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Attractive and exemplary. A study of the Government as employer (On the public sector)

Commissioned by the government, the Swedish Agency for Public Management has analysed how the government agencies work to make the Government an attractive and exemplary employer.

The overall picture that emerges is one where the Government in many ways is an attractive and exemplary employer. The Government offers several factors that employees find attractive in an employer, for example, interesting and socially beneficial work assignments, generous benefits and conditions, and a good work environment. The government skills provision also works well overall. But there are still challenges. The agencies' ability to recruit, retain and develop important skills is affected by the competition on the labour market, few career opportunities and difficulties retaining young employees. But these factors only have a limited impact on skills provision.

The Swedish Agency for Public Management's study is based on a survey and focus groups with representatives from twelve government agencies, carried out during the spring of 2013. The survey included 203 agencies and had a response rate of 81 per cent. The survey results show that employees with specialist and expert skills, employees in core activities and managers are the categories in which the agencies have the hardest time recruiting. According to the agencies, young employees and employees in support activities are harder to retain than to recruit.

The survey also shows that the competition with other employers for the same skills, career opportunities and the agency's geographical location are the factors that most agencies believe to have a negative impact on their ability to recruit, retain and develop the skills they need. The ability to learn new things and develop, the work environment and the public perception of the agency are factors that conversely help the agencies ensure good skills provision.

There is great variation in how the agencies work to be attractive, both regarding what activities are conducted and how comprehensive and systematic the work is.

The report identifies five main areas, in which agencies implement measures:

  • strategic work methods
  • efforts to create an "us"
  • career development efforts
  • flexibility efforts
  • visibility efforts

The Swedish Agency for Public Management's survey shows that over half of the participating agencies had a documented strategy or plan for their skills provision. This could indicate, but not necessarily, a strategic working method. Several of the agencies that lack a strategy or plan have chosen other approaches to ensure their short and long term skills provision. Some of the agencies' activities are based on current challenges and some of their efforts are aimed at making the agency attractive as an employer. The Swedish Agency for Public Management finds that the work carried out within the framework of core activities and operational development makes an essential contribution to the agencies' attractiveness as an employer.

Many agencies work with management and employee issues as a way to create an "us": a shared culture. The importance of a shared culture can also be sensed in the agencies' recruiting efforts. The Swedish Agency for Public Management finds that there is currently several instances of agencies requesting "personal suitability" in addition to relevant qualifications.

The survey shows that a development of career opportunities is especially important for government employers. The responsible Director-Generals as well as the Heads of Human Resources and Heads of Units highlight improved career opportunities as a high priority area for becoming a more attractive employer. Previous surveys of employee perceptions, conducted by ST and the Swedish Agency for Government Employers, have highlighted poor career development as a weak point for the public sector. The agencies have a wide view of the career concept, which includes advancement as well as the ability for employees to move laterally within, but also outside, their organisation. The survey shows that the agencies have a generally positive view of internal and external mobility. The Swedish Agency for Public Management has found examples of collaboration between agencies in order to promote internal mobility within the public sector.

According to several agencies, what employees demand of their working life that varies based on individual factors and life situations. In light of this, the agencies take measures to promote increased flexibility. One instrument for this is individual agreements, which are however used to a limited extent . The agencies emphasise the need to be inventive, with examples including advanced individual salary setting, teleworking and special solutions and benefits.

The survey shows that over 40 per cent of the participating agencies are currently undertaking some form of profiling and branding efforts. Despite the notable interest in and work with profiling, the agencies perceive a continued need to develop this area. When it comes to efforts for increased visibility, the agencies emphasise their own activities (interesting, challenging and diverse work duties) to a greater extent than common governmental characteristics (such as social benefit, perks and conditions). The Swedish Agency for Public Management finally notes that the agencies work to achieve a good work environment, ethnic and cultural diversity and a knowledge of fundamental values in civil service. This work is in line with the interim employer policy objectives and contribute to making the Government an exemplary employer. But the "exemplary" aspects do not always seem attractive to include in the profile.