Executive summary

This second edition of Public Employment and Management compiles the latest data and trends in public service workforce management. The first edition established a shared vision for more forward-looking, flexible and fulfilling public services, better able to respond to the policy challenges of the 21st century. The chapters in this second edition delve further into the principle of flexibility by examining three different facets: strategic mobility, learning and development, and flexible ways of working. Each of these areas contributed largely to public service resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, public services across the OECD have the chance to refine and scale up promising new practices across all three areas, and use flexibility not just for crisis situations, but for better performance more broadly. This report is designed to inform such reflection and anchor the principle of flexibility more sustainably across the public service.

The first chapter looks at how governments can embed flexibility in their public services through a more strategic use of mobility – the movement of civil servants from one job to another. One of the most tangible aspects of flexibility involves opportunities for public servants to work in different parts of the public service. Emergency situations like the COVID-19 pandemic showed the importance of mechanisms to quickly identify specific skill sets or capabilities and move them to where they were most needed, when they were most needed. Beyond emergency situations, however, more strategic use of mobility tools can be a cornerstone of greater organisational flexibility. As policy challenges become more complex and require multi-disciplinary approaches to tackle them effectively, greater mobility can be a critical tool to help public administrations align the right skills and expertise as needed. This implies the need to clearly communicate the scope and value of such assignments to employees, and develop ways to overcome common barriers to mobility, such as better integration with career planning. One way to do this is to expect public servants to undertake mobility throughout their career, however in most administrations mobility is not mandatory or explicitly recommended.

The second chapter looks at flexibility through the lens of learning and development. With the scale and speed of change to the work of the public service, a variety of learning tools and formats is essential to keep pace. This calls for a learning culture that enables and incentivises learning and creates an environment in which learning is viewed positively by employees, managers and the organisation more broadly. In a learning culture, development is continual (career-long) and expected – and also aligned with incentives, such as growth opportunities and performance feedback. Importantly for cultivating such a culture, learning is prioritised by leadership – who themselves also actively and habitually take part in learning opportunities. Organisations with strong learning cultures have learning strategies that they support with data and systematic planning. They intentionally create spaces for both formal and informal learning, and promote mobility as a learning opportunity. In fact, data also show that learning is an area that is itself becoming more varied and flexible, and the chapter highlights the shift across much of the public service from narrow, classroom-based training to continuous multi-channel learning more integrated with day-to-day ways of working.

The third chapter takes stock of flexible working practices in the public service and examines likely arrangements going forward. Many public servants will continue to work remotely some of the time, but beyond this hybrid arrangement are a variety of flexible practices that will have a strong impact on the effectiveness of the public service and its ability to attract talent. Emerging and flexible ways of working go far beyond the binary ‘home or office’ debate. Flexible ways of working encompass a variety of tools for public servants to adjust their working hours and location in line with their preferences and organisational requirements. But trust between managers and their staff, and between administrations and the workforce as a whole, is essential to get the best from these types of arrangements. Navigating different preferences to develop a coherent approach across the public service calls for dialogue and gathering and using data more effectively.

The fourth chapter presents a synthesis of the OECD Review of Public Service Leadership and Capability in the Brazilian Federal Public Service. This Review consisted of an in-depth assessment of Brazil’s public employment and management systems and resulted in a range of specific recommendations that can help embed greater flexibility across career structures and management processes. The Review’s recommendations will resonate strongly with other countries looking to address historical rigidities in their own administrations and make strides towards a more flexible, strategic workforce.

Taken together, these chapters recommend that governments of OECD countries establish greater linkages across flexible work practices so that they become mutually reinforcing. A more strategic approach that balances diverse individual preferences with organisational requirements can help engage and motivate existing employees and bring tangible benefits to organisations. It can also act as a beacon to external candidates eager for a fulfilling and dynamic career. Embedding greater flexibility across OECD public services will require more intentional investments and strategies, continued experimentation, consultation and evaluation informed by more and better data. Now is the time to seize the momentum: a future-ready public service is a flexible public service.

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