The public sector needs to maintain flexibility in the working environment, such as that which became familiar to public servants during the coronavirus, to compete for talent, according to Peter Woolcott, the Australian Public Service commissioner.
Woolcott said during an interview to launch the annual State of the Service report that flexible working environments are emerging in the private sector and that government departments need to consider what that means for attracting and retaining talent.
“COVID has had a dramatic accelerating effect on the sort of way that we, the way we work. We’ve always been, for example, flexible, and that’s been one of our sort of hallmarks as an employer, that we have that flexibility, and we look to balance work and lifestyle,” Woolcott said.
“And what we are now seeing is that as a consequence of COVID, the private sector is moving very quickly in these directions, too, and we have to stay competitive.”
Woolcott said that the thinking behind flexible work and location is no longer related to the coronavirus pandemic. Still, it is related to how the public service ends up being seen as an “attractive model employer”.
He said a future work sub-committee was set up within the board of secretaries that looks at how the public service attracts and retains talent.
Another issue Woolcott highlights as being important during his discussion with Dr Nicole Steele, assistant commissioner of the Workforce Insights Group, is the integrity within the public service.
He said that the focus has been on institutional integrity or stewardship of the system based partly on the notion of ensuring that public servants leave an organisation in a better position than when they started.
“But it’s also about just fundamental honesty, fundamental transparency. And we’ve rolled out, for example, mandatory training for new starters on integrity in the Australian Public Service,” Woolcott said.
“We have rolled out some master classes on integrity for senior executive service officers. We have issued a whole range of new directions around performance management, around consultation on code of conduct matters if they involve SES officers.”
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