One of the biggest shifts that the workplace has witnessed in the last 24 months, is the shift in power; from organisations to employees.
Employees are now starting to ask human questions about the work they perform. Why am I doing this? What is it for? How can we do it better? Many are choosing to leave their jobs and the competition to attract new talent is growing fiercer than ever.
For government organisations looking to grow and develop their team, it has become more important than ever to listen and understand what their current and prospective employees want from their workplace. In today’s blog, we look at the workplace trends that employees value and will prioritise in 2022 and beyond, when searching for new work or will value the most from their current employers. We also look at the ways organisations within the public sector can utilise these trends to ensure that they remain an employer of choice.
As countless survey results over the last eighteen months have told us, the majority of employees have enjoyed the added convenience and flexibility that working from home provides and aren’t looking to return to the office full-time. In a recent working from home report conducted by the Australian Productivity Commission, along with research from PwC Australia, three-quarters of Australians want a hybrid of home and work arrangements moving forward (Coade, 2021). More specifically, in a separate survey conducted within the Australian Public Sector, the majority of public servants preferred working from home at least three days a week (Coade, 2021). These stats are reflected in one of the latest HR trends; hybrid working. As Australia continues to open up and the country learns to live alongside COVID-19, organisations must determine how best to return to the physical office or even if they do at all. Because so many employees have realised the benefits working from home provides, organisations have started to develop their own hybrid policy; which empowers people to choose where (and when) they work and usually results in workers dividing their time between the home and office, based on both their and their team’s preferences and needs (Pratt, 2021).
Recommendations for Public Sector Organisations:
For organisations within the public sector, appealing to their current and prospective employers will require them to focus on their workplace flexibility policies. Traditionally the public sector hasn’t always been flexible with its working-from-home offering, partly because of the sensitive information many agencies have to deal with, partly because of the essential services they offer and partly because of the legacy systems many organisations had in place. Even now, the reality of what is possible and what working arrangements are available to those working within government depends on the nature of work and the industry they work in. For example, someone working for the National Parks and Wildfire Service might be required to work onsite more than someone working in the Australian Tax Office. However, lockdown restrictions in many states across Australia over the last eighteen months has proved that many departments could function remotely, and organisations need to carefully consider how they can continue facilitating this for employees moving forward. For many organisations, the challenge will lie in the actual management and administration of employees’ flexible working schedules as different employees will require different levels of flexibility. Organisations need to also consider how they can effectively cater to the needs of their employees while also adhering to the needs of the organisation and ensuring it can still achieve its desired outcomes. Balancing both the needs of the organisation with the needs of employees will require government organisations to conduct individual negotiations on a wider scale to determine what conditions around work-life balance will make them feel like they’re performing at their best.
In order to shift to a permanent hybrid model, departments and teams will also have to carefully consider what tasks can be performed at home, as opposed to what jobs overall can be performed at home. For example, teams can start to segment the tasks that comprise their jobs or overall outcomes, to help separate the things that can be done remotely (data entry for example) with things that can’t (first aid training) (Corby, 2021). This can help with then implementing a clear work from home plan that can meet the needs of all stakeholders – especially employees.
In a recent survey Public Sector People conducted within our own network of public sector professionals, the majority (41%) of respondents said that the biggest priority when looking for new jobs was professional development opportunities. Similarly, a PWC Australia study showed that millennials ranked learning and development as the number one benefit an employer could offer. These statistics go hand-in-hand with the rapidly changing workforce and the technological advancements that are changing the responsibilities and skills required for many roles. Employees are wanting to upskill so that they can continue to be on the front foot within their industry and continue to grow or develop their career, rather than becoming obsolete. This is especially relevant within the Australian public sector, which is currently undergoing its own digital transformation. Consequently, organisations that value the development of their employees and support their career growth within the organisation, are going to not only have a higher ratio of engaged and satisfied employees but have a better chance of attracting new talent.
Recommendations for Public Sector Organisations:
To cater to employees’ professional development needs, organisations can provide each employee with a learning and development plan. During an employee's onboarding or their regular review sessions, have team leaders/managers ask them about their career goals and what they want to achieve over the next year or two. Having this intel will then allow team leaders and managers to customise the organisation’s learning and development strategy to best suit the individual’s learning needs and know the types of internal opportunities that would be of most interest to the employee. Furthermore, it’s important to actively promote internal opportunities and ensure employees feel encouraged and supported in applying for these roles. Employees are hungry for the vote of confidence from their employer and doing this demonstrates how much the organisation values their skills and expertise.
There is also a common misconception that learning & development is an expensive initiative for organisations however, there are many cost-effective methods an organisation can use, such as peer coaching and mentoring, which relies on government agencies’ own talent to showcase their particular skill set or expertise with the greater team. Different departments can also hold weekly sessions, in which a team member who has expertise in one area, can share this knowledge with their colleagues and encourage peer-based learning.
According to the 2021 Australian Public Sector employee census, the majority of respondents found that the biggest motivation for working within the public sector was serving the Australian public. According to the census, it was important for the APS workforce (82%) to share the same values and beliefs as their workplace and feel like they had their hand in making a difference within their community. This taps into the rising trend (especially in younger generations) of corporate social responsibility that society has come to expect from organisations. Employees want to work for organisations that value the same things that they do; and this doesn’t just relate to social issues like sustainability, aligning with ethically responsible stakeholders, engaging in community projects – but also the organisation’s own culture. Employees want to know whether prospective employers support diversity and inclusivity within their workforce or that they actively celebrate and recognise the value their employees provide. Organisational culture has become so popular in recent years that it’s overtaken salary as one of the leading drivers to leave or start at a new organisation. Recent Linkedin studies have shown that employees actively looking for work would rather take a lower paycheck than work for an organisation with a toxic workplace culture (Mcqueen, 2018).
Recommendations for Public Sector Organisations:
Because social purpose is such an important driver for public sector employees, government agencies should try and ensure all of their communication (internal and external) connects the purpose of the agency with the work that each and every staff member does. For example, highlighting some of the key community projects the agency is working on or have completed on their website and careers portal. Even if the final beneficiary of the work is at a distance from the work being done, it is really important that employees working within government are making a difference and improving the community; it’s a key reason why they have chosen to work within the public sector. Being able to remind and demonstrate prospective employers of this and the impact their organisation and their employees have on the community will be imperative in government agencies quest to find new talent.
Establishing and effectively communicating an organisation’s Employee Value Proposition (EVP) – the ecosystem of support, recognition and values that an organisation offers its employees –will also play a big role in demonstrating social purpose as well as an agency's organisational culture. When communicated well, an organisation’s EVP should effectively answer the question ‘why should I work for this organisation?’ With so many employees searching for an organisation that best aligns with their own values, having an effective EVP in place gives a clear picture to prospective talent and current employees on what the organisation stands for, they can easily determine if their own values and beliefs will match up with the EVP of the organisation.
For local council or government agencies to effectively communicate their EVP, they need to firstly, highlight the organisation’s key values through their networks as a way to introduce potential candidates to the organisation. This means looking at the key channels potential candidates would initially interact with; your organisation’s website, your social media and your job advertisements. Do these touchpoints reflect your values and mission? For example, does your website have a clearly defined and visible mission statement, so visitors can understand the purpose of the organisation? Do you have employee testimonials that speak to what it's like working for local government or the council itself or even documentation on training options and career progression that’s easily accessible to potential candidates?
The pandemic has become a catalyst for employees' growing desire for workplace wellbeing. Over the last eighteen months and the multiple lockdowns employees have experienced, the line between work and home has blurred. Furthermore those working within the public sector - especially those working in essential services - have faced an increased amount of work as the government rolled out policies to support the wider community during the pandemic, like the COVID-19 vaccines, jobsaver payments, small business grant schemes etc. The increased amount of work and stress paired with the mental load of being separated from family, friends and colleagues has caused many employees to feel burnt-out and realise the importance of work-life balance and overall wellbeing. Consequently, as we move into 2022 and beyond, employees want to see the organisations they work for, prioritise the mental, physical and emotional wellbeing of their employees. According to Linkedin's latest Global Talent Trends report, in 2022 employees value strategies that support employees' mental and physical health and ensure they have the time to recharge. They've found that if employees feel cared for at work, they are 3.7 times more likely to recommend working for the organisation  (Linkedin, 2022).
Recommendations for Public Sector Organisations:
While traditionally, the public sector has always had a strong reputation for maintaining a good work-life balance, there are still further policies and initiatives government agencies can take part in to attract new talent in 2022 - especially in regards to mental health. In the early 00’s many organisations weren’t fully aware of how prevalent mental health problems within the workplace were. A research paper published in 2008 claimed that “despite one in five Australians experiencing mental health problems each year, nearly half of all senior managers believe none of their workers will experience a mental health problem at work” (Chant et. al, 2008). However, as time has gone on more and more studies on the subject have revealed the direct correlation positive mental health and wellbeing has to an individual employee’s performance and productivity. For organisations within the public sector, developing initiatives to support their employee's mental health and educate them on why mental health is important, will go a long way in attracting new talent. Things like offering and promoting counselling and support programs to all employees, or developing a comprehensive and accessible range of resources like webinars and booklets for those experiencing heightened anxiety or stress will demonstrate to current and prospective employees that the organisation values the overall wellbeing of their workers and fosters a supportive workplace culture.
 Coade, M. (2021). APS ‘future of work’ Trends Call For Extra Middle Management Training. The Mandarin. Retrieved from: https://www.themandarin.com.au/173384-aps-future-of-work-trends-call-for-extra-middle-management-training/
 McQueen. (2018). Workplace Culture Trends: The Key To Hiring (and Keeping) Top Talent in 2018. Linkedin Talent Blog. Retrieved from: https://blog.linkedin.com/2018/june/26/workplace-culture-trends-the-key-to-hiring-and-keeping-top-talent
 Paltos, J. (2020). Why an EVP Is The Secret To Attracting Top Talent. Seek Employer. Retrieved from: https://www.seek.com.au/employer/hiring-advice/why-an-evp-is-the-secret-to-attracting-top-talent
 Linkedin. (2022). The Reinvention of Company Culture. Linkedin Talent Solutions. Retrieved from: https://business.linkedin.com/talent-solutions/global-talent-trends
 Chant, Cleary, Hilton, Kessler, Sheridan, Wang & Whiteford. (2008). The Prevalence of Psychological Distress in Employees and Associated Occupational Risk Factors.J Occup Environ Med. 2008 Jul;50(7):746-57. doi: 10.1097/JOM.0b013e31817e9171. PMID: 18617830. Retrieved from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18617830/