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Nick BancroftMarch 20, 20243 min read

How to compete for talent in the public sector

Over the past couple of years, the public sector has undergone considerable transformation, possibly more than ever seen before. The swift changes in workplaces, accelerated by the pandemic, have not only altered employee priorities and expectations but have also brought about a shortage of skills.


Consequently, what do public sector workers now anticipate from their employers? And how can leaders ensure they meet these expectations?


Annie Reeves, serving as the Executive Director of People and Culture for the Department of Jobs, Precincts, and Regions, offers insights into how leaders in the public sector can foster a culture that keeps highly skilled employees engaged.


Evolution of Employee Expectations

Organisations swiftly transitioned to remote and hybrid working arrangements almost overnight, posing a steep learning curve for public sector leaders.


"Flexible working was abruptly thrust upon us, and the public sector had to swiftly adapt," remarks Reeves.


As we potentially move towards a continued hybrid working model, keeping employees engaged becomes more crucial than ever.


"Employees rightfully harbour high expectations regarding workplace initiatives supporting their health and well-being, such as robust support structures and effective team leadership."


Like any other organisation, the public sector must evolve, display resilience, and prioritise its workforce, Reeves emphasises. "Failing to do so poses a risk, as we stand to lose valuable talent."


Employee Preferences

According to research by SEEK, government employees prioritise the following aspects when considering new roles:


Salary: Including base pay, review periods, and overtime compensation.

Work-Life Balance: Encompassing flexible working hours, remote work options, and compensatory time off.

Career Development Opportunities: Including avenues for promotion, on-the-job training, and internal training programs.

Organisational Culture: Emphasising supportiveness, respectfulness, collaboration, inclusivity, and transparency.


Demonstrating Employer of Choice Status

"We are witnessing skill shortages, and we're witnessing talent migrating to the corporate sector due to financial incentives," notes Reeves.


"Retaining highly skilled talent hinges on keeping everyone engaged."


While the public sector faces limitations regarding salary and geographical constraints, how can leaders position it as an employer of choice amidst stiff competition for talent?


"Managers need thorough training, and clear career pathways must exist. Moreover, there needs to be a well-defined and communicated employee value proposition across the organisation."


"Without these essential components, employees may feel disconnected and lack a sense of purpose, leading to talent drain."


Although the public service may not appeal to everyone, Reeves suggests that public sector entities can be transparent about what they offer.


"There are ample career advancement opportunities. Employees can transition between departments, acquire new skills, and explore diverse opportunities within the public sector."


Leaders should also take pride in the impactful work they do, such as supporting regional communities. "Amidst the daily operational grind, the larger sense of purpose can sometimes be overshadowed, warranting more attention."


Cultivating Culture in a Hybrid Work Environment

While technology has facilitated remarkable opportunities for connecting remote teams, Reeves points out the challenge of maintaining interpersonal connections.


"Technology tends to emphasise task delegation and task orientation, often overlooking the human connection and pastoral care aspects."


Therefore, it falls upon team leaders to regularly check in with employees and inquire about their well-being.


"Simply asking questions like 'How are you?' and 'What's on your mind?' is crucial. We encourage all our team managers and leaders to initiate these conversations."


Understanding Team Needs

How can people leaders in the public sector grasp the expectations and requirements of their teams?


"Communication is key," asserts Reeves. "By understanding what your team members seek in terms of career development, providing support, and engaging in conversations, you lay the groundwork."


Remote work and technology bring both opportunities and challenges, underscoring the importance for people leaders to maintain regular check-ins with employees to sustain their engagement and motivation. Given the fierce competition with the private sector for talent, highlighting the public sector's value proposition becomes essential. Positive aspects such as a greater sense of purpose and opportunities for role and departmental transitions will undoubtedly attract highly skilled candidates.