Evolving the APS employment offer: flexible, free-range

By Stephen Easton

February 3, 2017

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is moving ahead with an “if not, why not?” approach to flexible working arrangements foreshadowed in a speech by Minister Michaelia Cash almost a year ago.

The new departmental policy that was published internally this week makes flexible work the norm for all staff, with or without dependents to care for, according to the Australian Public Service Commission’s latest news update. DFAT was encouraged to make its jobs flexible by default — a policy Cash said would apply wherever possible in the APS when she addressed the Press Club last March — after a successful trial:

“Staff who took part in the earlier trial said they felt more satisfied, motivated, valued and productive at work than non-flexible workers. Managers are encouraged to adopt a team approach, leading ongoing team discussions about making the workplace flexible while still being committed to performance. It’s all about reciprocity, trust and communication which builds the culture of successful flexible work arrangements.”

The department will be trying to see how the policy affects career progression and how popular flexible work is with male employees through future staff surveys, and has arranged workshops for managers on leading teams that are both flexible and high performing.

The APSC also brings word of its competition to re-brand the whole APS, the winner of which will be announced on March 1. Over 700 entries have already been whittled down to a shortlist of 32.

Judging is shared by Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet head Martin Parkinson and Public Service Commissioner John Lloyd, along with private sector experts Holly Ransom and Irina Haywood, who will be guided by focus groups over coming weeks.

And from April, staff in six agencies will get the chance to join a new mobile workforce that moves around the APS to work on “high priority” projects through an initial trial of Operation Free Range.

There will be a limited number of positions in the first clutch of free range public servants, who will come from PM&C, Finance, the Bureau of Statistics, Health, Defence and the Australian Communications and Media Authority:

“Selected employees will undertake placements in the other agencies, getting an opportunity to try new things and take on new challenges without leaving the APS. Agencies will be able to meet business needs, and get the benefit of new skills and ideas, without additional recruitment …

“The outcomes of the trial will help us understand the barriers to mobility across the APS, inform a roadmap to improve mobility and prepare us for the future.”

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