During the last few months, we have heard and seen more resignations and new appointments through media reports in the country. The resignations are more serious and risky than the new appointments. Leaving a talented employee in a position is a huge loss not only to the job and the institution but also to the whole country. It’s not just the person who leaves, but, many resources such as knowledge, experience, maturity and human relationships accumulated in the person are also taken away. Also, it is a red light on the status quo and the shortcomings of the prevailing management systems. Whatever the reasons for such resignations, it is reasonable to perceive that resignations have become a negative trend in the country now.

The management practices of the country have established the best practices for employees employed in the public and private sectors when resigning from a job or position. The relevant resignation should be submitted in writing to the appointing authority through the immediate superior. The time limit for submission of such resignation letter shall be one month before or three months prior to the date of resignation, subject to the terms and conditions contained in the service minute / employment contract that is applicable. For example, according to the Establishments Code of Sri Lanka, a public sector employee could resign from his/her post, informing the appointing authority through the immediate superior, one month prior to the date of resignation or on payment of one month salary in lieu thereof. If the employee stops coming to work when the appointing authority refuses to accept the resignation, the employee shall be deemed to have left the post from the date of cessation of duty.

Such advance notice of resignation is in the interest of both employers and employees. It allows the employee to finalise and complete the duties, transactions, etc. and leave with good preparation. The institution will also have the opportunity to initiate the necessary arrangements in advance to fill the vacancy due to resignation.

However, resignation from certain posts which are considered political appointments in the country does not seem to follow such well-practiced procedures. It has now become a matter of further encouragement of some informal resignations. So, the current wave of resignations could also be an unfavourable example for the future. In the event of a resignation, it is not just the position that the officers are relinquishing. Some quit their jobs. Some leave the institution and the institutional culture. Others leave their peers. Many leave the immediate superior or the leader. Previous research also show that financial factors such as salary and other allowances, roles and responsibilities at work, corporate culture, poor supervision, work environment and welfare, career development opportunities, recognition, personal reasons, etc., contribute to resignation from a job or position.

Leaving the position is not the problem. That’s how a particular problem comes out or the climax of a problem. The real problem is behind the resignation. What needs identifying as the problem is not the resignation but, the reasons that motivated the relevant officials to do so.

The resignations that have taken place in the country over the past months evident that many officials have not resigned from their posts due to incompetence, lack of resources or lack of authority. They do not seem to have any problem with their salary or other financial rewards. What they have really left is leadership; top management. The tragedy behind the resignations of many is the inability to independently carry out their duties due to the undue interference of corrupted politicians who pursue political agendas.

In any position, the relevant duties go beyond the work-life and are intertwined with the personal psyche as well. If an official is a political puppet, he or she loses the opportunity to use the expertise independently in duties. It breaks down the professional psyche and conscience hurts. The official might be ostracized because of the negative perception that he/she is aggravating a powerless and meaningless position. This intensifies the intention to leave the position due to the declining internal job satisfaction.

In the system prevails in Sri Lanka, political appointments to certain posts are permitted to obtain the necessary contribution for socio-economic development of the country from the experts in various domains, but not to appoint political henchmen for those positions. In such appointments, the right person should get the right position. There must be a proper formal mechanism for selection then. For the appointments made by politicians, the procedure for selecting the right person for the right position must be formal and transparent. The negative consequences of not doing so are evident in some of the resignations as well as in some of the appointments we have seen in the past. Experts should be appointed to such posts not to implement the narrow agendas of corrupted politicians but, to serve the country. Although the political authority is authorized to appoint experts to the relevant positions, there is no legal or moral sanction to unnecessarily interfere with the duties of the relevant position after the appointment.

However, as mentioned above, such a wave of resignations will set a wrong example for the future. The inability to act independently and in accordance with integrity will make experts in various domains in the country reluctant to accept such positions in the future. Often they will leave the country, like what we experience today. Then political authority has to appoint political henchmen who do not have the necessary expertise. This results in the inability to obtain potential contribution even from other employees working under such officials. The end result is personalized decision-making and extremism that is subject to corrupt politics again. It’s like a vicious cycle.

For some corrupt and incompetent officials, resignation would be a good option. They will see resignation as an alternative to appease their misconducts. It ultimately produces professionals with a very narrow professional vision who fail to take responsibility. Some Government appointments are now like temporary rest houses. Officials are also like beggars. They take over the position for a very short period of time and leave. Enter another similar position and do the same thing as before.

Many politicians think that as such officials are appointed on their recommendation, officials should act as they please, follow their instructions and directives, and work hard to implement their agendas. There is a service minute for every position in public service. If not, it should be prepared and approved. There is also a set of work procedures and ethics for each position to follow. Anyone who is appointed to a post is bound to follow them. Violation of those procedures and legislations against the rule of law. As a result, procedural justice will deteriorate hindering the development of the country as a whole.

As explained above, the possible adverse effects of a wave of resignations indicate that immediate actions must be taken to prevent such a move. First, the relevant posts should be depoliticized, which is not easy in the prevailing system. That is, even though the appointing authority is political, the procedure for recruiting and selecting suitable experts for such positions should be legally established and properly followed. Appropriate legislation should be enacted, as in New Zealand, Singapore, Germany and Malaysia, to prevent undue political interference thereafter.

It is also necessary to empower the officials holding such positions. There are several ways to empower an employee in a position. Among them, allocation of resources, delegation of authority, and the provision of opportunities are at the top. Most importantly, such officers must be given the opportunity to exercise the authority of the position independently, in accordance with the morality, and also in a manner that upholds procedural justice. Many of the resignations reported in Sri Lanka in recent days were due to the lack of such opportunities to empower the relevant officials.

Moreover, it is utmost important for the officials who have appointed to have a sound personality and capability to act independently and make policy decisions, even undue political interference. Relevant officials also need an open mind, and attitude to work smoothly with any political authority for the economic and social progress of the country, regardless of the personal political views and ideologies. The ability to manage the boss is also a part of the professional competency. Accordingly, the professionalism of managing a political leader at any level is also significant to officials holding such positions.

Tharindu Dananjaya Weerasinghe

(Senior Lecturer, Department of Human Resource Management, University of Kelaniya)

By Tharindu Dananjaya Weerasinghe