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Flexible work in the APS

APS enterprise agreements and policies include a wide range of initiatives to facilitate improved diversity in the APS and to help employees maintain a healthy work-life balance. Initiatives include, but are not limited to:

  • teleworking
  • training support and study leave
  • flexible working hours and employee initiated part-time work
  • ceremonial and cultural leave
  • purchased additional annual leave
  • leave without pay.

Over the past five years, APS agencies have reported that flexible working arrangements are used in a number of ways as a component of workforce strategies. For example, flexible work is included by agencies as part of recruitment and retention initiatives, in supporting employees with disability, to promote a positive workplace culture, as part of wider absence management strategies, and to facilitate healthy and safe working environments. The most commonly recorded use of flexible work arrangements in 2013 was to provide additional support to employees with ongoing health issues.

Figure 9.1 shows flex-time and part-time employment were the flexible work arrangements most commonly employed by APS employees in 2013. Men were more likely than women to report they had not used any type of flexible work arrangement in 2013, however the proportion of employees not taking advantage of some type of flexibility in their work arrangements was low, regardless of sex. Women were more likely than men to report they had used part-time hours and/or purchased leave, while men were more likely to report having a home-based work arrangement.

Figure 9.1 Proportion of employees using flexible work arrangements by sex, 2013

Source: Employee census

The majority (70%) of APS employees indicated they were satisfied with their work-life balance in their current jobs. Sixty-four per cent were satisfied their agency supports them in achieving work-life balance and 72% were satisfied with their access to and use of flexible working arrangements. There were no substantial differences in the responses of men and women. Figures 9.2 and 9.3 show some differences in employee attitudes when examined by age and classification.

Figure 9.2 Employee perceptions of work-life balance and flexible work arrangements by age group, 2013

Source: Employee census

Figure 9.2 shows while satisfaction with work-life balance and access to flexible working arrangements was generally high, the oldest and youngest segments of the workforce are the most satisfied. This U-shaped relationship, between the perceptions of work and age, is a common finding in wider organisational age-based studies. This finding was discussed in some detail in the State of the Service Report 2011–12. While the impact of age on work perceptions is not fully understood, it highlights a need to understand the structural impacts of differing workforce segments on employee attitudes.7

Figure 9.3 shows that Senior Executive Service (SES) officers were most likely to agree their workplaces support employees in achieving work-life balance. They were, however, the least likely to agree they were satisfied with their work-life balance in their current jobs.

Figure 9.3 Employee perceptions of work-life balance and flexible work arrangements by APS classification, 2013

Source: Employee census

A recent study looking at the impact of mobile technologies on employee access to email outside of normal working hours found that working from home, when it was in addition to ‘normal’ hours at the office, was associated with worse work-life interference.8 Work-life interference is the intrusiveness of work into home, family and social life, accompanied by feelings of time pressure. The study reported that interacting with work, predominately through email, outside of normal working hours is common practice, especially for those in managerial and/or professional positions.

The report concluded that accessing email outside of normal working hours has complex and contradictory outcomes. While it provides valued flexibility and autonomy in deciding when and where to work and respond to communications, it also contributed to a sense of overload and lack of ‘downtime’ that is experienced as stressful. This finding may go some way to explaining the observed relationship between APS classification and satisfaction with work-life balance and access to and use of flexible work arrangements. While the majority of Executive Level (EL) and SES employees agree their agency has a supportive culture in achieving work-life balance, they are less likely to report accessing flexible work arrangements than APS 1–6 employees. EL and SES employees are also more likely to report working more than their standard number of hours to complete a task and/or taking work from the office to do outside of normal working hours.

Figure 9.4 shows that SES employees are more likely to work longer than their normal hours to meet work demands, to work from another location outside of these hours and to come to work on days outside of their normal schedule. It is worth noting, however, that physically coming to work outside of normal hours, such as on weekends or while on leave, is the least likely option chosen by employees to meet increased work demands. It is reasonable to assume this result reflects, in part, the increased mobile options provided to employees to manage their work schedules and meet job requirements.

Figure 9.4 Proportion of employees working outside their normal hours by classification, 2013

Source: Employee census

Recent research by the Diversity Council of Australia suggests workplace flexibility is more important to parents than non-parents.9 When employee census results were examined for employees who were carers as opposed to those who were not, the results were more complicated than a simple delineation by the carer – non-carer dichotomy. APS employees who had older children, who were caring for a parent or who had other caring responsibilities reported substantially lower satisfaction with their work-life balance and access to and use of flexible work arrangements than those employees who were not carers or who were caring for younger children. Additionally, APS employees with young children reported higher levels of satisfaction with their work-life balance and access to and use of flexible working arrangements than those employees with no caring responsibilities. These results are shown in Figure 9.5.

Figure 9.5 Employee perceptions of work-life balance and flexible work arrangements by caring responsibility, 2013

Source: Employee census

This result is perhaps counter to what could be expected from the relevant literature and further demonstrates the complexity of the relationship between work and family and personal life; whereby differences in employee perceptions of and interactions with their workplaces cannot be explained by a single aspect of either. Taken together, the results presented in this section highlight the intricacy inherent in the work-life relationship and, as such, it may prove more productive to examine the intersection through a life stage lens. That is, an increased understanding of the linkages between career stage and life experiences, and work and family conditions at a point in time may provide additional insights into how to structure flexible working arrangements to benefit the whole APS workforce. In Chapter 5 of the State of the Service Report 2011–12 (Ageing and work ability) a similar conclusion was reached, stating that workplace behaviour may be better explained once individual decision making on the interaction between work and personal demands is taken into account. Similar considerations seem to be appropriate in understanding flexible work.

Part-time employment in the APS10

In 1999, 7.4% of the APS workforce was employed part time. Over the next decade-and-a-half, the proportion of employees working part time steadily increased to 14.7%. Although the proportion of APS employees working part time is significantly lower than the national workforce (30.2%), the APS part-time workforce increased more sharply than the national workforce overall. The proportion of Australian employees working part time was 30.2% in 2013, increasing from 26.2% in 1999.

Figure 9.6 shows women make up the majority of the part-time APS workforce, with 22.5% employed in this capacity. Men, however, are increasingly being employed part time, and the proportion of male APS employees working part time grew from 1.7% in 1999 to 4.3%

in 2013.

Although representing a substantially larger proportion of the national workforce than in the APS, the majority of national part-time employees are also female (69.8%) and the proportion of men working part time increased from 1999 (12.6%) to 2013 (16.8%).11

Figure 9.6 Proportion of ongoing employees working part time by sex, 1999 to 2013

Source: APSED

Figure 9.7 shows that while the proportion of employees working part time increased from 1999 to 2013, there are differences in the age profile of the part-time workforce over that time. The proportion of part-time employees in the younger age groups decreased, while the proportion of the part-time workforce aged 45 years of age and over increased. The increase in the proportion of part-time employees in older age groups was larger for men than women. This pattern—an increase in the age profile of part-time APS employees, particularly for male employees—is consistent with the broader workforce.12

Figure 9.7 Proportion of ongoing employees working part time by sex and age, 1999 to 2013

Source: APSED

Figure 9.8 shows the proportion of employees working part time by classification group.

The highest proportion of part-time employees is APS 1–6 employees, with only 2.0% of the APS senior leadership group working part time. This result has been consistent over time, with the classification groups showing similar patterns of growth in part-time employees between 1999 and 2013.

Figure 9.8 Proportion of ongoing employees working part time by classification, 1999 to 2013

Source: APSED

When examined as a proportion of their total ongoing workforce, the agencies with the highest percentage of part-time employees were the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (30.0%), the National Capital Authority (28.8%) and the National Museum of Australia (28.6%).13

The Department of Human Services is the largest employer of part-time employees in the APS, with 9,922 or 32.3% of the total APS part-time workforce at June 2013. This group accounts for 27.7% of the department's workforce, 50% higher than the APS average (18.4%). Other agencies with large numbers of part-time employees were the Australian Taxation Office (5,579 or 18.2% of all part-time employees), Australian Electoral Commission (1,756 or 5.7% of all part-time employees) and Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (1,214 or 4.0% of all part-time employees). Together these four agencies account for 60.1% of all part-time employees, although they employ 40.9% of the total APS workforce.

Non-ongoing APS employees are more likely than ongoing employees to be employed part time with half of all non-ongoing employees working part time in 2013—55.1% at June 2013 compared with 14.7% of ongoing employees. The non-ongoing workforce has become increasingly part time over the past decade with 22.5% of this segment of the workforce working part time in 2003. As discussed earlier (Figure 9.2) employee census results indicated part-time employment was the second most common flexible work arrangement used by APS employees in 2013 to manage the intersection between work and personal life.

In summary, the APS employs flexible working arrangements in a number of contexts to achieve both employee and organisational outcomes. Flex-time and part-time employment, along with the use of home-based work were the most frequently used flexible work arrangements by APS employees in 2013. While generally positive, employee satisfaction with work-life balance and access to flexible working arrangements within the APS demonstrate the complexity of the work-life relationship; differences in employee perceptions of and interactions with their workplaces cannot be explained by a single aspect of either.


Footnotes

7 Australian Public Service Commission, State of the Service Report 2011–12, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, (2012).

8 Centre for Work + Life, Morning, Noon and Night: The infiltration of work email into personal and family life, (2013).

9 Diversity Council of Australia, Working for the Future: A national survey of employees, Sydney, Diversity Council of Australia Limited, (2010).

10 Unless otherwise stated, data presented in this section of the chapter is drawn from the APS Employment Database (APSED) and is correct as at 30 June 2013.

11 Australian Bureau of Statistics, Labour Force, Australia, (2013), http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/mf/6202.0.

12Australian Bureau of Statistics, Labour Force, Australia, (2013), http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/mf/6202.0.

13 Only agencies with more than 20 employees were included in this analysis.