Agencies without hybrid work a deal breaker for many public servants, survey shows

By Jackson Graham

February 3, 2022

Almost half of public servants want a hybrid work structure. (Image: Adobe/NicoElNino)

Almost half of public servants would consider leaving their agency or working in a different sector if their employer does not offer flexible working conditions, according to a new survey. 

The survey of about 5000 public servants last year was undertaken by the UNSW Canberra’s public service research group in cooperation with the Community and Public Sector Union. 

UNSW associate professor Sue Williamson told The Mandarin the findings showed 45% of public servants would switch jobs or leave the public service without the opportunity to work from home. 

“The ‘great resignation’ may never happen in Australia; but it’s worthwhile agencies knowing that 45% of our respondents said if they can’t work from home they would think about going to an agency where they can,” she said. 

Williamson is due to launch the research at an online event this month alongside CPSU national secretary Melissa Donnelly and former public servant now consultant David Schmidtchen. 

The research also shows fewer than 10% of APS employees want to spend all their working hours in the workplace, with most preferring to work hybridly. 

“The majority of employees want to spend two days a week working from home,” Williamson said. 

“The next favourite is three days a week but there’s also a good number of employees who want to work from home either 80% of the working week or all of the time.”

With many public servants currently following recommendations to work from home, researchers are turning their attention to how flexibility is best implemented. 

Half of all respondents to the research said their agency had a cap on days employees could work from home, usually being a maximum of two days. 

“A minority of managers said to us that they don’t mind if their employees or team works more than two days a week, or that employees can decide for themselves,” Williamson said. 

The research confirmed findings reported in the Australian Public Service Commission’s state of the service report that many public servants were fatigued by the pandemic. 

“We think that once the pandemic starts to recede, if it ever happens, and employees can work hybridly, they’ll be able to manage it much more effectively than they can at the moment when they’re finding it just so exhausting,” Williamson said. 

Public servants also reported it was difficult to stay aware of what was happening in their agency and communication was a key priority for hybrid workforces.  

“Employees have gotten very good at having catch-ups, and having coffees over Zoom in on the rest of it, but you can’t really be incidental,” Williamson said. “

“We also found that in 2020 people were not as comfortable with online meetings, and now the vast majority of people are. But they’re also saying that it’s more difficult to keep abreast of what’s going on in their agency.” 

The research will be discussed alongside tips for agencies managing employees at an online event ‘Working During the Pandemic: The Future of Work is Hybrid’ on February 15. More information is online.


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