1. Strategic mobility in the public service

Mobility of staff is a key elements of public service flexibility – being able to move the right people with the rights skills into the right roles to meet the demands of the moment, and to be well prepared for the demands of the future. Mobility has the potential to enhance public service flexibility in various ways. Crucially, it allows public organisations to adapt as strategic priorities change, ensuring governments remain responsive to emerging policy challenges and changing user needs. The COVID-19 pandemic illustrated how mobility is essential in emergency situations, to allows for the shifting of specific competencies and skills to where they are needed most. The COVID-19 pandemic provided an opportunity to test the public services’ mobility regimes in times of crisis, and saw many countries developing new tools and strategies to quickly redeploy employees from their status quo roles into crisis management structures. It saw many organisations redeploying people from client-facing service delivery roles (many of which were closed during the pandemic due to health-related concerns) into digital delivery roles that were safer and thereby experienced a huge surge in demand. This type of mobility helped to ensure the public service was able to respond to fast changing circumstances when it was required the most.

Mobility is not only essential for emergency situations but also as part of the every-day framework for people management in governments. For example, greater mobility can facilitate multidisciplinary approaches to address complex issues, and permit the pooling of scarce resources and competencies from across government. In this way, lateral job mobility has the potential to break through policy silos, with people, skills, and competencies traveling through the public sector. This type of mobility also allows for the cross-fertilisation of ideas and approaches across public sector organisations and for the transfer of good practices. Mobility can also help promote greater inclusion and diversity of thought in organisations, by encouraging the exchange of knowledge and perspectives in policy design and implementation.

Mobility is particularly important in governments where public servants tend to be hired on long-term, open ended contracts and remain in the public service for most of their careers. In this context, external mobility (e.g. between the public service and private firms) tends to be limited, and internal mobility becomes even more important – a central element of a talent management approach to make the best use of the workforce.

Mobility can help attract and retain public servants. The traditional model of a linear career path within a single organisation, field or profession is no longer as common, nor desired, for many current and potential public servants. Many young job-seekers with key skills claim to want a varied career, and the public service could be ideally positioned to provide it. Indeed no other employer can offer as many interesting opportunities while also offering job security. In this way, getting mobility right can help to attract and retain high performing and high potential employees, by providing them a variety of exciting professional challenges over the course of a varied and eventful career.

Mobility can also develop employees and their skills and capabilities. Mobility allows administrations to build and develop key skillsets in-house, by allowing for more varied and flexible career paths for civil servants. In this way, mobility is a powerful tool for talent management, to develop skilled and effective staff by giving employees career development opportunities that expose them to different areas or government functioning. For example, to advance from policy officer to manager, some public services expect employees to spend time in central agencies, to better understand the internal functioning of government systems.

In all of these ways, mobility acts as a driver of productivity by ensuring alignment between skills supply and demand. Given this, internal mobility becomes an essential tool to ensure that governments can make the best use of the large talent pool they have, and that talent is being given opportunities to develop new skills and keep up with global changes. The 2021 PEM report on the future of the public service, evoked the idea of working from anywhere, for anyone, at any time – a future pool of human resources from which any public service organisation can draw, depending on the project at hand and the needs of the moment.

To harness these various benefits, the OECD Recommendation on Public Service Leadership and Capability calls on countries to set, “the necessary conditions for internal and external workforce mobility and adaptability to match skills with demand, in particular through:

This chapter explores how countries are developing more flexible public service through mobility, and addressing the points in the PSLC recommendation.

Mobility is not an end in itself, but should be pursued to achieve specific benefits, which need to be carefully managed. The movement of people will always entail some short-term cost, as someone is usually leaving a job that they know how to do, to take on a new role that they must learn. When not well managed and taken to extremes, mobility becomes excessive employee churn or turnover which has the potential to cause adverse impacts for individuals and organisations. For example, shifting people around too often can cause big disruptions in project implementation and the loss of institutional knowledge and know-how. Moving leadership too quickly can contribute to changing programme or project tactics mid-way, and a lack of ownership and accountability for institutional problems, often seen as belonging to the last manager to hold that post, and not giving new managers time to really see change implemented (cultural change takes time!). Sometimes mobility can even open doors for conflict of interest and undue influence in government activities – particularly when there are high levels of rotation between the public and private sectors and/or between administrative and political roles.

Well-balanced, strategic mobility therefore relies on adequate oversight and managerial processes in place that encourage mobility while mitigating risks, as illustrated in Table ‎1.1. This can be achieved through the use of the following tools and policies:

  • Common framework conditions - common HR management frameworks across organisations within the civil service can help to ensure that mobility is possible and that participants avoid structural barriers when trying to undertake mobility. These can include common job classifications and pay schemes so that employees have the right incentives for mobility. It should also include clear conflict of interest regulations and oversight to prevent and mitigate undue influence (such as “cooling off periods”, identification of at-risk positions, disclosure of assets and liabilities).

  • Goals and intent – mobility is not of value in and of itself, but rather a way of building organisational flexibility and developing talent. Different approaches to mobility may have different objectives, and a strategic approach should be clear on what objectives organisations wish to achieve through mobility practices. This may include specific time frames and/or targets for workforce mobility.

  • Mobility mechanisms – achieving strategic goals requires mechanisms that fit them. Most countries have a range of tools and policies that can support different kinds of employee mobility, but deploying them to their full potential remains a common challenge.

  • Incentives and mobility culture – the biggest barrier to mobility is often cultural. Rewarding mobility among employees and their managers is key to generating a strategic approach to mobility. Managers should be equipped with tools, knowledge and incentives to effectively support mobility of their staff. For example, performance evaluations and promotion criteria should value mobility.

  • Support tools – mobility is, by definition, disruptive to the status quo, but there are tools to minimise negative disruptions. These may include succession planning so that managers can anticipate and better prepare for transferring knowledge and re-arranging work so as to minimise disruptions, and onboarding, shadowing or training.

  • Data to monitor and evaluate mobility. Turn-over and retention data are not often collected by public sector organisations, limiting their ability to monitor the extent to which strategic mobility is being carried out. Some countries rather defer to employee surveys to gauge perceptions of mobility opportunities and their value to career development and the organisation, however these are generally the exception rather than the rule.

The following discussion l explores each of these in turn, presenting new data from the survey on Public Service Leadership and Capability.

The public service is generally among the largest employers in any given country, and therefore the potential for leveraging strategic mobility is very large. However this potential can sometimes be hindered by structural barriers if, for example, organisations lack common employment frameworks across the administration/public sector. In the large majority of countries, public servants are contractually employed by their individual ministry or agency. In only 20% of OECD countries public servants work for the public service as a whole. These include Switzerland, Costa Rica, Israel, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Slovenia. In some countries there is a mix, as in Spain where civil servants employed in a “general corps” are employed centrally while those which make up the “special corps” with specific function (for instance, Labour or Finance Inspectors, State Engineers, Architects, Traffic Technicians, Diplomats…) are employed directly by a ministry or agency. In Canada, civil servants who work in the core ministries and agencies are employed by one single employer, while those in more specialised agencies are employed directly by them. In the case of both countries, they remain civil servants regardless.

In theory having one employer could remove administrative barriers to mobility, since mobility across ministries would not imply a legal change of employer. In Spain, for example, both the general and special corps are made up of state civil servants, with the same regime of rights and duties, however their status may affect mobility among ministries since some corps may have positions reserved only for them in the corresponding ministries. In New Zealand and Korea, only the senior civil servants are hired and employed centrally, in part because these countries expect senior civil servants to be more mobile and ready to serve where and when needed.

A second, and likely more important framework condition for mobility is having common job classification systems, so that public servants in a certain function can understand what an equivalent job would be in another ministry or agency. The large majority of OECD countries have this in place. Portugal, for example, recently undertook a significant reform that merged thousands of individual “careers”, each with their own salary and job classification and many of which were specific to agencies and ministries, into three transversal careers. In Italy, classifications are standardised through law and collective agreements. Only nine countries do not have a common job classification system.

When it comes to employment terms and conditions (e.g. compensation, term length, job security, rights and obligations), almost all OECD countries ensure an even higher level of standardisation. This is important as it helps to ensure that portability of employment terms and conditions, and should help to reduce the internal competition for labour. However on this point, without standardised job classifications, wages can still vary from ministry to ministry.

With the basic structural framework to facilitate mobility (common job descriptions and terms and conditions) most public services in OECD countries also have some kind of mobility policy or guidelines in place – although these often take the shape of enabling legislation rather than a fully fleshed out strategy with specific goals and objectives. In fact, only a minority of OECD countries actively promote mobility as a stated objective or priority of the public service (11 countries promote internal mobility and 7 countries promote external mobility). These findings suggest great opportunity for OECD countries to think through the benefits of mobility and how best to harness them in their public services.

Australia is an exception, where the Public Service has developed a very thorough mobility framework that includes an articulated set of objectives (to address surges in demand, to solve complex problems, and to develop employees), with aligned initiatives, guidance for employees, managers, executives and HR practitioners, a surge reservice, and associated targets and metrics. In Canada, various policies around people management and executive leadership contain elements that enable mobility and target towards specific ends, whether for leadership development, emergency response or even short-term exchanges (e.g. seconding private sector employees into the public service). Ireland has a central mobility policy in place for generalist grades from junior to management levels, as well as a central policy with regard to Assistant Secretary level positions. When a post becomes vacant at Assistant Secretary level, it must be considered to be filled via mobility in the first instance. In Korea, various laws including the State Public Officials Act and the Decree on the Appointment of Public Officials provide the principles and criteria for horizontal mobility (i.e. job transfer) and vertical mobility (promotion).

The most common stated objectives of the mobility strategies and policies in place in OECD countries relate to employee development, and to the better allocation and use of specific expertise/skills in short supply in the public service. This shows that OECD countries are taking both an employee and organisational approach to mobility. Developing a more responsive and adaptive workforce, and reinforcing collaboration across ministries and agencies are also significant objectives of mobility strategies and policies. The least common objectives related to efficiency and, surprisingly, increasing innovation. This last point raises the questions as to whether mobility policies and strategies are missing an opportunity to leverage this tool in the context of public sector innovation – by bringing more diversity to the public policy and service design process, and sharing scarce innovation related skill sets.

Another way to approach this question of goals and intent is the degree that internal lateral mobility (moving jobs within the public service at the same level of hierarchy) is expected in different positions. In most OECD countries, mobility is possible but not mandatory nor even recommended for most public servants. The picture changes for senior level public servants, where mobility is seen as more important, although only 5 OECD countries make such mobility mandatory or expected at senior levels – this includes the Netherlands, Spain, Japan, Costa Rica and Canada. In 13 additional countries, mobility is recommended for this group. Mobility is mandatory for most public servants in only 3 OECD countries (Costa Rica, Japan, and Austria, where mobility in the form of job rotation is used for onboarding of most new civil servants), and is recommended in 10 more.

One aspect of the policy framework that does not often figure is the specific amount of mobility desired. Many countries have objectives to increase or reduce the amount of mobility in their public service, however there are few countries with specific targets or with an assessment of the ideal amount. In fact, the average length of tenure1 in a position is only tracked by 17 OECD countries and appears to vary considerably. In Germany it appears that employee move positions after 2-5 years. In Canada, average length of tenure is around 5 years. In Australia it’s about 13 years. In Israel it’s about 11 years. In Mexico it’s 13.5 years. In New Zealand, more than half of Public Service staff have been in their current role for three years or less, with nearly three in ten are in their role for less than a year. Around three in ten public servants have been in the same role for more than five years.

Implementing a strategic approach to mobility requires a range of well-designed and complementary mobility mechanisms for public servants. The survey identifies a number of different kinds of mobility mechanisms. The first group are those used to offer temporary mobility opportunities to staff, ranging from micro assignments whereby a public servant works with another unit part time while maintaining their primary role for the rest of the time, to longer-term secondments, exchanges and rotation programmes. The second group of mechanisms are those that ensure mobility throughout one’s career through career planning and internal staffing regimes. Another set of mechanisms looks at mobility to manage surges in demand, whether foreseen or in reaction to emergency situations.

The large majority of OECD countries regularly use micro-assignments (working for another team/unit part time), short term assignments (less than a year full time) and longer term secondments. However only a minority of countries make use of exchange (15) or rotation programmes (10). The countries that appear to have access to the widest range of mobility mechanisms2 include Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Costa Rica, Iceland, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, Türkiye and the United Kingdom.

Different mobility mechanisms tend to be used for different purposes. For example, when looking at mobility within an institution, micro-assignments are the most used, followed by short term assignment. When rotation programmes are used, they tend to also be focused within entities, rather than across them. Conversely, mobility between entities tends to require longer-term mechanisms, with far more countries using short and longer-term secondments rather than micro-assignments.

Fewer OECD countries use mechanisms to generate mobility outside the public service. One interesting finding is that when mobility is used outside the public service, it tends to be focused internationally. 23 OECD countries use longer-term secondments to send public servants to work in other countries or in international organisations, 16 countries enable short term international assignments, and eight countries have specific international exchange programmes. This is greater than those countries who use similar tools for subnational mobility: (15 use long-term secondments, 10 short-term assignments and 5 specific exchange programmes). Countries that report having the widest range of mechanisms to support international mobility of public servants on hand include Austria, France, Iceland, Luxembourg, the United Kingdom, and Spain.

In addition to temporary mobility, many administrations promote permanent changes to one’s job as their careers advance. This kind of mobility is likely more important to achieving the benefits listed in the introduction to this chapter – especially those related to attraction and retention – where employees seek variation throughout their career. This kind of mobility is also rather difficult to assess via this survey. One indicator of this, where possible, is the average length of tenure, discussed above. The survey also asked which countries report undertaking regular and deliberate reassignments as part of career planning and/or corps management. 14 countries do this within one entity, while only 7 of those countries look at reassignments across entities within the public service – Australia, Costa Rica, Spain, Japan, Korea, the Netherlands and New Zealand.

Another mechanisms to support this kind of internal mobility is to limit recruitment for some positions to internal candidates only. Traditionally public employment systems have been categorised as career or position based. On the one hand, career based systems tend to focus on big intakes of new civil servants early in their careers and then rely on internal mobility to move them into the right jobs throughout their careers. Spain’s corps system provides a particular example of this. To get a job in the public service, applicants pass through two stages. First, citizens can participate in public calls and examinations to enter a specific corps of public servants. Once they join the corps, they can participate in recruitment processes for specific vacancies available to that corps, which are publicly published by the different ministries. The job posting describes the profiles of the concrete vacancies and more specific requirements for applicants (might be experience in a concrete field, degrees, languages, digital competences, seniority…).

On the other hand, position-based systems emphasise open recruitment directly to a specific position. These are found in their most pure form in Nordic countries. Indeed, Only seven OECD countries do not hold positions for internal applicants in any situation – these are Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Iceland, Estonia and Switzerland.

Most OECD countries, however, find themselves in a hybrid situation, where some job openings are reserved for internal applicants. In some countries, this is the norm, with some exceptions. In Italy, all public competitions are preceded by intra- and/or inter-ministerial competitions. Similarly, in the Netherlands, vacancies are in most cases initially open only to internal candidates from the recruiting department; if no suitable candidate is found, the hiring manager decides whether to open the vacancy to candidates from other departments and external candidates. In other countries the norm is to have open competitions with some exceptions made for internal candidates. In Australia, agencies have the option to post temporary job roles to internal applicants only, through various professional job boards and newsletters. In Ireland, some promotion competition processes are open only to internal candidates. There is a sequencing arrangement by grade, which defines how each position should be filled (whether through open, inter-department or internal competition). In New Zealand, some roles are advertised internally to public servants without appearing on the external market. Public Service agencies may do this via an internal email notice, an intranet page, a centrally administered deployment newsletter or through Public Service Careers which is an internal job board that only authenticated public servants can see.

Demand can fluctuate in the public service – driven sometimes by seasonal changes, shifting government priorities, or unexpected emergencies. In some of these cases, most public services have the ability to impose mobility on staff. In case of emergencies and unexpected shocks, 28 OECD countries can impose temporary reassignments, and 14 countries have the power to make these reassignments permanent. In case of new or changing priorities, a smaller overall number of countries can impose reassignments (20) although more can offer them (25 for temporary, 23 for permanent). In case of foreseen (e.g. seasonal) fluctuations in demand, 18 countries can impose temporary reallocations, and 9 permanent, while 24 can offer temporary reallocations. It’s only in cases where positions are made redundant due to e.g. organisational restructuring or digitalisation, that a majority (26) of OECD countries can impose permanent reassignments.

Countries with the most access to these kinds of reassignments include Australia, Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Poland, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. However, even in these countries mobility is likely seldom imposed. In Australia for example, public servants can be directed to undertake work in a variety of situations, on a temporary or permanent basis, but there are mechanisms for staff to appeal the reassignment of duties, and although the legislative framework allows for reassignment without consultation, in practice the vast majority of these movements only happen with the employee’s agreement, following prior consultation. Luxembourg makes a similar statement, that it is possible but rarely done. In various other countries, if mobility is imposed, there are generally limitations – sometimes these are geographic (e.g. in Portugal jobs have to be offered in the same municipality of residence or in an adjoining municipality) and often they apply to the specific level/grade/function of the impacted individual. There is usually a high burden of justification on behalf of the government to prove that the reassignment is a matter of high importance.

When it comes to foreseen fluctuations and expected surges in demand for staff, such as seasonal demands, OECD countries have a number of mechanisms at their disposal. The most common tool is temporary recruitment, used by 31 OECD countries. 26 countries also have mobility tools to redirect civil servants to the needed areas, while only 20 countries address this through outsourcing in some situations.

Some interesting lessons from countries in surge capacity include avoiding “surge fatigue” amongst personnel. Organisations should avoid using the same personnel repeatedly to address fluctuations in demand.

The COVID crisis provided a very recent and pertinent example of how OECD countries use mobility mechanisms in times of crisis. It will, in many cases, have created the blueprint for future crises of this kind, and also exposed various shortcomings in countries’ mobility toolkits that could be better developed for future such scenarios. The most commonly used tool were temporary task forces, established for the co-ordination of emergency response and service delivery across administrations. 19 OECD countries made heave use of this tool, while an additional 11 used this tool lightly during the COVID-19 pandemic. Simplified short-term hiring procedures (often online) were also put in place in a majority of OECD countries, with 15 countries making heavy use of this option, and an additional 7 using these lightly. Furthermore, 22 OECD countries accelerated hiring procedures, with 11 making heavy use of this. Conversely, only 11 OECD countries mobilised skills and staff through access to a pre-identified talent pools or surge reserves, with 6 countries making heavy use of this tool. 10 countries made light use of civil servants coming back from retirement.

While many of these efforts made use of pre-existing legal framework, many of the responding countries had to use them in new ways to ensure an adequate deployment of necessary skills for business continuity. For example, in New Zealand, a centralised workforce mobility brokering hub was established to identify, co-ordinate and respond quickly to surge capacity needs across the system. This prototype worked efficiently based on a network of agency leads. This model strengthened business continuity capability for the future, and is likely to be used again. In Portugal, from the outset of the pandemic, an exceptional HR regime for Health was put in place that included the simplification of hiring processes, staff mobility, and the hiring of retired doctors, without age limits. Additionally, Portugal created a transversal mobility programme to reassign workers from central administration to the social security entities in order to deliver the exceptional social security support measures required.

Looking to the future, the experience of the COVID crisis will likely result in greater internal mobility in 16 countries, and greater external mobility in 13. The same experience was expected to reduce mobility in only 2 countries internally and 1 externally. The majority of countries in both cases felt it would not have a significant impact or were unwilling to make any predictions about the impact. Of the countries who predicted the increase, some pointed towards positive experiences related to previously under-used mobility tools as likely to drive a higher use of these tools in the future. Others pointed out that the increased use of remote-, tele-, and hybrid-working will likely also result in increased mobility as people begin to become more comfortable working in flexible working environments. Others pointed to the increased need for horizontal collaboration during and beyond the pandemic as one of the main drivers of mobility in the future.

In addition, most OECD countries agreed that many of the procedures put in place during the pandemic would remain and improve the mobility toolkit of the future. 19 countries would reuse the temporary taskforces that were set up during the COVID-19 pandemic, while 15 countries would reactivate the accelerated use of hiring and the simplified short-term hiring solutions. 11 countries also agreed that a pre-existing talent pools could be maintained and even expanded.

When it comes to effectively managing mobility it’s not enough to have the right policies and mechanisms in place – public services also need to ensure the organisational environment is conducive to their use. That means tracking the rates of use of mobility mechanisms, ensuring the right incentives are in place for those who want to use them, and identifying and removing barriers to their use.

Barriers to the use of mobility mechanisms can be cultural or structural. Cultural barriers generally result from misaligned incentive structures. The single most common barrier mentioned by OECD countries is a lack of managerial support. This generally stems from the fact that managers are the first losers when it comes to mobility, as they are expected to send off someone who has likely been working in their team for a while, at the height of their ability and productivity. Furthermore, it is often visible high performers who are picked up for mobility assignments, particularly when they are assignments related to high-priority projects or leadership development. These kinds of situations can create perverse incentives for managers to limit the visibility of their best staff, or resist their mobility opportunities. Changing this culture requires a sustained effort and a structured and predictable mobility system. For example, if manager know that most employees move on regular intervals, they understand how to manage that employee for their time and will support them to prepare for their next role. Managers should also be compensated for mobility by receiving what they give up – to ensure that when a staff member leaves, they are replaced with a new staff member of a similar calibre. This kind of practice would best be organised centrally, so that the burden is not placed entirely on the individual manager. Various tools can be used to also help minimise the inevitable disruptions caused (see next section).

Another cultural barrier is a lack of recognition or valorisation of an employee’s mobility experience. In some public services, experience gained in other organisations is seen as a valuable asset, necessary for career advancement. In others, it is less valued than experience gained within. If employees perceive the latter, they will be less motivated to undertake mobility assignments as they would see it as reducing their opportunities for advancement. As with any culture change, overcoming these kinds of embedded cultural assumptions require time and commitment down the leadership chain. Leaders can begin to change the culture by setting mobility criteria and then following through on its implementation. Leaders can lead by example by undertaking mobility opportunities themselves, talking openly about the value they had through mobility in their own careers, and in hiring key roles in their management team from a wider pool than would normally be considered.

Other barriers are structural. The second most common barrier is a lack of visibility of mobility opportunities for staff. Some countries try to address this through the development of online tools that enable a central posting of these opportunities. Administrative complexity is another structural barrier that is often identified. This may be due, for example, to different systems and structured (email, IT access) in the host organisation, or security protocols. These barriers tend to be easier to solve if/when the country chooses to address them with technology and resources to redesign systems with mobility in mind.

In order to get past these and other barriers, some OECD countries tend to proactively promote mobility and take steps to address barriers. The first step may be to openly communicate about the importance of mobility in the administration and to promote it as a stated objective and priority of the public service. This is only done in 11 OECD countries for internal mobility, and in 7 countries for external mobility, suggesting that increasing mobility is not a high priority at this time, despite the recent COVID experience and the range of potential benefits.

One of the most commonly used tools to promote internal mobility is the use of individual learning plans for employees which can include mobility options. Individual learning plans are often developed as part of the annual performance cycle. They enable managers and employees to agree on a set of developmental objectives and tools to achieve those. Including mobility in this context can be a way of building a learning culture that also embraces mobility from the manager and employee’s perspective. In Türkiye, for example, the Presidency of the Republic of Türkiye Human Resource Office (HRO) has established a learning platform called ‘Distance Learning Gate’ to offer free and accessible training content for public employees. The platform includes more than 36 000 training materials for public employees in a self-paced format. In that sense, employees can arrange their learning plans without being dependent on their institutions' training assignments and participate in learning activities anytime.

The other most common tool is the provision of transparent mobility opportunities, often posted on an internal job board or intranet site. In Portugal, all existing mobility opportunities in the central, local and regional Portuguese public administration must be published on a centralised webpage. In New Zealand, a centralised brokering service is now used to enable surge capability and development needs (for senior leaders via a senior leader development broker and career boards), and a priority newsletter also exists enabling redeployment. In Lithuania, promoting the mobility of civil servants is one of the objectives of a broader reform of the civil service. In Luxembourg, all mobility opportunities for the central public administration are announced centrally at GovJobs. In Canada, the ‘GC Jobs’ portal provides applicants and managers with a single portal to access all public service job opportunities. There is also an internal GC Career Marketplace that enables and supports employees to take charge of their career and skills development through job shadowing, job swap, micro-mission and other experiential learning opportunities. Australia makes use of Professional and network-based job boards and mobility bulletins to provide transparency to mobility opportunities for interested staff.

Other tools and approaches to promoting mobility may be under-utilised in OECD countries and could provide opportunities to enhance the strategic use of mobility. These include embedding mobility into deliberate long-term career planning, taking it into account in performance management and/or promotion decisions and incentivising managers to promote mobility and hire a certain percentage of people from other departments and/or through mobility schemes. These are only done deliberately in a small handful of OECD countries. Korea is the country that makes the most use of the various tools outlined in the chart below, and provides a useful example of how these can be woven together into a comprehensive framework for the promotion of mobility across its public service.

Support tools can help to ensure a mobility policy or strategy is executed effectively, with an aim to minimise the inevitable disruptions caused by removing an employee from their job and moving to another. For example, most OECD countries provide general guidance for employees and managers (24 and 23 respectively) on mobility procedures and tools, as well as regular on-boarding sessions are provided by 23 OECD countries, as a way to ensure that newly arrived employees receive the right kind of orientation to their new working environment. Most OECD countries also do risk assessments to ensure they identify and mitigate risks associated with mobility, such as conflicts of interest, or security clearances. A smaller handful of countries use tools such as succession planning checklists or guidance, transfer checklists, or offer specific guidance on how to handle performance assessments for mobility employees (16 in each case).

It is also useful to note that most of these tools are decentralised, developed and used by individual ministries and agencies, rather than by the central HR units. Only 11 countries provide guidance to managers centrally, while 10 countries do so to general employees. Similarly, only 7 OECD countries offer onboarding services, succession planning tools and transfer checklists at the central level. Risk assessments are managed centrally in 6 countries, while the same is true for guidance on performance assessment in 8 countries. This is somewhat surprising, given that the cross-ministry nature of mobility would suggest a greater role for central authorities in these areas. Countries that appear to be using most of these tools in a centralised way include Australia, France, Italy and Korea. Other countries that are using most of the tools, but in a more decentralised way include Belgium, Canada, Costa Rica, Ireland, Mexico, the Netherlands, the Slovak Republic, Slovenia and the United Kingdom.

Monitoring and evaluating mobility is important to ensure it is being managed in a beneficial way for organisations, managers and employees. Public sector organisations should monitor with key indicators that could include turnover or retention rates; average tenure or length of service in position; participation in secondment schemes; and promotions. In Türkiye, for example, a project called 'Career Map’ has been developed by the Presidency Human Resource Office to track workforce mobility between the public and private sectors by job titles, observing career plateaus and career breaks. However, in most OECD member countries the wide variety of mobility options available coupled with the added difficulties of collecting such data across institutions means that accurate quantitative mobility indicators are relatively rare.

A majority of OECD countries track the share of employees who have moved jobs - between ministries (65% of countries) and within the same ministry (59% of countries). About the same share also track the number of temporary assignments and secondments. About half the countries also track movement in and out of the public service as a whole. It’s worth noting that fewer countries aggregate this data centrally – only 16 countries track movement across ministries centrally, 15 track movement in and out of the public service, 9 countries track the use of temporary secondments centrally, and only 6 countries aggregate data about movement internal to ministries and agencies. Indicators such as the take-up rate of specific mobility programmes are tracked by only 12 countries, while 16 track average length of tenure.

In addition, several public administrations supplement administrative data with information collected through employee surveys. 10 countries look at the experience and perceptions of employees regarding mobility through employee surveys, while only 6 countries do so specifically for managers. This can include questions related to mobility, such as on intent to leave current position and opportunities for development. These questions can also serve to assess staff and managerial openness around mobility, to identify possible bottlenecks and/or unaddressed risks. Taken together, perception data and indicators from administrative data may provide a more comprehensive picture of the extent to which the workforce is strategically mobile.

All in all – the use of data and indictors for mobility is not evenly spread across countries. Some (around 14 OECD countries) collect all or almost all of these indicators, while some (around 10) do not collect any at all. Those countries that collect data centrally also tend to collect the most data. Countries that appear to track the broadest range of indicators centrally include Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Ireland, Israel, Korea, and Mexico. Countries that collect most of this data but in a more decentralised way (data collected and held by individual ministries) include Germany, Spain, France, Greece, the United Kingdom and Türkiye.

The data in this chapter point to mobility as a potentially under-used tool that can be used by public services to boost flexibility. But this depends to a large degree on the joined-up and strategic nature of mobility. Ad-hoc initiatives may appeal to some public servants, but a more structured approach emphasising career development and aligning with learning opportunities can help identify much-needed skills and ensure that they are able to be used where most relevant. The data in this report highlight several key messages:

First, there are different mobility mechanisms available to governments, whether lateral, vertical, internal or external. ‘Mobility’ can refer to a week-long exchange in a different part of the public sector to a more comprehensive (and permanent) move to a different Ministry or even part of the country. Used strategically, structured opportunities to move across the public service to learn and apply new skills can be a magnet for talent – particularly at a time when the public service is in competition for in-demand skills.

Second, going beyond public health emergencies such as the pandemic, the ability to identify skills and re-allocate talent is an essential tool for governments. To get the most out of mobility, however, strategic mobility relies on public sector organisations being able to establish the right conditions, clarify the intent, incentivise mobility, and prevent adverse effects such as loss of institutional knowledge, disruptions or potential conflict of interest.

Finally, countries need more data and evidence to assess its impacts, identify the good practices and promote the right types of mobility. Without mobility, governments risk losing the flexibility needed to address complex and multidisciplinary challenges, promote innovation and respond effectively in times of crisis.


[1] OECD (2019), OECD Recommendation on Public Service Leadership and Capability, OECD, Paris, https://www.oecd.org/gov/pem/recommendation-on-public-service-leadership-and-capability.htm (accessed on 2 February 2022).


← 1. Comparisons should be treated with caution as the authors do not know which methodologies are used in each country.

← 2. While these countries report the existence of these mechanisms, the survey is unable to assess the level of their use and/or the quality of their design.

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