How to Increase Your Appeal as an Employer

New Work in the Public Sector

The potential of New Work methods to make employers attractive is not limited to private business; they are effective in the public sector as well. This article describes how to accomplish this in projects and how to move forward in small steps, and it presents a best practice project from Bremen.

Why New Work in the public sector?

The road from an industry to a knowledge society is marked by a transformation of values and changed conditions in the working world. Statistics show that the share of gainfully employed workers in agriculture has fallen from about 50% to less than 0.5%. Development in the secondary sector is similar, where the employment rate has dropped from about 50% to less than 33% over the past 35 years (source: Federal Agency for Civil Education). The structural transformation in the working world, triggered by globalization and digitalization, demands new forms of work and employment relationships. The working world is being shaped by fundamental changes on the part of employees — and employers must adapt to these changes.

New Work provides the means for employers to become more successful and attractive in the future, an opportunity that includes the public sector!

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The term “New Work” was coined by the Austrian-American social philosopher Frithjof Bergmann. The term “New Work” is derived from the consequences arising from globalization and digitalization.

The workplace in public administration faces unique challenges

There is an entire series of specific challenges that must be tackled by public administration:

  1. The digitalization and automation of certain tasks by software programs represent both opportunities and risks.
  2. Demographic transformation and the imminent wave of retirements will give rise to yet another challenge from the shortage of new workers. Private companies are already today offering greater flexibility to their employees and are in direct competition with the public sector in the “War for Talent.”
  3. Beyond this, of course, the differing framework conditions in public administration in comparison with private companies must be taken into account.

The tenets of New Work cause everything to revolve around independence, freedom, and participation in the community. A central objective of the concept is the encouragement of creativity and the securing of a sense of well-being in their surroundings for employees. People just starting out on their careers expect from their employers a modern workplace, a culture of democratic leadership in which the talents of every single individual are valued, and a lot of space for personal development.

New Work, in other words, does not consist of hammocks, dogs, and home office. New Work is often limited to the image of creating nothing more than an atmosphere of well-being on the job, and many employers ask themselves whether such a strictly external change can really prompt employees to work better and increase appeal for job applicants. A merely outward change does not lead to any significant benefits. The implementation of New Work requires a holistic approach and, above all, the change of a post-modern working culture.


New Work offers unique opportunities for the public sector

While the public sector has higher hurdles to clear during the implementation of New Work models than private industry because of legal regulations and the lack of competition, this change is a rewarding one. Above all, its challenges also offer opportunities. Globalization and digitalization will generate flexibility in terms of time, space, and organization in the workspaces of the future. 

The changed political situations require new public authorities or an enormous expansion in the competence of current authorities.

  1. For instance, the need for bundled IT know-how has led to major growth in the competences of the BWI (Bundeswehr IT) and of the ITZBund (Informationstechnikzentrum Bund).
  2. In response to the refugee crisis, the BAMF (Federal Office for Migration and Refugees) increased the size of its staff enormously.

Developments reveal that the traditional structure of government authorities is changing and adapting to the requirements of today’s world. The agile structures that result enable a faster response, and dynamic processes provide greater efficiency and flexibility. These are some of the reasons why New Work plays an essential role in the establishment and expansion of government authorities.


New Work sets employers apart

Many companies in the free market sector are currently  in a transition phase or have already completed this phase and are establishing New Work. Tools such as home office, fast decision-making processes, and greater individual responsibility increase the attractiveness of these progressive companies for job applicants, and working atmosphere and productivity improve strongly. As the “War for Talent” intensifies, companies must be able to offer something to their employees to retain them.

Many public institutions are sluggish in their actions and are already feeling the effects: job applications are non-existent, and the current employees are leaving to take positions at more attractive competitors. The public sector will suffer the most from the shortage in specialists in the coming decades and, in its position as employer, will have to adjust to the new developments to prevent bottlenecks and cost explosions. By 2030, there will be a shortfall of almost one million specialists in civil service (source: PwC). In view of the aforementioned points, it is high time to introduce New Work to the public sector.


Best practice in the public sector

All of this can function well and is not just wishful thinking, as is demonstrated by a pilot project in Bremen that was launched within the framework of the “Work 4.0” initiative. The project aimed to make step-by-step tests and trials of new concepts possible. The motivation in Bremen was to promote the networking of employees and to enable them to become more innovative.

Young administrative workers from various divisions were networked with one another in work groups, making it possible for them to interact with one another on a regular basis. The aim was the fostering of an open culture, innovative working methods, and the exchange of ideas. The results of the sessions were made available to all staff members so that all divisions could benefit from the so-called “innovation circles.”

The project was successfully concluded at the beginning of 2018 and demonstrated that New Work and public administration are compatible with each other. Christine Schröder and Niels Winkler concluded that the innovation circles helped to stimulate innovative ways of thinking, to promote the interaction across generational boundaries, and, ultimately, to demonstrate that innovative working methods are definitely possible in public administration.

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New Work sets itself apart from the traditional understanding of work in the three dimensions People, Places, and Tools. The form of work will be reshaped by a transformation in culture, workplaces, and the equipment and materials in use. The objective is the fostering of employees’ creativity and the more effective mining of their potential.

What does New Work mean for Detecon?

There is no such thing as one blueprint that describes precisely how companies can realize the opportunities offered by digitalization and New Work methods. But if we examine the demands made by companies and the public sector on their employees and, on the other hand, consider the expectations of these employees, we can determine several common features:

  1. Companies as well as the public sector desire efficient employees who produce high-quality work results in the shortest time possible.
  2. The perfect employee should also be creative, flexible, and capable of working on a team.

These characteristics are more important than ever before in a knowledge society such as ours. But what opportunities to develop these invaluable characteristics do companies and the public sector offer to their employees?

For us, the new working world does not stop with the realization of innovative space concepts. If a working environment of maximum flexibility is to function, it requires an optimal composition of the dimensions People, Places, and Tools.

Artikel Public / New Work, Abb. 1 People Places Tools EN

What shape will the path to New Work in the public sector take?

The path to New Work is specific to each government authority, but there are certain steps that must be taken during every change process. Before starting the actual transformation, the current situation must be assessed and then, based on the results, a goal defined. Moving forward, a concept for the form of New Work in this specific government authority is developed and the steps required for the realization of the concept are worked out.

Artikel Public Sector / New Work, Abb. 2 Methode EN

Four points are decisive on the path to New Work

  1. A key point is the involvement of all staff members and determination of what is most important to them in New Work. During strategy development, a concept is drawn up jointly with all involved parties; it is based on the ideas and desires of the employees. This may mean that employees can determine their performance and learning targets themselves or that the working hours can be scheduled more flexibly, e.g., for own or creative projects.
  2. Management must be on board right from the beginning and must be the first to practice the concept. A flexible, modern, and democratic leadership culture supports the process and later secures smooth operation.
  3. Agility and flexibility are two decisive factors in the transition to New Work. Not every government authority can offer home office, but even here the main objective is to be flexible, to speak to employees, and to look for possibilities that would allow employees to realize their ideas and to make the best of fixed circumstances.
  4. The new office concept with work spaces: large, open rooms are not suitable for every public institution, but even a government authority can create spaces for relaxation and implement modern design in open-plan offices.

Even small changes can bring about great changes in the atmosphere.

Would you like to learn more about this subject?

Detecon has published many articles and expert viewpoints on the topic of New Work that are based on the consultancy’s broad project experience; here is a selection of just some of them:

Company ReBuilding or New Work: Which Road Leads to the Destination?

Work 2028: Trends, Dilemmas and Opportunities

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