US Office of Personnel Management uses live polling for staff meetings; UK unions vow to fight anti-strike law: management & workforce news in brief

By on 12/01/2023 | Updated on 12/01/2023
PCS members from 124 government departments are preparing to strike on 1 February. Photo by Andy O'Donnell via Flickr

Global Government Forum’s weekly digest of the news you need to know but might have missed.

US Office of Personnel Management introduces live polling to staff meetings in bid to boost engagement

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is working on a number of initiatives to make it more user-centric, to attract and retain talented staff and to boost employee engagement in the hybrid work environment.

In an interview with Federal News Network, the agency’s chief information officer Guy Cavallo said that he and his colleagues are focusing on boosting engagement in virtual meetings, which have continued post-pandemic as the agency adopts a hybrid model that includes both remote and in-person work.

He said that staff who were teleworking often felt like spectators rather than participants in large online team meetings and didn’t feel as connected as when they were in the workplace.

To address this, the OPM has introduced interactive polls to allow those in meetings to give feedback. “We’re instantly getting feedback from the audience,” Cavallo told Federal News Network. “We’re changing our meetings and our response to deal with that feedback, so everybody feels more connected.”

The OPM used the new function to ask staff what types of training they’d like to do in 2023 and compiled a list of the top five responses as a result. Off the back of this, Cavallo said he is planning to offer at least the most popular option and potentially all five.

He said live polling had been successful in encouraging active participation in meetings and giving people the opportunity to give their “two cents”. Not adapting to new working and meeting styles could leave employees “really feel distant” from their teams. “I think it’s very important that we make sure that our hybrid and remote workers are fully engaged as much as we can.”

Other measures being undertaken by Cavallo and his colleagues include overhauling the OPM website to make it easier for people to navigate, ensuring interns get real hands-on experience across a number of the agency’s operations, and making it easier for early-career applicants to compete for roles.   

In the 2022 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, positive responses from staff at OPM increased by up to 30% for some of the survey questions, including ‘Would you recommend this office as a good place to work?’

Read more: Job satisfaction of US federal officials falls, annual survey finds

UK government attempts to curtail strike action with new law

The UK government has introduced a new bill that would require some public sector employees to work during strikes, drawing the ire of public sector unions.

The rule would apply to the NHS, and transport, education, fire and rescue, border security and nuclear decommissioning sectors in England, Scotland and Wales and aims to ensure a “minimum level of service” during a strike.

Under the proposed legislation, employers would have to issue a ‘work notice’ following a vote to strike stating the workforce they would need to meet minimum staffing levels. Employees named in such notices who go on to take part in industrial action would lose their automatic protection for unfair dismissal.

The news follows a series of walkouts by nurses, rail staff and civil servants in recent weeks, with unions demanding better pay and conditions for their members in the face of the cost-of-living crisis. Negotiations with the government have been fraught.

Public sector unions reacted angrily to the news of the bill, calling the plans “draconian” and threatening legal action against the government.

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) general secretary Paul Nowak said: “The right to strike is a fundamental British liberty, but the government is attacking it in broad daylight.

“These draconian new curbs will tilt the balance of power even more in favour of bad bosses and make it harder for people to win better pay and conditions.”

He added that forcing people to work after they had exercised their democratic right to vote for strike action and sacking them if they don’t comply was “undemocratic, unworkable, and almost certainly illegal” and that if passed, the bill would prolong disputes, “poison industrial relations” and lead to more frequent strikes.

Dave Penman, the general secretary of the FDA union, which represents senior civil servants, told The Telegraph the planned legislation was a “complete sideshow” and “just going to make [the situation] worse”. 

He said that the UK already had “some of the strictest legislation when it comes to industrial action”.

The government said the measures would protect the public from disproportionate disruption caused by strikes and that the plans were in line with laws in other European countries.

The proposals will need to be voted through Parliament before becoming law.

The news comes as 100,000 civil servants prepare to strike on 1 February. The Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union said the strike would involve members in 124 government departments.

PCS is calling for a 10% pay rise, protections to pensions and protections from job cuts.

Read more: UK civil service strikes threaten borders and ports over Christmas

Australian Public Service reform tops agenda at Secretaries Board meeting

Plans to reform the Australian Public Service (APS) will focus on making it pro-integrity, transparent and accountable and encouraging it to work more closely with the community it serves, public service minister Katy Gallagher has said.

Gallagher also said that digital and data would be central to improved public service delivery, and noted separately that a priority was to make the APS an attractive and dynamic place to work.

Her comments were made at the latest Secretaries Board meeting, in which APS chiefs brief board members on developments and priorities.

Read more: Minister vows to revive ‘mothballed’ Australian Public Service reform agenda

The APS Academy, a dedicated learning hub for public service employees, was recognised by the board as playing a key role in supporting reform and uplifting capabilities. It noted “the importance of continued investment” in the Academy during the meeting.

Public sector reform secretary Gordon de Brouwer gave an overview of upcoming initiatives, including those impacting senior executive service recruitment practices. Options being considered include secondments with state and territory governments, and recruiting employees from the private sector, academia and non-for-profit organisations.

An update was also given on the implementation of recommendations from the Bell Inquiry report, which examined the actions of former Australian prime minister Scott Morrison after it came to light last year that he had appointed himself to five additional departments without the knowledge of parliament, the public and in some cases the ministers leading the departments in question.

Read more: Former Australian PM slammed by inquiry into secret appointments  

The report’s recommendations focus on ensuring transparency should any such appointment be made in future. They include appointments being published in the Commonwealth Gazette by law and making details of ministers and the division of responsibilities between them publicly available on government websites.

The board also discussed Fault Lines, the independent inquiry by four experts including former PM&C secretary Peter Shergold, into the government’s response to COVID-19.

It found that “significant mistakes were made” and concluded that the APS must improve collaboration, capability and communication, the diversity of its workforces, and its use of data if they are to respond better to the next health crisis.

Read more: Australia made ‘significant mistakes’ in COVID response, review finds

Canadian government readies return-to-office mandate in effort to codify hybrid work model

The Canadian federal government will soon require public servants to work from the office at least two to three days a week.

The mandate outlining the new arrangement is expected to increase in-person work to between 40% to 60% of officials’ regular schedules. To smooth the transition for departments and employees, a phased introduction of the new rules will begin on 16 January. Implementation is expected to be complete by 31 March.

The move marks a departure from the federal government’s previously looser hybrid work model, which followed employees’ remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic. Guidelines issued by the Treasury Board of Canada last year left it to individual departments to decide “whether the location of work be made flexible, to what extent, and how”.

Speaking at a news conference in December, Mona Fortier, president of the Treasury Board, said that the aim of the mandate was to standardise hybrid work practices across the federal workforce. She added that office presence supported collaborative work, which is turn fostered “team spirit, innovation and a culture of belonging”.

Fortier also said that the new requirement reflected government’s understanding about the need for “greater fairness and equity across our workplaces” as well as “consistency in how hybrid work is applied across the federal government”.

Read more: Canada’s hybrid work plan stokes discontent among public servants

In an interview published last week in Canada’s Globe and Mail, former head of the Canadian public service Michael Wernick said that working from home long-term could hinder public servants’ ability to learn from colleagues and hold back their careers.

He added that remote work made it harder for managers to “spot and grow talent” and “identify who is contributing and who is a passenger”, stressing that these were “essential to improving teams over time and growing the next cohort of leaders”.

Wernick posted the interview on LinkedIn and emphasised that “the important thing is to move forward and figure out how middle and senior managers can best play their essential role in performance management and talent management in the new workplaces that are going to be increasingly hybrid”.

Listen: GGF’s Leading Questions podcast with Canada’s former cabinet secretary, Michael Wernick

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About Mia Hunt

Mia is a journalist and editor with a background in covering commercial property, having been market reports and supplements editor at trade title Property Week and deputy editor of Shopping Centre magazine, now known as Retail Destination. She has also undertaken freelance work for several publications including the preview magazine of international trade show, MAPIC, and TES Global (formerly the Times Educational Supplement) and has produced a white paper on energy efficiency in business for E.ON. Between 2014 and 2016, she was a member of the Revo Customer Experience Committee and an ACE Awards judge. Mia graduated from Kingston University with a first-class degree in journalism and was part of the team that produced The River newspaper, which won Publication of the Year at the Guardian Student Media Awards in 2010.

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