Workplace flexibility

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment describes flexible work as “the opportunity for people to make changes to: the hours they work, the times and days they work, and where they work”.  Workplace flexibility also affects how careers are organised, how transitions in and out of work are managed, and how work is managed in the workplace for the benefit of both employees and businesses.  Examples of workplace flexibility include: working part-time; having school holidays off; job-sharing; flexi-time; compressed hours; annual hours; working from home and career breaks.

Workplace flexibility is increasingly sought by employees to pursue greater work-life balance and different career models [1].  Organisations that have encouraged workplace flexibility are typically high-performing, with a stronger ability to attract and retain staff.  Engagement amongst staff who take advantage of workplace flexibility is typically higher too [2].

There is strong evidence that greater workplace flexibility is a key solution in addressing the ‘leaky career pipeline’ of female talent, where women leave organisations long before reaching the ‘glass ceiling' [1].  This leaky pipeline is partly due to competing demands on employees’ time (for example, caring responsibilities) and work environments that do not accommodate the need for work-life balance.

Similarly, flexible work can make the workplace more suited to disabled people.  Workbridge, a New Zealand employment agency for disabled people, promotes workplace flexibility for this reason.  Workplace flexibility enables people to work with hours and environments that are best suited to their abilities, enabling more effective work and longer tenure.

It is apparent that providing options and a culture of workplace flexibility is a key part of a modern organisation's employee value proposition.  Furthermore, as ’millennials’ make up more of the workforce, the demand for workplace flexibility is increasing.  Other generations are also increasingly interested in greater work-life balance.  Digital advances and globalisation also mean that ‘9 to 5’ days at the office are becoming less common.  

Trends in working part-time

The graph below shows the percentage of Public Service staff in part-time work between 2008 and 2018. Over this 11 year period, despite legislative reforms that widened access to flexible working arrangements, the percentage of part-time workers has been trending downwards. On average, part-time workers are paid 13% less than full-time workers on a full-time equivalent basis (as at 30 June 2018).

The use of part-time employment as a flexible working option can be better understood by analysing the demographic profile of people who work part-time, as well as other factors such as their occupation and the type of employment agreement.  These factors are explored in this visualisation and are further analysed below.

Part-time by age and gender

An age profile analysis of part-time workers shows that part-time work is related to  life stages.  The visualisation shows that part-time work is high in early career (probably in conjunction with study), during the ages when caring for children is more likely, and near retirement age.

Part-time work is considerably more likely to be taken up by females than males.  This is likely due to social norms around women’s role as carers.

Part-time by occupation and contract term

Part-time work is more prevalent in some occupational groups: Social, Health and Education Workers; Clerical and Administrative Workers; and Contact Centre Workers(6).  These are also the occupations most held by women.  Occupations that are male dominated, such as ICT Professionals and Technicians, are less likely to be worked part-time.

A higher proportion of fixed-term employment agreements are for part-time work compared to permanent employment agreements.  

Parental leave

Leave taken for caring responsibilities varies significantly by gender.  As at 30 June 2018, there were 567 employees on parental leave (1.1% of the Public Service workforce) made up of 555 females and 12 males.      

Workplace health

Workplace health can be looked at through multiple lenses:

  • That the risks associated with workplace physical environments are managed and minimised, and
  • The culture of the workplace is inclusive.  Staff value, reflect and understand the communities they serve.  This means people feel valued, supported and respected.  Inclusion enables people to bring their whole selves to work, maximising capability and talent utilisation for the organisation.

Human resource indicators such as health and safety metrics, staff engagement, turnover and sick leave provide some insight into aspects of organisational culture such as inclusion.  Used in conjunction with other contextual information, these indicators can improve understanding of organisational performance.

Staff engagement

Staff engagement is seen as important because the more engaged an employee is, the more likely they are to apply the extra ‘discretionary effort’ that leads to high performance.  A number of studies provide evidence for this, with findings of a positive relationship between staff engagement and organisational performance in both the public and private sectors [4]

Agencies regularly survey their staff to gauge the level of engagement and where to focus to lift engagement. Aggregate results from these staff engagement surveys are collected as part of the HRC data collection and these are published in the table below.  The goal is to better understand how engagement results vary across agencies over time and how these results relate to improved departmental performance.

There are complications in comparing staff engagement results across the Public Service.  First, agencies use different providers to survey staff engagement and results are not easily comparable across the different methodologies. Second, agencies survey staff engagement with differing levels of frequency. Two-fifths of Public Service agencies have carried out engagement surveys over the last year. Many agencies conduct engagement surveys every two or three years.

Workplace injuries

The SSC has worked with the new health and safety functional lead, ACC and Stats NZ to produce two new Health and Safety metrics (as shown in the visualisation below):

  • All ACC claims in the Public Service per 1,000 FTEs, and
  • Entitlement ACC claims per 1,000 FTEs (serious claims that involve additional payments beyond medical fees)

The incidence of such claims in the Public Service workforce is around half that in the wider New Zealand workforce. Since 2007 the rate of workplace injuries resulting in an ACC work-related claim or entitlement payment has, on average, declined across New Zealand. In the Public Service, this rate has remained relatively unchanged although it was up slightly in 2017. The health and safety functional lead was established in August 2017 within the Public Service to work with agencies and the sector generally.

Here is a link to the latest official workplace injury statistics:

Turnover, sick and domestic leave and tenure

Turnover measures the rate that staff change in an organisation.  Turnover increases when departments are restructuring or merging and when significant change is occurring in the wider labour market. Some turnover is healthy as new staff bring fresh ideas and the employer has the opportunity to adapt to changing capability needs. [5]   However, turnover also comes at a cost: the loss of institutional knowledge; some short-term impact on productivity; recruitment and training costs for new staff.

The visualisation below shows that unplanned turnover rates in the Public Service have been fairly stable in recent years.  Unplanned turnover measures the rate that organisations lose permanent staff due to reasons the organisation has not planned for, such as resignations, retirements and dismissals.  The 2018 figure is 12.1%, which is up by 0.6% from last year.

Sick and domestic leave taken can be used as one indicator of organisational health.  High levels can indicate staff disengagement or intention to leave. However, there are many other factors that influence sick and domestic leave use, such as age, gender and occupation. In the year to 30 June 2018, Public Service employees took, on average, 8.2 days of sick and domestic leave, down from 8.4 days in 2017. 

The 2018 HRC data shows that the average length of service of Public Service employees decreased by 0.3 of a year to 9.0 years.  This figure is based on tenure within a single agency, not the Public Service as a whole and excludes those on fixed-term employment agreements.


[1] Cabrera, Elizabeth F.  "Fixing the leaky pipeline: Five ways to retain female talent." People and Strategy 32.1 (2009): 40.  More information is available in the Ministry for Women's Inspiring Action report (2014).

[2] Coffman, Julie, and Russ Hagey.  "Flexible work models: How to bring sustainability to a 24/7 world." Bain (2010).

[3] Plimmer, Geoff, et al.  "Workplace dynamics in New Zealand public services." Wellington: Industrial Relations Centre, Victoria University of Wellington (2013): 56-60.

[4] MacLeod, David, and Nita Clarke.  Engaging for success: enhancing performance through employee engagement: a report to government.  London: Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, 2009. Good summaries of the relationship between staff engagement and organisational performance can be found in chapter two of Engaging for Success.

[5] Lee, Shinwoo “Employee Turnover and Organisational Performance in U.S. Federal Agencies” American Review of Public Administration (2017): 1-13. This recent research found that some turnover, specifically employees transferring to other agencies and dismissals, could be beneficial to public sector agency performance. In addition, it did not find that unplanned turnover due to resignations was detrimental to agency performance, suggesting that this may be due to resignations being most common in employees with low tenure.

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