What I’ve Learned: Why flex just works at DPC with Samara Dobbins
Samara Dobbins DC NSW


Why flexible working arrangements are so much more than just whether you spend your days at home or at the office.

Tell us a little bit about yourself, your family, and the work you do.

I’m the Deputy Secretary of People and Operations at the NSW Department of Premier
and Cabinet. I’m also a mother to 3 children and a one-year-old Covid Puppy.

As a manager, how do you ensure your team members are empowered to access the
flexible work arrangements they want and need?

Former NSW Premier Mike Baird introduced an all-roles flex policy to the NSW DPC in 2016.
This mandate became part of the culture and the way we do things here at DPC. However, when
it comes to supporting your team to access flexible work, the best thing you can do as a
manager is sit down and ask your team members what flexibility looks like for them.

During COVID working from home became synonymous with flexibility, but it’s important as
managers to remember that flexible working arrangements are so much more than just
whether you spend your days at home or at the office.

How does trust figure into flexible work arrangements?

The only have to have a truly flexible culture at work is to have a relationship of trust
between employees and their manager. When managers don’t trust employees to deliver
outcomes they tend to be resistant to flexible work arrangements. It’s so important as a manager to have difficult conversations with your employees about how they will meet deliverables whilst working flexibly, and trust them to do this. My boss, the secretary of the
department has absolute faith and trust in me to deliver outcomes even when I am working flexibly. Over time I’ve developed trust in myself that I can work flexibly without it impacting my capacity to deliver.

We often see women working from home- why is this?

I think it’s important to remember that women aren’t asking for flexibility or to work from home because they’re having a lovely time perfecting their sourdough technique. Equally, women aren’t asking for flexibility because they are disengaged with work. The reality is that often women take on the vast majority of the mental load and work at home. For most mothers in particular flexible work is a life raft that allows them to balance work and home.

It’s important as managers and employers that we don’t, therefore, deny women
opportunities, promotions and mobility because of any grudges we hold toward flexible
work or unconscious biases.

What are the challenges you still face at DPC when it comes to flex grudges?

In the past the classic grudges have been “why do only parents get to leave early to pick up

The grudges have really changed in recent years, it’s more underpinned by frustration
from one team about why another has access to the flexibility that they don’t. For example, we might see someone in a customer-facing role frustrated that they can’t work from home, whilst their colleagues in an IT position can.

As managers, we need to manage those resentments by having honest and productive conversations with team members about how
we can create some bespoke flexibility for them that allows them to still execute their role.

At DPC we’re also working to address those on the margins, who historically haven’t had
access to flexible work- for example, Executive Assistants, who have historically been
expected to stay at work until their secretary leaves for the day, or our drivers who need to
be available to their minister 24/7.

Again, with these employees it’s about having a
conversation and coming up with some creative ways they may be able to access flexible
work, instead of just dismissing it as too hard.


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