Chapter SixPlanning and arranging work

The completion of GSE implementation enables an enhanced focus on how work will evolve in the coming years, and therefore how it can best be planned and arranged. Flexible working and strategic workforce planning provide the ability for agencies to adapt their business models to improve service delivery and citizen outcomes, in addition to responding effectively to longer-term societal transitions such as changing workforce requirements and technological demands. This section will examine the drivers of change in each of these areas, and identify the data that can propel further development.

The Government Sector asks ‘if not, why not’ for flexible working

On International Women’s Day 2016, the NSW Government announced that all Government Sector roles would be flexible, on an ‘if not, why not’ basis, by 2019. The PSC was asked to analyse how this could be achieved, and closely consulted with agencies to identify the enabling factors.

Flexible working has often been framed as a strategy for enhancing gender equity, leading to a focus on part-time work or reduced hours. However, as more employers recognise the need for adaptable workplace wellbeing models, competing demands for workspace and the need to attract and retain talented older and younger employees, they are also realising that flexible working arrangements can both accommodate employee needs and evolving work demands. This, combined with technology that facilitates working remotely, makes flexibility a key lever to improve productivity and staff engagement.

Flexibility has an impact on employee engagement

Employees using flexible working arrangements reported higher engagement scores by an average of four percentage points than other employees. Analysing these engagement scores by the type of flexible working arrangement used revealed a scores varied significantly by flexible working type. This could indicate how well each type has been implemented and supported in their organisation.

Figure 6.1: Employee engagement scores across flexible work arrangements, 2017

Employee engagement scores across flexible work arrangements, 2017

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ARRANGEMENT % Using Engagement Index
None 39% 62
Purchasing annual leave 1% 63
Part-time work 13% 66
Leave without pay 7% 66
Working more hours over fewer days 6% 66
Breaks from work including paid parental and carer's leave 4% 66
Flexible start and finish times 36% 67
Working additional hours to make up for time off 12% 68
Study leave 4% 68
Flexible scheduling for rostered workers 5% 68
Working from different locations 9% 69
Working from home 8% 69
Job sharing 3% 69

Source: People Matter Employee Survey

The impact that flexible work arrangements had on an employee’s perception of wellbeing was pronounced. Employees working flexibly were more likely (by 10.2 percentage points) to agree that they could keep their work stress at an acceptable level.

Figure 6.2: Impact of working flexibly on employee perceptions of work stress, 2017

I am able to keep my work stress at an acceptable level 
No flexible working arrangements 53.0%
One or more flexible working arrangement 63.2%

Source: People Matter Employee Survey

Agencies reported that managers displayed a limited understanding of what it meant to work flexibly. Agencies also reported that line managers appeared not to have the confidence, skills or tools to arrange and manage flexible working practices in a way that did not hinder their team’s work.1

Flexible working is an important consideration when arranging the way work can be undertaken and, in turn, when designing the roles required for that work. It provides the ability to re-design how work can be completed and where a role can be located. This also makes it a useful mechanism for encouraging talented people to an agency who may not want conventional employment arrangements, and foster the career development of regional employees and/or key diversity groups at all classifications. Solutions can be developed according to the operational context, and employee and business needs.

Case study: Department of Premier and Cabinet, and Transport for NSW: finding the flexibility approach that works

The Department of Premier and Cabinet (DPC) and the Transport cluster (TfNSW) extended their flexible working programs to all employees during the past 12 months. Despite having entirely different workplaces, work and industrial arrangements, both have developed core principles that allow for local adaptations and supported managers with training. Employee satisfaction has improved with the access to flexible arrangements.

DPC data revealed that nearly half of new parents left in their first year back from parental leave. While part-time work was already available, retention needed to be improved. An online coaching program for returning employees was implemented and, in 2016, managers were trained to support employees working flexibly and address any biases they had towards flexible working arrangements. The training established that many managers were unsure of what flexibility should look like. There was a need to build awareness that it would be different for everyone, and resolve concerns regarding risk, compliance and legislation.

For TfNSW, flexibility was part of a program of work focused on improving diversity and inclusion. Leaders were supported to consider what flexibility practices would work effectively in each operating environment, rather than introducing a central set of rules.

Both DPC and TfNSW introduced behavioural ‘nudges’, such as adjusting core calendar hours and running a competition to award points to work teams that adjusted their start and finish times. These initiatives normalised flexible working for everyone. Both advertise the possibility of requesting flexible working in all job postings (single and bulk), and include it in new employee inductions. Videos were created in which leaders and employees discuss their support for, or experience of, working flexibly, including beyond typical carer arrangements.

DPC reports that a well-embedded performance development framework allows managers to focus on outcomes and monitor for their achievement. Employee satisfaction is monitored via the People Matter Employee Survey. Both DPC and TfNSW registered increases in the number of employees reporting that they were satisfied with their flexible working arrangements.

Figure 6.3: Percentage of employees agreeing they were satisfied with their flexible work arrangement, 2016–17

  2016 (%) 2017 (%)
Transport (cluster) 58 62
Premier and Cabinet (dept only) 69 80

Source: People Matter Employee Survey

The successful implementation of flexible work arrangements in the quite different contexts of the DPC and TfNSW is attributed to using ‘principles’ instead of ‘rules’, keeping it simple and adaptable, and consistently reinforcing key messages. The challenge in the next phase will be to keep up the momentum despite leader turnover, and monitoring the data in performance appraisals and broader productivity metrics.

Strategic workforce planning provides cohesion across the GSE reform pillars

The PSC considers strategic workforce planning as key to an agency’s ability to link its strategic planning to its longer-term requirements. Strategic workforce planning allows agencies to identify how they will ensure they have the right workforce design and capabilities to achieve their future business goals. It typically covers a period of more than three years and is aligned to the strategic planning cycle. It may involve redesigning work, the workforce or the workplace; for example, organisation and role redesign, and establishing optimal workforce size, characteristics and costs. There is regular public debate over the future of work, yet workforce planning that considers the optimal business outcomes balanced by an analysis of the future capabilities required and impact of technology remains an underexplored area.

Good strategic workforce planning is based on a deep understanding of the environment in which an agency operates and how changes to that environment (such as shifting community demographics) will shape the agency. It can then identify its ideal capability and structure, and the options it has to fill any workforce gaps. These options can include choosing from recruitment, transfer, contracting, commissioning, buying as a service or automating, and these options are based on technology, current and future labour market conditions, and future sources of supply.

The sector has reported that its maturity in workforce planning is low2. This is a likely factor in:

  • recruitment remaining largely reactive, vacancy-focused and with only a few examples of longer-term planning for future needs or capacity
  • the under-use of mobility as a planned approach to recruit and address capability shortfalls
  • reliance on past experience rather than capability in recruitment decisions
  • high levels of contingent labour use
  • slow progress towards targets for employing women and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in senior roles
  • the absence of talent pipelines or retention plans for future leaders and diversity groups
  • the piecemeal approach to these workforce management areas, rather than treating each as part of an integrated whole.

This section examines how sector maturity in strategic workforce planning can be a reliable indicator of maturity in a range of other workforce management areas because of its capacity to link key elements of the GSE Act reforms.

Agencies mature in future capability planning are also mature in other areas

In 2017, 57% of respondents to the Employee Survey agreed that their organisation was making the necessary improvements to meet future challenges, down from 62% in 2016. Further analysis from the 2016 State of the NSW Public Sector Agency Survey (Agency Survey) found that agencies were typically mature in short-term resource planning, but as the planning horizon became longer or the analysis required more complex inputs, fewer agencies reported developed or highly developed practices.

This analysis also found that agencies self-assessing their future planning capability as mature also reported more maturity in a wide range of other organisational and workforce management areas. These areas included collaboration, leadership capability development, change management, productivity and innovation, and a wide range of workforce management practices in recruitment, performance management and talent management. This link was evident irrespective of agency size.

Figure 6.4: The percentage point difference between agencies with mature future capability planning and the sector average across key organisational areas

The percentage point difference between agencies with mature future capability planning and the sector average across key organisational areas

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Metrics Percentage point improvement from Sector 2016 result
Workforce planning 37
Integration of workforce planning into organisational strategy development process 36
Identifying high-performing/potential employees 32
Innovation 29
Productivity 22
Service delivery improvement strategies 20
Formally recognising/ rewarding advanced people management skills( 17
Mobility practices (staff assignments) 17
Talent management strategy 16
Cross-entity collaboration 16
Customer service optimisation strategies 16
Recruitment strategies and processes 15
Use of data gathered from performance management processes 14
Aboriginal employment strategies 13
Mobility strategies 11
Change management practices 11

Source: 2016 State of the NSW Public Sector Agency Survey

However, this maturity was reported by only a relatively small number of agencies. Few reported having an advanced understanding of the external drivers for change, linked to how these drivers inform the shape the organisation would need to take, what capabilities it would require over the next three years and how it would meet the labour market it will face. Agencies with advanced rostering systems (which provide data) and critical workforce requirements (which instil an understanding of labour supply and demand) have a natural advantage. For example, Health works closely with universities to source and train future employees in critical workforce requirements.

The GSE Act, through the labour expense cap and work classifications, allows agencies to think beyond the ‘establishment’ view that assumes a fixed headcount and that employees gain – and own – a position. However, sector leaders report that the often near-term requirements of business planning, or the more conventional approaches taken by payroll systems may be driving adherence to this ‘establishment’ convention. Workforce planning, as a discipline, encourages a change in mindset to instead identify how to extract the real flexibility the GSE reforms allow.

Workforce planning and contingent labour use are linked

The state of the sector’s workforce planning can be highlighted in its increasing use of contingent labour3, reported to cost $1.27 billion per annum in 2017. The roles most commonly recruited are in information and computer technology, and projects driving innovation in service delivery.

Figure 6.5: Top five contingent labour roles by expenditure, 2017

Role type Percentage of total expenditure
Project coordinator/project manager/program manager 7.1
ICT business analyst 4.1
ICT project manager 2.7
Administration assistant 2.6
IT specialist/ICT consultant 1.8

Source: Procurement NSW; Contractor Central
Note: A significant proportion of expenditure is not allocated to a role type.

The NSW Auditor-General published a performance audit on the use of contingent labour4 across the sector in April 2017. The report shows there is no evidence that the agencies audited chose to use contingent labour based on an understanding of what their workforce should be, despite their being among the highest users of this labour. It is acknowledged that short-term projects, and the rise of the so-called ‘gig’ economy can mean many of the capabilities in demand for innovation can be sourced only via contingent labour in order to meet prevailing labour market expectations for rates reflecting expertise and preferences for short-term contracts. However, the lack of articulated workforce planning makes it hard to defend contingent labour in these high volumes.

Further maturity in strategic workforce planning capabilities can address some of the challenges mentioned earlier in this report, particularly around filling roles, and driving diversity and leadership change. The closer the linkage between an agency’s strategy and the workforce plan required to achieve it, the greater the likelihood that executive and line management will have the time-sensitive information needed to succeed.

Workforce planning prepares agencies for the changing nature of work

To date, agencies have implemented the GSE reforms using a graduated approach that is designed to assist them to meet tight deadlines in a way that best supports their business. As more of the building blocks have been laid down, sector leaders have identified how the different reform pillars are linked. For example, more sophisticated approaches to the mix used to fill roles can be taken if informed by structured workforce plans, an understanding of future capability needs and labour market/sector supply. In turn, this provides the opportunity to design in workforce diversity.

Linking planning to how an agency arranges its work also makes better use of flexible working arrangements or inter-agency collaboration. In this way, the reforms can be seen as connected rather than discrete elements. Structured workforce planning therefore provides the glue for the reform components.

The PSC worked with agencies across the sector in 2016 to analyse how the sector’s information and computer technology (ICT) workforce was changing. The analysis included emerging roles, what proportion of roles would disappear, and what needed to be done to redeploy people into the emerging roles. The ICT Capability Assessment Strategy was then developed in 2017 to help recruit, develop, and manage a skilled and capable ICT workforce to meet future business needs. This was accompanied by the development of the ICT Career Pathway Framework, which covers potential career paths between 55 ICT sector role descriptions and seven emerging ICT roles.

This sort of planning may help agencies respond to the changes promised by large-scale automation and the changing nature of work. It will also ensure that the required transition takes place in a way that retains engaged, committed employees, even if their traditional roles may alter considerably.

Case study: Workforce planning for the NSW Police Force

Robust near-term resource planning and data from rostering systems have provided the NSW Police Force (NSWPF) with a strong platform to build more complex planning capability.

The NSWPF currently has a short-term planning framework that helps leaders assess workload demand and supply requirements for its sworn police, as well as the effectiveness of its workforce utilisation. Software draws on the rostering system to analyse officer supply, tracking the availability of officers per hour. Absences such as leave, injuries, training commitments and court appearances are included. This is matched with an in-house system that provides insight into demand requirements. A labour management tool optimises complex rostering requirements, improves operational agility and ensures the appropriate allocation of police officers.

Analyses identified a key change in retirement trends from 2012 after superannuation provider arrangements were altered. Exiting officers over the age of 55 were no longer able to access certain lump-sum payments. Retirement rates declined steadily, leading to increases in the median age and tenure of the workforce. Further, criminal activity has decreased over the past decade. Modelling now suggests that the growth rate of the workforce, which had been at 1.4% over the past 10 years, can slow to 0.2% yet maintain the NSW Government’s commitment to maintaining the number of sworn police.

This trend potentially places older, public-facing officers at a higher risk of injury. Longer tenure also means fewer vacancies at leadership levels, which in turn makes it more challenging to achieve the NSWPF’s diversity targets and promotion pipelines for talented younger officers.

Figure 6.6: Median age of police officers compared with the NSW public sector average, 2012–17

Median age of police officers compared with the NSW public sector average, 2012–17

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Year Public sector (yrs) Police officers (yrs)
2012 45 36
2013 45 37
2014 45 37
2015 45 38
2016 45 38
2017 45 39

Source: 2017 NSW Workforce Profile

The next phase will be to use data further to determine how this older, highly experienced workforce with valuable skills can be deployed to meet the demands of the job in a safe workplace. The NSWPF is considering redesigning roles to focus on the strengths of experienced officers – such as witness and stakeholder management, and mentoring – as a means of better matching workforce requirements and organisational outcomes. As the nature of crime evolves from the street to the laptop, re-training opportunities in cybercrime and cyber-fraud prevention and detection also emerge.

Figure 6.7: Median tenure of police officers compared with the NSW public sector, 2012–17

Median tenure of police officers compared with the NSW public sector, 2012–17

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Year Public sector (yrs) Police officers (yrs)
2012 8.5 9.5
2013 8.9 10.1
2014 8.9 10.8
2015 9.0 11.5
2016 9.3 12.2
2017 9.3 12.2

Source: 2017 NSW Workforce Profile

This process of re-examining NSWPF’s workforce profile will be based on NSWPF’s commitment to maintaining the culture and conditions to support all officers across all stages of their careers. Careful resource planning will provide the base for a longer-term analysis of its workforce demographics. Understanding supply and demand drivers for its sworn workforce can help determine the optimal workforce size, shape and capability for the future.


1 NSW Public Service Commission, Discussion Paper: Flexible Working Strategy, 2016.

2 In the 2016 State of the NSW Public Sector Agency Survey, 37% of agencies rated themselves as being mature in planning for the capabilities and roles needed to deliver effective services three or more years into the future.

3 The NSW PSC defines ‘contingent labour’ as people employed by government agencies through a recruitment agency to provide labour or services.

4 Audit Office of New South Wales, New South Wales Auditor-General’s Report: Performance Audit – Contingent workforce: procurement and management, Department of Education, Transport for NSW, Department of Industry, April 2017.