DG GROW: Reorganisation? Maladministration? Or how to pave the way for…what?

Our institution as well as our working and private lives have, in the recent past, undergone substantial change. So much so that the word reorganisation stopped soliciting any surprise. We are used to it and it happens everywhere and at reasonably regular intervals, such as before the arrival of a new Commission or Cabinets: the outgoing one might look to perhaps reshuffle things in order to accommodate their loyal staff within the services of the Commission. At the same time, maybe a tailor-made internal competition is prepared for these colleagues, so that a selected few (usually temporary agents (TAs)) can become permanent officials. We fully understand TAs exploring all the means available to them to become officials, however, artificially reducing the potential pool of talent might undermine whole premise of the talent management strategy. An unlevel playing field would damage staff morale and the reputation of the Commission, as outlined in our criticism of the Junior Professionals Programme.

But let’s focus on the reorganisations trend from the last few years.

During the pandemic some directorates-general (DGs) used the opportunity to implement a reorganisation: DG TRADE, ENER, BUDG, JRC, GROW and others will soon be on the list too. Reasons to justify these exercises vary: some due to the pandemic to adapt the service needs, others because of the pandemic to create relevant services dealing with the recovery, and more to take on new policy files (e.g. EU Green Deal, greening and digitalisation) and finally – the budget, the budget and yet again the budget. Apparently it is easy to find reasons to launch a nice reorganisation.

A case in point is DG Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs (DG GROW). Already as early as December 2020 a number of colleagues had alerted us to the developments related to the reorganisation of the DG (check out our corresponding survey results). Most complained that they were not listened to as they imagined during the ‘chambre d’ecoute’ phase with the DG GROW HR services, in which they were expecting to express their wishes for mobility within the DG based on their field of expertise and job profiles. Unfortunately some of the proposed assignments either did not match what was requested or, in extreme cases, were outright not suitable for the staff member concerned.

Of course, when we asked questions about the situation at DG GROW (several notes), we were reassured about the correct implementation of the process. Although this was a major reorganisation affecting all staff, we were told it should have only concerned 130 colleagues out of approximately 800 working in DG GROW.

However, then Generation 2004 studied the DG’s organisational chart (‘organigram’) and could clearly see that all directorates and units either changed their names or were re-numbered; there were also several unit splits or merges. This led to the surreal situation where some colleagues ended up in multiple units. Yes, it does seem split personality is a real thing, and some Commission services actively promote it. We observed that many managers, including deputy Heads of Unit (dHoUs), completely changed portfolio and we are aware that some, left the DG, retired earlier, or became advisers. Some managers were not offered a portfolio, or even a management post.

It goes without saying that this appears to work against genuine, open and inclusive talent management, risking huge losses in experience and knowledge (risks assumed with the closure of Chafea, for context). Instead of using and acknowledging the full potential of the existing talent pool, those organising the process looked outside the DG, without either a good explanation as to why or an outline of the skills sought which could not be found within the DG itself. Moreover, several colleagues that wanted to leave the DG before the reorganisation took effect were not allowed to do so in the interest of the service, causing them unnecessary distress. To add insult to injury, some managers were assigned to non-management posts, while, at the same time several management posts were left unoccupied and were later published. When we tried to address this issue, DG HR informed us that this reassignment happened by decision of the appointing authority, because the position ceased to exist…

Upon closer look, we were also able to assert that DG GROW’s reorganisation has also negatively affected female managers from post 2004 Member States. Prior to the reorganisation, there were four such HoUs, out of which only one remained post reorganisation. Similar situations were also seen in other staff categories. To cap it off, the reorganisation brought an immense workload for colleagues in the DG, to the point that they started massively leaving the DG to find roles in other services, and some affected colleagues were so desperate that they left the institution completely.

When we addressed the resulting negative consequences for the colleagues the answer only justified the move:

Commission needs to adapt quickly to new challenges and align its limited resources to shifting political and organisational priorities. In this context, DG GROW’s structure was adjusted to allow the DG to better tackle the challenges it faces today and is likely to face in the near future. The reorganisation also intends to improve cooperation within the DG and with other services’. (DG Ingestad, April 2021)

Furthermore, we understand that not all stakeholders and levels of management were consulted on the new organigram. Generation 2004 strongly believes that the staff representation should also have been included in such a vast and far-reaching reorganisation process, but unfortunately, this was not the case – we were neither informed, nor invited to discuss it in the framework of the social dialogue. Moreover, based on colleagues’ testimonies and on our own investigation, we have strong reason to believe that the entire process was rather opaque, poorly explained and open to misinterpretation.

We find that such treatment is unacceptable, especially given the fact that this was the third reorganisation DG GROW has undergone in recent years. In 2015, DG ENTR was merged with DG MARKT and some units of DG SANTE, resulting in the loss of two directorates and seven units (HR report p. 9). This caused a poor satisfaction rate among staff members based on the survey conducted at the time by the Staff Committee. Prior to that, in July 2013 there was another reorganisation. The maths is simple: 3 reorganisations in 8 years… One is not yet settled and there comes another! How can there be any stability in such a scenario?

The recent pandemic was already a huge stress factor for staff, and the latest reorganisation only made things worse as the feedback we got from many staff members pointed out to lack of empathy and respect for the affected colleagues, and a lack of consideration of their talents and career development plans. This change in the DG structure while the pandemic was still ongoing is likely to have adversely affected the health and well-being of DG GROW’s staff.  More attention should then be made during such processes to psychosocial risks and how to prevent them and address any sensitive situation that might arise.

Three reorganisation within such a short period take a heavy toll on staff, thus casting doubts on the usefulness of this process for the Commission at large. Constantly reshuffling management, with changing portfolio/sectors with each new reorganisation, is detrimental to business continuity.

Meanwhile, as if the three reorganisations were not enough. On 16 June 2022, another (this time much smaller) reorganisation was implemented. It affected the three newly created units in a directorate and reshuffled a unit in another directorate. These units were one of the key reasons for the main reorganisation in 2021. Last June these units were disbanded and merged into one.

If another partial reorganisation was necessary after such a short time it becomes evident that something is not working as it should, and this goes to the detriment of the health and well-being of staff. Generation 2004 ask the administration to avoid further wasting resources and talents with frequent reorganisation and to involve the staff representation in timely fashion should a reorganisation in any DG be necessary to avoid the deep dissatisfaction and feeling of unfairness we have witnessed in the case of DG GROW.

We will do our utmost to continue fighting these bad practices. If you believe your DG is in the same situation, please let us know and we will voice out!

 

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