Movers & shakers: job sharing at the senior levels of the public sector

By Harley Dennett

Friday December 7, 2018

Formal job sharing for public sector senior executives does happen. Just not very often. The structure it can takes, and how permanent it can be is evolving beyond the straightforward cases.

Four out of every five Commonwealth agencies claim to offer job share arrangements, according to the latest agency survey conducted by the Australian Public Service Commission. But the cases at senior executive level are vanishingly few.

There’s no shortage of women with accounts of being told it going part-time just wouldn’t work as an executive, with the work that agency does, or their ministerial or public facing duties. That’s lazy thinking says ACT head of service Kathy Leigh.

Job sharing is one option, Leigh told the IPAA ACT’s fourth Women in Leadership series event last week, but you can also divide up the job:

“If you’re at the SES level, there are strategic roles where you don’t need to be there every day. Then there might be the more day-to-day responsibilities, you can allocate, you can give somebody a part performance promotion role and give them the five-days-a-week including when the person who’s part-time is present. Give them a five-days-a-week role in managing those day-to-day things and give the person who’s part-time the strategic responsibilities that can wait till the next week.”

Back when Leigh was in the federal Attorney General’s Department as a division head, she poached a promising branch head to come work for her by offering to make a role part-time. That branch head was Renée Leon, who would later go on to become the secretary of the Department of Employment and now the Department of Human Services. Leon now offers her SES the opportunity to work part-time and have someone act up for the days they’re not in:

“It’s a development opportunity for them plus they’re not trying to do five days’ work in three days.

“I guess the proof of the pudding is I did still end up becoming a secretary, but there certainly were many days where I went, well, I’ve hit the glass ceiling and I’m never going to get promoted ever again, because this is so hard to make it work. I think we just have to make it much easier to make it work. We have to have not that kind of, ‘It can’t be done in management jobs because you need to be, can’t be there in minister facing jobs, can’t be there in public facing jobs.’ We just have to make it work and every job will have a different thing that will make it work.”

ABS breaks another barrier

Temporary, acting and higher duties is how split-level job share has been generally handled. There’s nothing in the federal public service legislation however that prevents those higher duties becoming a permanent part-time appointment while simultaneously retaining their prior level part-time. How true that was, however, was tested recently.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics sought to turn one such case from an acting arrangement into permanent one, and in doing so promote one of their directors into the senior executive service for two days per week while keeping his current director role for three days per week, and allow an existing branch head to go permanent part-time in the same job.

For many months Nicholas Stathis had been acting as the part-time branch head of Communication and Parliamentary for two days a week that he job shares with existing branch head Michelle Howe, while also keeping his director role of ABS’s Parliamentary and Partnerships team for three days a week.

It took a while, but the APSC has now processed the formal promotion, making it what is believed to be the first case (or at least in the first batch) of a formal promotion into a permanent part-time role at SES level of the Australian Public Service, while simultaneously retaining their prior level part-time.

Their boss, Sam Palmer, the general manager of the People, Capability and Communication division said this arrangement has proven a success for the ABS, the team and the staff on a range of fronts:

“It’s a fantastic arrangement because it enabled us to retain our high performing original appointee, Michelle, as she moved to permanent part time, while also retaining another talented officer, Nick, permanently in the Branch Head job part-time while keeping his Director role.

“It shows assumptions about job sharing can be busted and shouldn’t be a barrier to retaining and promoting great staff.”

David Kalisch, Australian Statistician said it was yet another example of the ABS breaking barriers to benefit equality and flexibility for all staff, including the SES.

Do you job share? We’re looking for examples of where it is working well, and how it was made to work for all parties. My contact details are available here.

In other appointments and promotions news this week…


Michael Harris, a former head of the ACT public service, is returning to the capital from Tasmania to begin a seven-year term as the territory’s new auditor-general.

He starts on February 8. The ACT Audit Office’s chief financial officer Ajay Sharma has been acting in the statutory position since Maxine Cooper finished her seven years on August 7.

Harris has chaired the board of Metro Tasmania since 2013 and, more recently, an independent review of the island state’s Fire Service Act. He was the ACT’s top treasury official during 2002 and 2003, and head of the Chief Minister’s Department from 2003 to 2009.

Speaker of the Legislative Assembly Joy Burch said he brought “a wealth of experience in private and public sector” roles to the key oversight position.

New Zealand

This week, New Zealand State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes announced the five-year appointment of diplomat Bernadette Cavanagh as chief executive of the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, effective from February 1, while Debbie Power takes the reigns of the Ministry of Social Development on February 4.


Minister for the Environment and Energy Melissa Price has announced the appointment of Kim Ellis as director of her department’s Antarctic Division and wished outgoing director Nick Gales well in his retirement from the public service.

Ellis starts early next year, leaving his current role as executive director of the Botanic Gardens and Centennial Parklands in Sydney. He was previously chief executive of the Bankstown and Camden Airports company and began his logistics career in the Army, where he gained experience providing support to researchers on the frozen continent before transferring to civilian life in 1997.

His predecessor Gales was from a science background and worked his way up the ranks of the Australian Antarctic Division over several decades.

Industrial relations

The Western Australian branch of the main public sector union got a new secretary last week with Rikki Hendon moving up from assistant secretary.

Former boss of the CPSU/CSA, Toni Walkington, has been appointed to the WA Industrial Relations Commission after 30 years at the union.

Nicholas Lake, executive director of human resources for the Queensland Department of Health’s Sunshine Hospital and Health Service was one of the six new deputy commissioner appointees to the Fair Work Commission announced today. He’s the only one the six appointees with executive-branch public sector experience.

See last week’s movers and shakers update here.

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