureaucratic machinery of government. You are right that your vote is small and your voice is quiet. But you are wrong if you think that you have no power. The ultimate power over the government is you as a collective citizenry.
So, what kind of boss are you?
Do you know what your civil servants do for you? There’s an awful lot of them and they do an awful lot of different jobs. If you think that a civil servant is someone who sits in an office and processes forms all day, you are wrong most of the time. They are on boats patrolling the oceans, they are in laboratories testing drugs, and they are negotiating trade deals with foreign companies. The first man to walk on the moon was a government employee. as were the people who decided to create the Internet.
Do you go around saying that all those government employees are lazy, incompetent, and stupid? Do you believe that they are overpaid and don’t do anything useful? Do you turn on the television, hoping to hear yet another horror story about some hapless civil servant who made a mistake? Have you ever thought about the other two million civil servants who did not make a mistake yesterday? The ones who worked long hours for less pay than they would have made in private industry?
Less pay? Maybe. That’s a complicated subject but it boils down to a simple rule: The more difficult the job, the less the civil servant is payed compared to industry. Senior managers in the government get paid far less than managers in private companies who have the same size staffs and budgets. Medical doctors who work for the government get paid far less than medical doctors in private practice. The same for engineers, scientists, and most other professions requiring higher education. On the other hand, clerks and laborers are often paid more by the government.
Pay attention to the news. When you hear a story decrying the high salary of civil servants, either they’ll use clerks as an example, or they’ll be talking about a senior manager without citing private sector salaries as a comparison. They’ll never be talking about jet pilots, geologists, or veterinarians.
So, the next time you think about the civil service, you should take another minute to think about what kind of boss you are.
I’m willing to bet that you wouldn’t want to work for a boss like you.