Taming personal leave: how true is the ‘culture of entitlement’?


Mike Blake

What’s the best way to manage rising absenteeism: get tough, or cultivate an environment that staff love to work in? Lots of public sector leaders would lean towards the first option, but they might get better results from the second.

Some look at rising public sector absenteeism and see wasteful malingering being allowed to grow through overly lenient management and the potential to achieve big savings by re-asserting stricter expectations. Others think that’s an illusion based on a rose-tinted view of times past, which does more harm than good to the pursuit of high performance and greater productivity in a contemporary workplace.

Of course it’s not quite as simple as a choice between carrot and stick, and rates of absence vary between different teams and individuals due to a variety of interlocking factors. Opinions are also divided on whether absenteeism is even as big an issue as statistics can make it seem.

At Commonwealth level, Australian Public Service commissioner John Lloyd and the relevant minister, Eric Abetz, have both suggested APS personal leave entitlements are perhaps too generous compared to the private sector, and that leave claims need to be scrutinised more closely by managers.

Since well before Lloyd’s time, APS executives have felt there is a culture of entitlement among many public servants¬†— especially those nearing retirement — and lax oversight from managers, who fear being accused of bullying. His predecessor Stephen Sedgwick said the rising amount of personal leave being taken was “unexplained” and seemed like an “intractable” problem.

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  • CM58

    Seriously the ATO was looking at absenteeism (as it should always) back in the mid 90s – the two most popular days for single day absences – yep, Mondays and Fridays. It depends more than just the manager/staff relationship, for many back in the 90s (at least) it was the mind-numbing processing work many staff did.
    Perhaps one way of reducing older-age workers’ personal leave would be to pay out a proportion, say 30% on resignation/retirement. It might increase the use of rec leave for those “I need a day off” days rather than sick leave and therefore provide better data.

  • Freddo

    True CM58, at my workplace, 40% of sick days are either on a Monday or Friday.