Intrinsic motivation is far more important than statutory conditions

Key messages
  • Career management in the public sector does not differ greatly from that in private companies
  • The distinction between statutory and contractual employees is no longer an important issue
  • People who opt for the public sector want to create added value and mean something to society

Belgium's public sector has statutory and contractual employees, but their intrinsic motivation is far more important than their statutory conditions. Koen De Schutter (water-link), Piet Persoons (city of Aalst) and Bert Celis (TriFinance) agree on this. They took part in TriFinance’s recent panel discussion on career management and career planning in the public sector. For Koen De Schutter and Piet Persoons, career management in Belgium's public sector does not differ greatly from that in private companies, a situation de-emphasizing the distinction between statutory and contractual employees. TriFinance Public Sector Business Manager Bert Celis emphasizes actually claims THE 'Public Sector' as such does not exist: "Water-link is an inter-communal association that has a private arm and cannot be compared to the administration of the city of Aalst". He points out that the legislator still has its say when it comes to personnel management in the public sector.

To achieve targets

The CFO of water-link nuances: "We have been working with job descriptions that focus on responsibilities for some time now. In recent years, we have recruited a lot of people from the private sector. Initially they have questions about the way of working in a semi-governmental institution, but they quickly experience that the rules of the game and the context in our company are no different from those in the private sector. The salary package, for example, no longer evolves based on seniority, but just as much based on objectives that people have to achieve. The professional framework of HR and guidance are perfectly comparable to what is customary in the private sector".

Piet Persoons adds that they are less free in a local government such as the city of Aalst. "The Legal Status Scheme imposes a framework with fixed salary scales where additional fees are virtually impossible. That does not alter the fact that in recent years we have hired several people from the private sector".

Healthy mix

It brings the discussion to the fact that in the case of public companies and organizations, employees are statutory or contractual. "Since 2015, we have only been recruiting contract staff. At water-link we have a healthy mix of statutory and contractual employees. It sometimes bothers me that they get the impression that the first group is less dynamic than the second. People's drive is more important than their status as an employee. Both groups receive the same salary conditions and their performance assessment is done in the same way", Koen De Schutter explains.

"In Aalst, too, the remuneration and assessment of statutory and contractual staff is carried out in the same way. It is up to each local authority to decide whether to recruit statutory staff. Since 2019, we have only been hiring contractual staff. One of the reasons for this is the pension bill, which is paid by the local government for statutory employees, as opposed to contractual employees," explains the financial director of Aalst.

Statutory and contractual staff receive the same salary conditions, and their performance assessment is done in the same way.

Koen De Schutter, CFO water-link

Social awareness and sustainability

The motivation to choose a job should not depend on the statute that goes with it, says Bert Celis. "The employee's intrinsic motivation is the most important thing and must remain after he has been hired. An organization can increase that motivation by, for example, taking the work- life balance into account, providing challenges and paying out a correct salary package".

In recent years, water-link's CFO has established that remuneration is less dominant in recruitment interviews. "Candidates mainly ask about the context in which they will find themselves, the dynamics within the organization and the opportunity to develop themselves. People constantly want to learn new things and we have to provide a good framework for this. Remuneration is no longer a priority and the difference in status between statutory and contractual employees is not even mentioned. And perhaps surprisingly, the sustainable nature of the company is coming out strongly. At water-link the product is: water. People feel strongly committed to formulating solutions around it. The social awareness, drive and ambition surrounding sustainable entrepreneurship is growing. Sustainability is a spearhead in our strategy.”

Digitalization and process optimization

Digitalization is also at the top of water-link's strategy. "We have been working with SAP for a long time and homeworking is well established. We have put a lot of effort into the automation of reporting and are busy robotising processes within finance. Step by step, we are automating repetitive and unattractive jobs and we are looking into whether Artificial Intelligence can help us predict figures better and more efficiently. It all comes down to involving people in the story in the right way. You do this by communicating very transparently. It is important to point out that digitalization is not a danger to the job but offers new opportunities. Furthermore, before you robotise, you need to make a thorough inventory of the processes".

Have fun in the job and mean something to society. That plays a role at all levels within our organization.

Piet Persoons, CFO city of Aalst

The Public Sector's service mentality

In Aalst, they took advantage of the integration of the OCMW (public social welfare centre) in the municipal administration to digitalize the entire financial process. "Until the beginning of 2019 we did not have full digital processing of the invoices. We are looking to digitalize other processes, such as reporting, so that we can distribute the information more clearly and uniformly throughout the organization. More digital means less paperwork. That has an impact on the job content. It frees up space for other tasks. That offers career opportunities, and we support people in this modernisation. We draw their attention to the opportunities that digitalization entails," says the financial director of Aalst.

He adds that where he used to hire accountants, now it is mainly people with management qualities who can look ahead and take the organization to the next level. "We are constantly striving to improve our services and we have our Aalst model for Continuous Improvement (Aalsters model voor Voortdurende Verbetering - AVV). That service plays a role with people who opt for the public sector. People want to come and work with us in order to excel and create added value. Have fun in the job and mean something to society. That plays a role at all levels within our organization".

Project Consultants

It is something Bert Celis recognises: "Despite the tight labour market, many choose the public sector. We have 35 Project Consultants who consciously go for projects in the (semi-)public sphere". He points to the dynamics among public actors and highlights that the other two panel members are open to new things. "They are even taking the lead in this. This is important for the team and the career path of the employees".

None of the three panel members had a predetermined career path. Coincidences and opportunities made where they ended up. Furthermore, they fully agree that managers have an important role to play in getting ahead in your career. Koen De Schutter and Piet Persoons have been working for the same employer for quite some time and they stress that you don't necessarily have to change organization in order to take on new challenges.


The corona crisis confronts everyone with a challenge that is far from desirable. Before the second lockdown, with its generally compulsory homeworking, water-link asked its employees to come to the office once every 14 days. "For mental well-being, it is important to keep the connection with the company and the colleagues," says Koen De Schutter. Piet Persoons is on the same wavelength.

Bert Celis: “Project Consultants have an additional difficulty. They have to integrate themselves in a new environment for each project. This is more difficult when it has to be done in a virtual way instead of physically. The corona crisis is much less temporary than we thought in March. This can be particularly difficult for young employees. I have a tip for them: make sure you remain visible in the organization. Don't hesitate to contact your manager from time to time”.

TriFinance's Business Manager concludes: "As long as you are fascinated by your work, continue to carry out those tasks. It is the greatest gift. If that fascination keeps disappearing, then it's time to think about the next step in your career".

Make sure you remain visible in the organization. Don't hesitate to contact your manager from time to time.

Bert Celis, Business Manager TriFinance Public Sector