2. Human resources

The staff of a regulator is arguably its greatest asset. The organisation relies on the expertise and qualities of its staff to provide evidence-based and technical analyses as a basis for regulatory decisions and the delivery of a regulator’s strategic objectives. Therefore, the ability of a regulator to make the right decisions, and as such its performance and impact, relies directly on the quality of its human resources.

A number of elements matter in this context. To be able to deliver on their mandate, regulators need to recruit a sufficient number of staff with the right qualifications. However, this is only the first step. Regulators work in a dynamic sector context that requires the organisation to continuously stay abreast of developments and if necessary adjust, and they often compete with the sector they oversee to hire staff with similar qualifications. World-class regulators therefore continuously invest in the knowledge of their staff and organisation to create the right conditions to retain talent. To enable staff members to carry out their tasks effectively, regulators should provide them with the right incentives and freedom of action (OECD, 2017[1]). Finally, while staff may be less prominently exposed to pressures from government and the sector than its board or the agency head, a culture of independence among staff members is nevertheless essential to ensure unbiased and objective decision making.

The characteristics of a regulator’s staff is a multidimensional topic. The following sections discuss a number of aspects, including the academic and professional background of staff, their age profile, gender diversity and the length of employment at the regulator.

Economic regulation is a complex matter, requiring technical expertise from many different disciplines and extensive knowledge on the sector. Given the nature of their work, regulators tend to employ staff that is highly educated. Eighty-six percent of the staff members that regulators employ have an education level equivalent to a bachelor’s degree or higher, whereas half have at least a master’s degree (or equivalent). This observation differs only slightly between sectors (Figure 2.1).

Across all sectors, staff working at the regulator are usually recruited from the private sector or other government bodies. The share of staff members coming from the private sector is highest for energy (47%) and e-communications (46%) regulators. Water and transport regulators are more likely to recruit staff from other government bodies and regulatory bodies (41% and 43% respectively). Only 8% of staff members join the regulator directly from university or college.

The age profile of staff within an organisation matters for current and future human resources management challenges. Relatively older workforces can bring in a wealth of experience for an organisation, but also make an organisation more vulnerable to the risk of retirement of a significant share of staff members. Younger workforces can bring in fresh perspectives and new ways of thinking, but also require an organisation to invest more in training and talent retention. A multigenerational workforce could provide opportunities to combine both, benefiting from the experience of long-serving staff while allowing the development of younger employees (OECD, 2021[2]).

On average 28% of staff at regulators is aged 50 years and over (Figure 2.2). However, this average hides rather strong differences between regulators. It also hides strong differences in the ageing of regulators’ staff across countries, in line with findings for the public sector more widely (OECD, 2021[3]). For 16 out of the 54 regulators with data on the age of its staff, the share of staff over the age of 50 years is above 35%, whereas for 13 regulators this share is below 20%. These differences highlight how human resource challenges may differ quite significantly across regulators. In particular, there may be need for increased attention on succession planning related to retiring staff members especially for regulators with a relatively older workforce (Box 2.1).

Across the sample of regulators, there appears to be a negative correlation between the age of staff and staff turnover. This is demonstrated in Figure 2.3 above, where it can be seen that regulators with a higher share of staff members below the age of 40 on average have a higher turnover rate, although this correlation does not hold for each individual regulator. This may suggest that measures for the retention of talent will be especially important for regulators with a relatively younger workforce, as on average they face a higher staff turnover rate.

The OECD Recommendation on Public Service Leadership and Capability and the Recommendation on Gender Equality in Public Life encourage countries to ensure gender diversity in the workforce (OECD, 2019[4]) (OECD, 2016[5]). Gender equality is an important dimension of a diverse workspace, which can boost performance through greater innovation and employee engagement (Nolan-Flecha, 2019[6]). Moreover, the pursuit of diversity could benefit public sector values such as fairness, transparency, impartiality and representativeness (OECD, 2009[7]).

Staff at regulators is on average made up of equal shares of male and female employees, but this gender balance differs across the different levels of staff. Overall, the share of female staff members is highest in the water sector (57%) and lowest in the e-communications sectors (46%). Female staff is particularly well-represented at the level of support staff, making up almost two thirds of total staff. On the other hand, women are underrepresented at higher levels of decision making: just 43% of senior management is female (Figure 2.4). A similar underrepresentation of women in senior management can be found more widely across central governments in OECD countries (OECD, 2021[2]).

The length of employment of staff can indicate the extent to which a regulatory body benefits from an experienced staff that has had time to build up expertise and sectoral knowledge. More than half of staff members have been employed at their regulator for at least five years, whereas 34% have worked at their regulator for over ten years. The length of employment is particularly high for staff at e-communications regulators (Figure 2.5). In line with this finding, the average staff turnover rate for e-communications regulators is with 8% somewhat lower than the overall average across sectors (10%).1 The turnover rate does not differ significantly between regulators that are required to follow central government remuneration policy and those that do not face such requirements. This suggests there is no direct correlation to be found between the requirement to follow government remuneration policy and the frequency of staff leaving the organisation.

Employment at regulators is characterised by a high level of job stability. While there are some differences between sectors in the presence of the different types of employment, regulators overwhelmingly hire staff through permanent contracts. This observation is valid for each of the four sectors. On average across regulators, roughly four in five staff members are employed through a permanent contract rather than a fixed term contract, and a large majority are hired as civil servants (Figure 2.6).2 The high level of job stability is not unique to economic regulators, but is present throughout the wider public administration (OECD, 2021[8]).

Many economic regulators cannot set salaries autonomously, but have to conform to the remuneration policy in place for central government. Nearly three in four regulators are required to follow government salary scales, although a small number of them are allowed to deviate from this policy on some elements. One in four regulators are not bound by the central government remuneration policy and can set their remuneration more autonomously. For example, Costa Rica’s Regulatory Authority of Public Services (Autoridad Reguladora de Servicios Públicos – ARESEP) sets its salaries based on a survey of salaries carried out by a consultancy. Mexico’s Federal Institute of Telecommunications (Instituto Federal de Telecomunicaciones – IFT) proposes its remuneration policy for approval to the Chamber of Deputies.

As discussed in the OECD Creating a Culture of Independence publication, the salary scales and progression that a regulator can offer its staff should take into account the fact that the sector they oversee employs staff with similar skills and the wider (non-financial) benefits to employment at the regulator (Box 2.2). This might sometimes mean a deviation from the public sector norm and a need for certain autonomy to adjust salary scales (OECD, 2017[1]). Especially in the energy and e-communications sectors, salaries tend to compare less favourably, and more than 60% of regulators report that their salaries are below those in the sector they oversee. This is less frequently the case for water and transport regulators, where only a minority reports salaries below market levels, and one in five even reports salaries above market levels (Figure 2.7).

The level of autonomy to set salaries can affect the ability of the regulator to offer salaries that are in line with market salaries, and potentially its ability to recruit staff. Sixty-one percent of regulators that are required to follow government remuneration policy report that salaries are below those in the sector they oversee. For regulators that are not required to follow central government remuneration, or can deviate on some elements, this share is lower (37% and 38% respectively). Moreover, regulators that are required to follow government remuneration policy (fully or to some degree) report more frequently that their remuneration policy is an issue in finding competent and skilled staff (Figure 2.8). Unsurprisingly, remuneration policy has not been an issue in finding competent and skilled staff for regulators where salaries are on average above those in the sector.

The OECD Recommendation on Public Service Leadership and Capability recommends the recruitment, selection and promotion of candidates through transparent, open and merit-based processes, to guarantee fair and equal treatment (OECD, 2019[4]). A transparent and unbiased appointment process can support a culture of independence within the organisation (OECD, 2016[9]). Almost all regulators recruit the majority of their staff members through an open process that includes the public advertisement of positions and an examination of candidates through a selection process. Many have autonomy to select new staff members following the recruitment process with no or limited interventions from external bodies, with only small differences between sectors (Figure 2.9).

Twenty-nine percent of regulators are required to obtain approval from an external body prior to the recruitment of staff, for example on the number of staff to recruit or the overall agency headcount, which could restrict their autonomy (Table 2.1). This requirement in itself does not directly reduce the regulator’s capacity and could ensure a match between the regulator’s staff number and its level of appropriated financial resources. However, without appropriate safeguards, it could potentially provide an opening for undue influence in the regulator’s operations if the hiring of staff is restricted below the level of staff that is required. As such, it could impact the effectiveness with which the regulator can execute its functions and deliver on its mandate.

In practice, many regulators do to some degree face difficulty in hiring well-qualified staff members for their organisation. Just 28% of regulators report that they are able to recruit a sufficient number of staff members with the right qualifications for all staff positions. Another 51% is able to recruit sufficient well-qualified staff for most positions, and 21% report they are not able to recruit a sufficient number of staff members. Difficulties to recruit well-qualified staff members seem to occur less frequently for multisector regulators, with only 15% of multisector regulators indicating their organisation is unable to recruit a sufficient number of staff members (compared to 27% of single sector regulators). Transport regulators most frequently report difficulties to recruit sufficient well-qualified staff members (Figure 2.10). Where regulators face difficulties recruiting staff members, regulators report relatively frequently a lack in terms of skills such as IT and data science, and less frequently for economists, lawyers, engineers or statisticians. These findings are in line with broader findings across the public sector in OECD countries (OECD, 2021[8]).

Some regulators report an impact of recent austerity measures on their ability to hire, remunerate or promote staff. One regulator reports a freezing of new recruitment due to a government policy to reduce public spending, which minimised the influx of new staff for the organisation for a period of eleven years. In another example, austerity policies halted career progressions for staff and created a requirement for the regulator to obtain approval on the recruitment of new staff, promotions and performance-based bonuses.

Given the strong reliance on knowledge and sector expertise in regulatory decision making, training and knowledge management are key elements of human resource management to ensure staff are sufficiently equipped with all the necessary information to do their job. Two aspects make this area increasingly important for many regulators. The first is the dynamic context of many utility sectors and an increasing reliance on data-driven regulatory tools, which requires regulators to constantly update their knowledge base and the skills within the organisation to keep up with the sector. The second aspect is the potential threat of retirements or talent leaving the organisation, which asks regulators to ensure knowledge remains within the organisation beyond the tenure of specific staff members.

To help staff members in their efforts to expand their skills set, regulators often put in place-dedicated programmes to support the training and development of staff (Box 2.3). Eighty-six percent of regulators provide their staff with financial support to obtain external qualifications, such as academic qualifications, professional qualifications or external training courses. The share of regulators providing financial support to obtain qualifications is highest in the e-communications sector (94%), and lowest in the water sector (76%) (Figure 2.11). When such support is available, this tends to be available for both technical and support staff members within the organisation.

The exchange of staff members between regulators and other bodies – both domestically and internationally – is another way to bring in fresh perspectives and new knowledge. Moreover, staff exchanges across regulatory bodies can provide for mutual learning and exchange of good practices. Staff exchanges take place slightly more frequently at the domestic level (44% of regulators). Most regulators exchanging staff domestically mention exchanges with other government bodies, although some also indicate staff exchanges with the regulated sector. International staff exchanges are used by 41% of the regulators (Figure 2.12). A number of European regulators mentioned the use of temporary assignments to EU organisations, for example as Seconded National Experts. Staff exchanges across regulators internationally also occur, although these appear less common.

As “market referees”, regulators are asked to be objective, impartial and free from undue influence. To support a culture of independence, many have procedures in place to prevent conflict of interest situations. All regulators that responded to the survey have at least some restrictions in place regarding the ownership of shares or financial instruments in the sector by staff members. Nearly half of all regulators prohibit staff to hold shares and financial instruments in the sector, whereas 51% allow such ownership provided conflict of interest rules are adhered to. For example, staff at Brazilian e-communications regulators ANATEL cannot invest in companies in the sector when they hold insider information. For some other regulators, ownership in companies in the sector should follow conflict of interest provisions specified in national anticorruption legislation. Prohibitions on holding shares and financial instruments are most common for water regulators (65%), and least common for energy regulators (38%) (Figure 2.13).

Conflict of interest policies for staff leaving the regulator can reduce potential undue influence and signal a clear distinction between the regulator and the sector they oversee. Most regulators restrict their leadership from accepting jobs in the sector or the government related to the sector, usually through a cooling-off period after their term (Casullo, Durand and Cavassini, 2019[10]). A wider application of some form of post-employment restrictions to all staff could prevent the risk of a “revolving door” between regulator and sector, although such restrictions should be modulated to the roles and responsibilities of staff and should be more limited for middle and junior staff members (OECD, 2017[1]). Especially for more junior staff, some back and forth between industry and regulator can sometimes be beneficial when it provides for exchanges of knowledge and skills (OECD, 2016[9]).

In practice, there is indeed a negative correlation between the existence of post-employment restrictions and the level of staff. Forty-eight percent of regulators have some form of post-employment restrictions in place for senior management (excl. board members and/or agency heads). Post-employment restrictions are less common for middle and junior level staff, with just 27% of regulators having such restrictions in place (Table 2.2). Overall, post-employment restrictions are present in 15 out of 31 countries that are included in the survey.

The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted economies and daily life worldwide, including the operations of network sectors. Many of these saw strong shifts in usage patterns, with large consequences for operators. In their efforts to support the continuity of essential service delivery, regulators took part in the formulation of emergency measures, and changed how they operated (OECD, 2020[12]). This affected how they took decisions, and engaged with stakeholders, but also their human resource arrangements.

Sanitary measures and restrictions on mobility and office-based work fundamentally changed how all economic and public actors had to deliver on their work. All regulators implemented teleworking arrangements to adjust to the new circumstances, and many inspections were suspended, minimised, or conducted remotely (OECD, 2020[12]). Eighty-four percent of regulators used a contingency or business continuity plan to guide the organisation’s operations during the COVID-19 pandemic. Twenty-four percent of regulators already had an adequate plan developed prior to the crisis that required only little change. However, a majority did not have such a plan prepared, and either had to develop a new plan or adjust existing plans to ensure the continuity of operations (Figure 2.14).

On average across regulators, the maximum share of staff working remotely at any point during the pandemic was 92%. This experience differed somewhat between regulators, depending on differences in sector contexts, sanitary requirements as well as the practical possibilities to move operations online. However, none of the regulators participating in the survey reported a maximum share of staff teleworking during the pandemic below 50% (Figure 2.15).

Apart from the logistical and IT challenges, regulators also reported an impact on the well-being of staff. The status quo in terms of the work-life balance shifted, and in many cases became more blurry, and the lack of in-person interaction made it more difficult to effectively develop and maintain interpersonal relationships with colleagues. Some regulators identified a risk to emotional and psychological well-being, which became areas of increased priority for the organisation requiring additional attention. Nearly all regulators confirmed the implementation of additional measures to support the well-being and safety of staff, such as additional communication, the provision of adequate personal protective equipment, or dedicated trainings and seminars on well-being.

Despite initial challenges to adjust to new ways of working, the crisis did also present an opportunity to facilitate or speed up a shift towards more flexible working arrangements. While ways of working are likely to continue to adapt in the future, bringing more staff back to the offices once circumstances allow, remote working has also proven its advantages. Three in five regulators indicated that they intend to increase their use of remote working even beyond the crisis, based on their experiences over the past years. Among e-communications regulators, the share planning to increase remote working on a permanent basis was highest, at 82%. For 30% of regulators this was yet to be decided upon at the time of the survey in early 2021, whereas only 8% indicated they had no such plans (Figure 2.16).

The choice of whether or not to establish a multisector regulator, rather than multiple industry-specific regulators, is a complex question that goes beyond the scope of the current study (Alexiadis and da Silva Pereira Neto, 2019[13]). Among the different advantages and disadvantages noted in studies on the matter, one is the benefit that the multisector model can facilitate learning and sharing of regulatory expertise across different industries (World Bank, 2000[14]). This rationale is based on the understanding that there are certain common features across regulated industries and that the sharing of insights and experiences across sectors would be easier within a single regulatory body (World Bank, 1997[15]).

The data collected through the survey enables an analysis of some elements specific to the resourcing arrangements of multisector regulators. The survey finds that where multisector regulators have technical departments dedicated to specific sectors, nearly all (91%) have some measures in place to promote knowledge sharing across the different departments. Slightly more than half (55%) also promote staff mobility between sector-specific departments (Figure 2.17). Apart from the benefits of knowledge sharing, some multisector regulators also noted the shared use of combined legal or economics teams across departments dedicated to specific sectors. It is important to note that the analysis does not assess the impact of these measures, or how their effectiveness compares to staff exchange mechanisms at the domestic or international level for the wider sample of regulators (see section on Training and career development).


[13] Alexiadis, P. and C. da Silva Pereira Neto (2019), “Competing Architectures for Regulatory and Competition Law Governance”, SSRN Electronic Journal, https://doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3911392.

[10] Casullo, L., A. Durand and F. Cavassini (2019), “The 2018 Indicators on the Governance of Sector Regulators - Part of the Product Market Regulation (PMR) Survey”, OECD Economics Department Working Papers, No. 1564, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/a0a28908-en.

[6] Nolan-Flecha, N. (2019), “Next generation diversity and inclusion policies in the public service: Ensuring public services reflect the societies they serve”, OECD Working Papers on Public Governance, No. 34, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/51691451-en.

[3] OECD (2021), Ageing and Talent Management in European Public Administrations, https://www.oecd.org/gov/pem/ageing-and-talent-management-in-european-public-administrations.pdf (accessed on 16 March 2022).

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[12] OECD (2020), “When the going gets tough, the tough get going: How economic regulators bolster the resilience of network industries in response to the COVID-19 crisis”, OECD Policy Responses to Coronavirus (COVID-19), OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/cd8915b1-en.

[4] OECD (2019), Recommendation of the Council on Public Service Leadership and Capability, OECD/LEGAL/0445, https://www.oecd.org/gov/pem/recommendation-on-public-service-leadership-and-capability.htm.

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[5] OECD (2016), 2015 OECD Recommendation of the Council on Gender Equality in Public Life, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/9789264252820-en.

[9] OECD (2016), Being an Independent Regulator, The Governance of Regulators, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/9789264255401-en.

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[14] World Bank (2000), Telecommunications Legislation in Transitional and Developing Countries, https://documents1.worldbank.org/curated/en/662951468764978428/pdf/multi-page.pdf (accessed on 29 January 2022).

[15] World Bank (1997), Utility Regulators—Roles and Responsibilities, https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/11571 (accessed on 29 January 2022).


← 1. The turnover rate for a given year can be calculated by dividing the number of employees that left the organisation during the given year by the average number of employees in the same year. Analysis is based on responses from 55 regulators.

← 2. For the purpose of the survey, civil servants are only those public employees employed under a specific public legal framework or other specific provisions.

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