Two surveys will be undertaken on Government’s Flexible Work Arrangements Policy, which was rolled out in the public service in April 2021.
This disclosure has come from the Director of Human Resource Policy and Staffing Directorate in the Ministry of the Public Service, Kim Belle, who said a survey will be conducted later this month, and the other will be carried out before yearend.
Ms. Belle continued: “We need to be able to report on how the policy is being utilised within the public service. We need to look at its effectiveness and see if there are any areas that we need to tweak.
“So therefore, we will be launching the first survey later in August, with the intention of getting feedback; looking to see what the take up has been by public officers and if there are any challenges or areas for improvement.”
However, she noted that as the Flexible Work Arrangements Policy continues to be rolled out in the public service during the year, there would be a need to ascertain additional details to make any changes to the overall system, hence the reason for the second survey.
“That way, we will be able to determine how many persons are using it; which work arrangement is most popular; which work arrangements may be presenting the most challenge to the employee and supervisor and if any adjustments are needed,” she explained.
The four flexible work arrangement options available to public officers are: a compressed week, flexi-time, staggered hours and telecommuting.
Compressed week – an employee works his usual number of full-time hours in fewer days by working longer blocks of time per day. The suitable arrangement must include health, safety and welfare considerations.
Flexi-time – allows management and an employee to agree, within certain limits, for example, when to begin and end the workday, and where the work period can vary from day to day.
Staggered hours – there are different start and end times for different groups of employees, but they must complete a period of work that is equal to a standard workday, as agreed by the Head of the Department.
Telecommuting – an employee performing specific work-related duties from home or another remote location for a specified period. The officer will be required to work from office at least one day per week, unless there are extraordinary circumstances which will prevent this from occurring.
These flexible work arrangements are expected to result in better work-life balance for officers, and improve productivity within the public sector. Based on a study conducted for the Ministry of the Public Service, the new work initiative is expected to contribute to a reduction in absenteeism, as employees will be able to balance their personal and work commitments.
Ms. Belle stressed, however, that each request for a flexible work arrangement would be considered on its own merit, and officers were not granted automatic approval. She noted that during the discussions with employees and supervisors, an alternative arrangement to that proposed by the officer, which might be better for the organisation, could be put forward.
The supervisor, she reminded, has to manage the needs of the employee, those of his colleagues and the overall organisation, and their ability to deliver to the public in a timely and efficient way. She added that supervisors must evaluate the arrangement during the approved period to ensure it is working.
“As soon as challenges are identified, or there are falling standards, there must be an immediate conversation to find out why there are gaps in the agreed work arrangement, and how can they be rectified. This approach is in alignment with the Ministry’s Performance Review and Development System,” Ms. Belle explained.
Some ministries have already implemented the Flexible Work Arrangements Policy in their departments, including the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Community Empowerment.
Permanent Secretary (PS) in that Ministry, Yolande Howard, said the sensitisation process for supervisors and managers about the policy and options started early. She noted that an internal control mechanism was created prior to the finalisation of the application process, to ensure everyone understood the new policy and the four options.
Mrs. Howard continued: “We sought to ensure that staff members understood that we are still seeking to deliver our public services to clients at the times when they need us. We also want to ensure that we are more efficient and effective at doing so, while ensuring that employees can balance their personal responsibilities with their work commitments.
“These new arrangements recognise that individuals have various challenges, whether dealing with their young children who have to be taken to and from school, or elderly parents who have to be given daily assistance…. I think those situations really placed stress on the employees as they sought to get to work for 8:15 a.m., get a proper lunch and still be able to complete their tasks.”
PS Howard noted that most of the employees who were interested in the new arrangements had a preference to telecommuting, while a few preferred the staggered hours.
She highlighted that her cursory survey of supervisors and managers indicated that mainly technical officers who worked in the field wanted to opt for telecommuting, so as to insulate themselves and their loved ones from anything that could become a potential COVID-19 environment.
She opined that the main challenge in the exercise was finalising work plans and ensuring that supervisors and managers had the necessary conversations with employees, to make sure they were agreed on, realistic, and fitted into the general work plan that was being approved for their Performance Review and Development System.
“Supervisors and managers have been told, almost incessantly at times, that they are being held accountable because they have to ensure they manage the performance of these officers, in the same way that they would do if they are working the traditional way,” she said.
Mrs. Howard pointed out that employees in the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Community Empowerment who were working remotely were provided with the necessary tools to carry out their functions. She added that even the staff in the Accounts Section were able to telecommute because the software being used allowed for such and the requisite hardware was made available to support their remote work.
She identified regular internal communication and employees responding to requests in a timely manner as being critical to the success of any ministry’s flexible work arrangements.
So far, she stated, the flexible work arrangements initiative has allowed for some balancing of work and personal lives for employees. However, she stressed that it is still a work in progress, and she supports the three-month assessment by supervisors and managers to ensure everything is on track, or the necessary tweaks can be made when fissures come to the fore.
The Ministry of the Public Service has rolled out an extensive sensitisation campaign to familiarise public officers with the Flexible Work Arrangements Guidelines, so those who can work remotely may make an informed decision as to which option best suits them and their department.