City to offer buyouts to staff—but the devil, as usual, is all in the details

City to offer buyouts to staff—but the devil, as usual, is all in the details

The buyout plan will offer departing staff a maximum of six months pay

News came out yesterday that to deal with Toronto’s yawning financial black hole, the city is considering offering staff a buyout package to thin the ranks a little. It’s a pretty common-sense idea—basically every institution that goes through a big shrink does the same. Mayor Rob Ford’s critics on council say that he’s going to basically blow up the civil service. But there are more serious concerns with the proposed buyout, and it’s all in the details.

For example, Andrew Steele at the Globe and Mail writes:

It is also unclear if there will be any attempt to retain the most valuable staff in the organization, particularly those with unique or high-demand skills, senior staff with management expertise, and the most dynamic and self-starting middle-managers who will form the spine of the future leadership.

The retention is a key issue, and critical if this effort is to succeed. Past rounds of civil service reductions follow an unfortunate script.

Offered a buyout package, those public servants with the most entrepreneurial ability take the package, and start their own businesses, join private sector organizations or sell their talents back to government. These are self-starters with an appetite for risk, just the people a dynamic organization needs to stay relevant.

Of course, if Toronto stops having a city staff full of meddling do-gooders who instead take buyouts and become dynamic entrepreneurs, it’s our guess that the mayor and his allies would call that a win-win. The other criticism of the buyout package—at least, based on what we’ve seen so far—is that it’s too small to be effective: staff can only take a maximum of six months pay with them when they leave. Again, it’s only fair to say this too could be a win-win: if the city can convince some people to leave early and cheaply, there’s no reason to think this will necessarily end up a disaster. It will, as they say, all come down to the execution.

Rob Ford buys out Toronto [Globe and Mail]
Ford not ruling out layoffs if buyout insufficient [Globe and Mail]
City to offer buyouts to 50,000 workers: Report [Toronto Star]
City to offer all workers buyouts [Toronto Sun]

(Images: City Hall, Mackenzie Chan from the flickr pool; sign, Christopher Matson)