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The Swedish public employment services’ management and governance. Interim report on the impact of the work to implement change (2018:5)

The development of Arbetsförmedlingen, The Swedish Public Employment Services’, management activities has been neglected, and there have been problems associated with the Agency’s management and governance. Therefore in 2014 the Swedish Public Employment Services initiated a project to implement changes, named the “Renewal Journey,” which is intended to be completed in 2021.  This includes i.a. the further development of the range of services, increasing digitisation and improving the contacts with employers. The Agency will also introduce a “self-management” which provides gives managers and employees greater latitude and responsibility.

Statskontoret, the Swedish Agency for Public Management, has received the assignment from the Government to analyse Arbetsförmedlingen’s internal management, governance and follow-up. The assignment does not include re-examining Arbetsförmedlingen’s tasks and responsibilities. In this interim report, we specifically report the impacts the work to implement change has had for the latitude of the employment officers at the Arbetsförmedlingen’s to make professional assessments and provide personalised assistance to jobseekers and employers.

Statskontoret is to submit a final report by 28 February 2019.

Statskontoret’s assessment in summary

Statskontoret is of the view that the basics of governance and the work to implement change in general are motivated and relatively securely anchored. However there is also a great need for Arbetsförmedlingen to now to concretise the work to implement change for local managers and employment officers, and to implement measures so as to improve the circumstances preconditions for the employment officers to make professional assessments and provide support.

The Agency’s employees generally look forward to the actual content of the work to implement change, even if those employment officers who have been on the job for a long period time at the Agency do not take such a positive view. On the other hand, the Renewal Journey has not yet led to clear results for jobseekers and employers. For example, they have not been more satisfied with services Arbetsförmedlingen provides, so far.

Arbetsförmedlingen needs to take the next step

Statskontoret is of the view that the overall orientation of the work to introduce changes is relevant. It is based on previously identified problems for the Agency. Arbetsförmedlingen has anchored the focus and systematically follows up the work. However, only one in four employment officer is aware of concrete improvements in his/her work situation. Several criteria for an effective implementation have not yet been met. The Agency management of the work to implement change is relatively weak. The managers also lack support and latitude for their leadership, which leads to that nor is it clear to the employment officers what the changes mean in practice. It is Statskontoret’s assessment that Arbetsförmedlingen needs to take the next step in the work to introduce changes and further develop support for the managers.

There is need to improve the possibilities for making assessments

Part of the work to implement change is to increase the employment officers’ latitude to make professional assessments and provide customised support. A professional assessment means that the employment officers will make individual adjustments and adaptations in order to satisfy the individual’s needs, while simultaneously complying with the regulations aimed at creating a uniformity in the processing of cases.

The employment officers feel that they are obtaining more latitude from their managers than previously to be resourceful and independent in their work. However it is only a minority who are of the view that the Renewal Journey has so far improved their preconditions to make assessments and judgments. Statskontoret’s evaluation shows that several obstacles exist.

Deficiencies in the IT support cause problems for the employment officers to arise

Employment officers feel that administration takes time away from more important tasks. One reason is that the IT support is neither mutually interconnected nor integrated with the support to the employment officers. There are very few employment officers who are of the view that they receive IT support while they are making assessments.

The self-management does not provide sufficient guidance

There are signs that the self-management has led to increased latitude for the employment officers in their dealing with cases. However it is a vague concept that leaves room for various different interpretations. Neither managers nor employment officers receive sufficient guidance in interpreting what “self-management” entails in practice. This has led to that local managers have partly abandoned their management of employees, and sometimes turning over too much responsibility to the staff under them.

The Agency lacks knowledge about which working methods are effective

It is so far unclear which work practices and methods within the Agency are effective. Arbetsförmedlingen has however developed a model that can be used to systematically identify success factors.

The new organisation means new opportunities and risks

Arbetsförmedlingen has decided to introduce a new organisation. It provides the employment officers with the opportunity to specialise to a greater degree, providing them better prerequisites for having an overview of their work. At the same time, a major reorganisation always poses a big risk that the results will temporarily be affected negatively.

The internal governance needs to be more coherent

Statskontoret has made the assessment that it has become clearer how various parts of Arbetsförmedlingen’s internal governance are intertwined with each other. The Agency has introduced a governance model, and the planning of operations and follow-ups have become more structured. However Statskontoret is of the view that the Agency needs to ensure that governance is coherent throughout the entire Agency. The local managers are not always aware of within which framework they are to manage staff, nor how they are expected to prioritise within the operations. This can lead to different parts of the Agency being governed by different principles and priorities. The wide-ranging work to implement change makes it even more important that the governance becomes more coherent.

Statskontoret’s proposal

Statskontoret proposes that the Swedish Public Employment Services

  • ensures that governance becomes more coherent so that it becomes clear to local managers within which framework they are expected to manage staff and prioritise
  • prioritises the parts of the change work that have the greatest potential to improve the preconditions for the employment officers in their daily work, especially IT support
  • develops support for local managers related to the change work so that it also focuses on operational activities, including how to interpret self-management in practice
  • generally identifies effective working methods, in a more systematic manner
  • analyses the reasons for why employment officers who have been working for a long time do not take an equally positive view towards the work to introduce changes.