The public sector has always been a popular career choice for Irish graduates and aspiring recruits. Aside from the more well-known advantages – like job security and good conditions – it is also a place for the ambitious with increasingly structured opportunities for personal growth and career development.
"A key element of attracting and retaining staff in a public sector is the opportunity to make a difference and to work on interesting and challenging issues," says Robert Watt, secretary general at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.
“There is nowhere else that offers the opportunity to shape the future of our society, and this really resonates with both our current workforce and the generation of new recruits who are joining us now.”
Many associate the private sector more with opportunities for personal growth and career development and see the public sector as a career for people who value job security above all else.
Watt begs to differ. “The wide range of development opportunities for our people is important to highlight. We are a really strong employer in terms of supporting further education and skills development.
“But we’re also providing opportunities now for people to move around the system and develop themselves in new roles. That’s a really positive development that our people tell us they want more of.”
The public sector also offers perhaps the best opportunities for the right kind of balance between career and personal life. “We remain a welcoming place to work in terms of work-life balance and as an employer that strongly supports equality of opportunity and employee wellbeing,” stresses Watt.
“Those elements are strongly appreciated by our people and are identified as important by new recruits. Indeed the Civil Service Employee Engagement Survey pointed to an overall well-being score of 75 per cent, and 88 per cent of respondents said that the people they work with are friendly. This is very welcome in light of the pressures and changes in the civil service since 2008.”
With each generation, however, the needs and expectations of potential employees changes. Some things become the norm for one societal demographic before they might have within an organisation.
Changes in status quo could relate to anything from the amount of time off people come to expect to the level of technology at their disposal within the work environment.
But some things remain constant. “We are an organisation which is driven by our values,” says Watt. “These values include equity, integrity, accountability and fairness.
“They have stood the test of time and, if anything, I believe they resonate with recruits now more than ever. Our people really take pride in the responsibility which they have in terms of delivering for the Irish public.
“In the 2015 Civil Service Employee Engagement Survey, 78 per cent of civil servants indicated that they were proud of the work that they do, and 94 per cent of staff indicated that they always persevere at work, even when things do not go well. This provides some insight towards the engagement and resilience of our staff.
Shifts in attitudes
“We know that research generally points towards shifts in attitudes among different generations of workers, plus the wider macro-economic factors which impact the labour market.
“However, it appears that the emerging and future generations of staff are particularly motivated by the prospect of making an impact in their roles, influencing change and making a difference. The public sector offers a unique opportunity to those who want this opportunity to impact change and make a difference during their careers.”
At the heart of workplace culture in the public sector is the citizen, which is why the values espoused by any public sector body must be consistent and visible at all times. “I think that our culture also reflects our main values,” says Watt.
“There is certainly a culture of respect within our organisation, a culture of fairness and impartiality. We are keen to continue to develop workplace policies which support these values and help foster a positive workplace environment.
"There is also an acute awareness that we must put the citizen to the forefront of all our priorities and that we serve all the citizens of Ireland. We must also support the Government of the day and ensure that we hold ourselves accountable to the public for our actions. This is perhaps unique to the public sector, and perhaps could not be replicated to the same extent in other sectors."