Personnel Management in Socialist Countries
The world after the 2nd World War was split into two blocs that were in a competition. It is not the topic of the article; it covers the personnel management practices in the former Soviet Communist Bloc that was the one that lost. We tend to see the socialistic countries as a monolithic bloc.
However, they practiced various policies and procedures because they had no the same starting position. The key components of the personnel management have been shared; just the level of the emphasis differed among countries. The rigidity of the system and the government were usually setting the key principles of the personnel management in the socialist country (more on Soviet Communist Bloc).
The socialist ideology claimed that it is the society of workers, farmers and working intelligence. The protection of employees was one of the initial core values; most countries focused on improving work conditions in first years of existence of the new regime. That was an important source of the support for the system by citizens. This was also the imperative for the personnel management.
The socialistic country was running of the society where no private business was allowed. Most states deviated from the general rule, but the majority of the nation was employed directly by the state. The state-owned all companies and their plans were approved at the governmental level. The government was running careful planning procedures for all aspects of lives. There was a plan for the production of the milk; there was a plan for the production of the iron ore. Moreover, there was a plan how many students can study philosophy.
From the employment point of view, the two ruling principles were applied. There was a general right to work; it was accompanied by the obligation to work. It meant that every single man was expected to have a job; not having one was illegal. Women were not pushed to work. However, it was usually a necessity to have two incomes in the family. From a diversity point of view, it is an advantage today because almost no one makes the difference between men and women at work in the Central Europe; the proportion of women employed is one of the highest in the world.
The right to work and the obligation to work ruined the productivity of factories. The over employment was common. Most people did not work hard; they were just meeting basic requirements. There was no competition for the promotion at the workplace. Employees learned how to achieve norms, and they did not try to do anything above that. The factory did not offer any financial incentives to top performers. The average performance was the norm.
The state developed the system where the needs of the industry were linked with the education system. The schools had a clear plan for which industries they prepare the new workforce. Just the most talented students were allowed to study at universities. Even the personnel management was closely interconnected with the education system. Factories and schools had a close relationship, and students spent many weeks in factories practicing the theory in practice.
The state was also setting nationwide pay scales that allowed no exceptions. It made no difference between men and women; however men usually occupied more senior posts in all organizations. The pay rise was always driven by the number of worked years in total; it was also a reason to promote an employee from one pay grade to another.
The performance of the employee was not taken into the account when the management made decisions about individual salary adjustments. This rigid pay scale system led to similar salaries (the span of pay was extremely narrow); differences in the pay were small. The employee with a university degree usually had the salary that was entirely comparable with the technician with the long experience in the sector.
Trade Unions had a crippled role in the socialist country. They were supporting the Communist party however most employees were members of unions. It had no benefit to be a member of trade unions; they offered no protection against the employer. There was the exception of Poland in the early 80s. Employees formed the Independent Trade Unions called Solidarnosc. These trade unions played a crucial role in the history of Poland, and they also impacted other socialist countries.
The key interest of trade unions was to organize the free time of employees. They offered cheap vacations at facilities owned by the state. It was hugely subsidized by the government, and the week at a sea could be cheaper than spending a week at home. They also organized summer camps for the children. It was quite common to spend at least three weeks at a summer camp for most young boys and girls. Trade Unions cooperated closely with the Personnel Management Department; together they were deciding who goes where.
Competitions and the recognition were the essential components of the personnel management in the socialist country. Each factory had employees of the month, the team of the month, the best innovator and so on. Most people were not interested in such competitions. They tried to ignore these competitions not to be attached to the government and the communist party. It makes the reward and recognition difficult today because most employees do not trust competitions, and they do not want to be publicly recognized.
The personnel management department was usually split into two parts – the personnel administration including the recruitment and the department that was managing careers of employees. The personnel administration was similar to the function in the western countries.
The career development unit was the most dangerous unit in the factory. It could easily destroy the life of the employee. The career was the option just for the members of the communist party with a clean personal profile. The career oriented employee needed to be politically engaged; she had to protect all ideas of communism.
This part of the personnel management department was observing all employees, collecting formal and informal feedback, and providing recommendations. The promotion of the employee had to be approved by the communist party. They just collected data and information; they made a decision. It was not about skills and competencies only; the politics played the important role.