A personal perspective on flexible working in the APS
Caroline Walsh and Rodney Lee Walsh are two of our senior leaders who work flexibly in the Australian Public Service. It enables them to raise four children while continuing to progress their careers and contribute value to the APS at a senior level.
Caroline is Co-Group Manager, Inclusion and Implementation at the Australian Public Service Commission. She has been working part time, on and off, for the past 15 years. In her current role, she also job shares. Rodney is Chief Operating Officer at the Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman. He has worked flexibly throughout his career. In his current role, he takes a long lunch break one afternoon a week during school term to teach martial arts to school kids.
For Rodney and Caroline, working flexibly is about prioritisation. In the absence of being able to clone themselves, working flexibly enables them to focus on work when they are in the office knowing they have taken care of their other responsibilities.
Working flexibly isn’t just for parents, or people with caring responsibilities. Caroline also uses her time out of the office to do volunteer and advocacy work. “Everyone should feel they can at least ask, and the benefits of flexible working apply at all levels, to all people, in all stages of their career”. Caroline believes her out-of-office work only serves to make her a better, more rounded public servant.
So what advice do Caroline and Rodney have for others about flexible working arrangements?
For Rodney, “there’s never any harm in asking, and in fact you must ask. There may be reasons why it isn’t operationally possible but at least you are opening the possibility. By asking, you are also setting the parameters of a modern workplace”.
From a manager’s perspective, Caroline says “it’s about being open to exploring how you can make it work, rather than being closed off. Sometimes it might seem easier to manage a full-time staff member, but particularly for new managers, it’s about unwrapping the feeling of discomfort associated with something new, and seeing what you can get out of it, too.”
Rodney’s advice for managers is to think carefully about deadlines, particularly when you’re asking someone to deliver something during a period when they aren’t in the office. “Are they actually urgent, or just convenient?” And for managers working flexibly themselves, it’s important to set clear expectations for when you’re not in the office, so staff have the confidence, capability, and authority to act in your absence.
Pictured above: Rodney Lee Walsh and Caroline Walsh