Effektiviseringar – så funkar de (i verkligheten, enligt forskare)

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En studie från Storbritannien har ställt frågan: hur reagerar offentligt anställda när de förväntas klara av åtstramningar, ”doing more with less”? Och det är ju exakt vad vi har frågat oss i fyra år nu här på Balans. Låt oss läsa den ihop! För dig som är van vid engelsk akademisk text tar jag med citat ur artikeln. För dig som inte älskar att läsa forskarspråk: hoppa över citaten, jag har översatt och sammanfattat allt på vardagssvenska.

Författarna menar att forskningen hittills har tänkt sig att offentliganställda antingen utövar motstånd eller anpassar sig och sänker kvaliteten i arbetet. Men de har hört talas om att folk även jobbar hårdare och mådde dåligt av det ”Librarians and social workers reported compensating for workforce cuts by working harder (…) they also reported ‘extreme levels of stress and frustration’ as they tried to minimise impacts on vulnerable clients”.

Detta ville de undersöka närmare. De studerade tre engelska och en skotsk kommun. De höll gruppintervjuer och skuggade personer under arbete i ”advice centres, children’s services, community work, housing, libraries, leisure, parks maintenance, roads, social work, social care, street cleansing, and youth work” .

Forskarna blev överrumplade över hur folk mådde efter neddragningar: ”Initially, the research team were struck by the nature and scale of negative emotion expressed by participants, and the data were coded to capture emotions such as ‘Insecurity’ ‘Loss’ or ‘Anxiety’.” 

Motstånd var inte så vanligt. Närmare 50 deltagare kunde bara komma på tre tillfällen, och ett av dem tyckte forskarna inte var exempel på motstånd utan på hög ambition (följa med utsatta personer på läkarbesök).

Participants in the four case study councils gave few examples of practices which explicitly resisted the logic of austerity. In fact, only three specific instances were offered. In the first, a housing worker recounted that she had felt compelled to make a ‘safeguarding’ referral to try to ensure that the needs of one of her tenants were met by her council’s social care department: effectively whistle-blowing by reporting her employer to an external regulator. In the second, a social worker disclosed how resource restrictions could be circumvented by redirecting funds for children’s activities to preventative interventions. The same social worker gave the third example: she had continued to accompany vulnerable clients to medical appointments in support of efforts to ‘join up’ different services and in contravention of an instruction to cease the practice to accommodate staff cuts. While framed by the participant as an act of defiance, such actions can also be understood as ‘going the extra mile’ – as practices developed to modify rather than resist austerity, consistent with Prior and Barnes (2011) definition of resistance highlighted earlier. 

Anpassning fanns det en del exempel på. Medarbetare hade sänkt ribborna för hur fort medborgare skulle få svar, hur lämpliga möteslokaler var för känsliga frågor, och för hur kunniga och insatta de kunde vara i hemtjänsten, till exempel.

Indeed, participants commonly admitted that they had to ‘get on with’ implementing practices they knew to be sub-optimal or resulting in inappropriate or reduced services. A social worker, for example, said that her office had been relocated from a neighbourhood shopping centre to city centre open-plan office. The new location acted as a rationing mechanism – it ‘discouraged people from coming in’, and its open plan design meant it was ‘not an appropriate place’ to discuss sensitive issues. To manage this, she had adjusted by carrying out consultations by phone. Similarly, a homecare worker explained that staff cuts and time pressures meant she was no longer able to provide ‘a holistic approach to care, like person-centred care, where you gave the care, you did the shopping, you did the domestic tasks as well which was always looked at as the best form of care.’

De intervjuade oroade sig över det här. De oroade sig för medborgarna, för att de skulle missa viktiga varningssignaler, och de oroade sig för sina kollegor.

A children’s worker described:

“I think that there’s only so many adjustments you can make. I worry you can’t provide the same level of quality. You certainly can’t provide the same level of quantity, … and I worry that certainly if cuts just keep chipping away, it’s going to take some awful horrible disaster for everybody to realise that actually you can’t manage on so, so few resources.” (Children’s Services)

För att lösa detta jobbade de mer. I citatet här möter vi en parkarbetare som jobbar extra på morgonen för att hinna med, en socialsekreterare tar med jobbet hem för att kunna slappna av, och en annan som försökte sänka sin standard … men inte klarade av det, och jobbade sig till relationsproblem istället.

Participants reported coping with this extra work not just by working harder in official time, but by working outside paid hours, often at home. A parks worker explained how she absorbed extra work by coming in early: ‘I’m in at seven, finish at half four, five o’clock’ and a social worker described routinely working evenings at home ‘so I can relax’. An email from a housing officer explained how he had ‘tried to have a “couldn’t care less attitude” and finish at a reasonable time’ but found this impossible, disclosing relationship problems as family life was disrupted by working late or at home.

Det blev dålig stämning på arbetsplatsen med. Mer stress -> mindre småprat -> sämre relationer. En del chefer utnyttjade detta för att se till att folk inte klagade.

As well as stress and economic hardship, precaritisation and intensification created conflict and division, undoing camaraderie, co-operation, and partnership. Some managers instrumentalised insecurity to generate compliance with excessive workloads.

Forskarna tolkar sina resultat som att: effektiviseringar – ”more with less” – fungerar GENOM ATT VÄLFÄRDSARBETARE PÅ GOLVET ABSORBERAR CHOCKEN som nedskärningarna innebär.

The analysis also contributes to our understanding of post-GFC austerity by demonstrating that more can be done with less, but only when front-line staff act as ‘shock absorbers’. It also suggests that overwork, stress and, in particular, insecurity may have replaced the performance targets previously used to discipline the achievement of more ‘productive’ public services. Moreover, by foregrounding the voices of front-line workers, the analysis has revealed that, in addition to intensification and precaritisation, acquiescence with austerity is achieved through the individualisation of front-line public sector work: a retreat by staff and services into more isolated, competitive, instrumental spaces – which, paradoxically, undermines the partnership agenda of NPG and is itself a powerful form of state retrenchment and deterioration. 

De menar att övermäktiga arbetsbördor, osäkerhet och stress har fått rollen av ett styrmedel i sig. När välfärdsarbetare blir stressade och isolerade blir de lydigare. 

Alla citat är hämtade ur artikeln:
Hastings, A., & Gannon, M. (2021). ”Absorbing the shock of austerity: the experience of local government workers at the front line.” Local Government Studies.

Effektiviseringar – så funkar de (i verkligheten, enligt forskare)
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