A flexible public service can react quickly to fast changing circumstances, regardless of organisational or programmatic silos. It can do this by quickly moving people with the skills it needs to the places it needs them, and by accessing skills from the labour market quickly and effectively.

A flexible public service also recognises the individuality of public servants – that each employee comes with her/his own set of skills, knowledge, personal lives, and needs, and is able to provide work arrangements that reflect these – including time and place of work, and terms and conditions of employment. A flexible public service recognises that one size fits all solutions and policies are of the past.

Read on for more information on how the OECD and its Members are working to strengthen diversity and inclusion the public service.

Key Issues

The COVID-19 crisis has shown that, when conditions allow, public services can find the flexibility needed to respond to fast changing emergencies at large scale. The OECD works with governments to improve public service flexibility in the following ways:

  • Mobility: employees need to be moved quickly to work on high-priority issues regardless of their physical location. Therefore, it is possible that a flexible workforce will not be employed by any single ministry or agency, but rather by the government as a whole, and available for the needs of the moment. 
  • Location of work: Remote working was implemented in unprecedented levels during the COVID-19 crisis. Those governments that already had the tools, policies and practices in place to enable this, were able to quickly and easily transition to maintain employee productivity and meet the needs of the moment. 
  • Flexible employment modalities: Many public service employment modalities only cover two ends of a spectrum– lifelong civil service employment, and service-based contracts. In the middle, there is often untapped potential for various forms of shorter-term, project-based employment, or prestigious fellowships, that may be utilised in cases where governments have shorter-term skills needs and want to find more flexible ways of integrating skills from the labour market. The goal is to define when and where various contract modalities provide the most value, and ensure they are used following consistent guidelines to protect employment quality.
  • Pay and salary: flexibility can help to attract and retain employees with needed skills. However, care must be taken to implement this flexibility without creating unintended consequences, such as inappropriate use of certain contractual modalities, undermined stability and institutional memory, inequities in pay levels between inidviduals (e.g. gender pay gap) and/or organisations resulting in internal competition and possibly wage inflation.

The third pillar of the Recommendation on Public Service Leadership and Capability calls on governments to develop Public Employment systems that foster a responsive and adaptive public service able to address ongoing and emerging challenges and changing circumstances by:

Principle 10: Clarifying institutional responsibilities for people management to strengthen the effectiveness of the public employment system,

Principle 11: Developing a long-term, strategic and systematic approach to people management based on evidence and inclusive planning,

Principle 12: Setting the necessary conditions for internal and external workforce mobility and adaptability to match skills with demand,

Principle 13: Determining and offering transparent employment terms and conditions (e.g. compensation, term length, job security, rights and obligations) that appropriately match the functions of the position, taking into account external and internal labour markets, and

Principle 14: Ensuring that employees have opportunities to contributeto the improvement of public service delivery and are engaged as partners in public service management issues.


Public service workforces across the OECD are facing similar challenges and trends, and much uncertainty. Taken together, these suggest a future of work in the public sector that will need to be more forward-looking – to identify the way the work will change, the skills and talents that will be needed and plans to get from a current to future state of readiness. It will need flexible workforce management to be able to access the skills it needs to meet fast emerging, often-unforeseen challenges. And it will need to provide fulfilling work experiences to attract, retain and motivate an increasingly diverse workforce. 




Good practices

Australia: In the State of New South Wales, and initially with an inclusive vision, the government developed flexible working hours, focusing on workplace culture and workplace flexibility. 

Canada: Interchange Canada is a mechanism facilitating temporary mobility of skills between the core public administration of the Government of Canada and other sectors of the economy, enabling public servants to develop new skills. 

Germany: The German Federal Ministry of the Interior established a politically-supported demographic HRM strategy to ensure, among others, the expansion of family-friendly work practices.

Korea: In the midst of the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ministry of Personnel Management established a COVID-19 Emergency Response Headquarters coordinating the personnel response to the crisis and quickly adapting to the situation.

United Kingdom: The National Health Service (NHS) introduced job weighting, attributing a relative weight to different elements of a job and linking it to remuneration. 


Case studies

Belgium: Moving recruitment online in the Belgian Federal Public Service of Finance

Following the Belgian government’s decision to make telework the norm in the public sector in 2020, the Federal Public Service of Finance initiated a pilot exercise to conduct recruitment online in 2020-21, first for internal mobility and later expanding to selected external vacancies. The e-recruitment process consisted a holistic process from employer branding to candidate assessment and onboarding. 

France: Recruiting digital talent in the French Public Service

To tackle the inbalance between private sector competition on skills and the increased digitlisation of public services, France has mapped the digital jobs which present current and future hiring challenges, and established an inter-ministerial working group to address them. This working group has established a comprehensive action plan, focusing notably on the role of leadership in individualising HRM practices, and developing tailored contractual mechanisms, taking into account the uniqueness of the skills needed. To face this skills shortage, France decided to show flexibility and adapt to the needs of these groups, often used to participative work fostering innovation and working in communities across silos.



Further reading

A selection of recent reports is available through the OECD iLibrary, many of which provide more context and detail on a Flexible public service:




Working papers


Public Governance Reviews