The differences between working in the public and private sectors


The UK supports a large public sector that employs almost 60% of the overall workforce. This makes the government the largest single employer in the country. Public sector jobs include those within the NHS, emergency services, armed forces and teaching. However, recent cuts in the public sector means that many people may be facing unemployment and have to turn to the private sector in order to find work.


One of the main differences that people associate with the two is the salary. Many people automatically assume that public sector jobs offer a lower salary. However, the truth is not quite so black and white. Lower skilled jobs can often be higher paid in the public sector, but as people progress in their careers, they will find that they are paid less than a peer working for a private company. The salary is only one factor though and does not take into account the whole employment packages. These could include pensions, healthcare, travel expenses and other benefits which traditionally have always been better in the public sector.


Traditionally, the public sector offered good solid packages, especially for senior staff, complete with the kind of job security that is rarely found in profit-driven private sector enterprises.
A “job for life” can no longer be taken for granted within the public sector. Employees with permanent contracts are, of course, much safer than those with temporary ones, but new employees are increasingly being given renewable annual contracts which do not offer long-term security. The gap between public and private sector job security is narrower than ever before.

Union membership

Union membership is a key difference between employees of private and public sector organisations. In 2009, just 15.5% of workers in the private sector were members of unions, whereas 66% of public sector employees belonged to a union. 

As an employee, you may want to belong to a union because of the support they offer in difficult times when redundancy and pay cuts or freezes loom. However, their interference is not always welcomed by employers. 


Finally, motivation is a big factor in both the public and private sectors. Everyone has different reasons for turning up at work every day: perhaps the most common reason is money, but if you are in the public sector, your job very well may be a vocation and you may gain a sense of purpose from what you do that you would find it hard to replicate in the private sector. 
There are, of course, many passionate and vocational jobs within the private sector, but they are far more common in areas of the public sector such as the NHS, armed forces, emergency services and education.  

Find out more about salary and benefits.  If you'd like to chat to one of our consultants, contact us today.