Category: Public Service

What do you do for work?

How many conversations start with the simple question: What do you do for work?  You meet someone new and it’s an almost automatic response, a reflex.

It seems harmless enough but after reading a post by Scott Dinsmore I think we need to think not only about the value in asking that simple question but how we answer that question ourselves when asked.

As Scott puts it, opening a conversation with a new person by asking what they do for work says that you care more about their title and position than you do about them as a person.  It also says that you may not really be invested in this conversation and could not be bothered to think of something better to say.  Is that really what you are saying?  Scott offers an alternative approach, but I will let you read more about that.

What I want to talk about is how we, as public servants, answer the question about what we do for work.  Who were the last three new people you met and talked about your work with.  Now that you have them in your mind, consider these questions:

  • Do you think you made a good impression?
  • Do you think they understood what you do?
  • Did you leave them feeling positive that you were working to make our community better?
  • Did your passion and enthusiasm about your work shine through your conversation?
  • Did you show an interest in them?

It is so important that we as individual public servants are able to answer those questions, more often than not, with a YES.  It can seem daunting but everyone we meet is our customer or client. Remember, we are also “our” customers and clients. We consume public services, so how did the last public servant you met rate against these questions?

We work to make our community a better place. It is why we have a public service. I believe this should be the fundamental motivation at the core of every public servant. But to achieve this objective, we need our customers and clients, the public, to trust us.  How can you trust someone to make your community a better place if when you meet them, you are left thinking that they had no interest in you or your interests or they didn’t show any passion or enthusiasm for their work.  Simple, you can’t.

Here are some things to think about when you are answer the question about what you do for work:

  • Your job title is difficult for other public servants to understand, never mind anyone else in the community.  Humanise your job.  Find a way to explain what you do that actually means something to people.
  • What do you really enjoy about your job? Share it.  Of course you can’t share confidential information, but you can talk about your job in general terms.
  • People get frustrated with the public service, particularly when, from their perspective, they are not getting a good service.  You don’t have to agree with them.  You don’t have to trash talk the public service to be liked.  How we talk about each other and ourselves matters.  Instead, think empathy not sympathy.

So the challenge to you (and to me), as a public servant, is to find a way to share with the people you meet your passion and enthusiasm for the work you do.  Engage with them, take an interest and understand their perspective.  I am confident that a public service that takes an interest in and engages with the public it serves can’t help but create a positive impression and earn trust.

regards, Jason
A public servant since 28 June 1999.

Resolutions for 2011

At the beginning of a new year many of us make resolutions: get fit; stop smoking; quit coke (and I will); lose weight (I am working on it); save more money; achieve goals; be more organised; and write a guest post for

How many of your resolutions for 2011 relate to your role as a public servant?  Finance, health, relationships – these areas all get some attention. I encourage you to spare some thought for the kind of public servant you want to be.  I have set out below some ideas you might consider when thinking about your resolutions.

Possible public servant resolutions for 2011

1. Participate.  Get involved.  Don’t sit on the sidelines.  Share your ideas; help develop the ideas of your colleagues. No matter what you do, make a contribution.  You can get a lot of satisfaction from developing and implementing ideas to improve the way you work, the way we deliver services to the community, whether the ideas are your own or that of a colleague.

2. Grow. Continuing to learn and grow your capacity can enhance your contribution as a public servant. Whether it is learning new ways to create policy or engage with the community or new skills such as project management, learning helps you improve your capacity as a public servant.  Improving your capacity means you may be given other opportunities.  Think about how you want to contribute as a public servant and what you need to learn to position yourself to give you the best chance of getting that opportunity.  Remember, it may be that the best way to grow is to take up an opportunity to work in another part the public service.

3. Live your public service values.  Your Department, and possibly your public service, has gone to a lot of trouble to identify values that support the objectives of the Department.  Do you know what they are? Do you live them?  Resolve to live the values of your Department.  If you have an issue with the current set of values, then talk to others about your ideas and make sure you get involved in any planning process.

4. Collaborate.  There is a lot of talk about collaborating with other parts of your Department, with other Departments, with NGOs and the private sector.  Are you collaborating? We produce better work and can achieve better outcomes when we leverage the knowledge and support of our colleagues. Who can help you improve your work? What information do you need and who has it? What information do you have that you can share with colleagues in your Department of even another Department? How can you work with another Department to better your own and their objectives? Take an interest in what other Departments are doing and I guarantee you will find ways where you can collaborate to deliver better outcomes.  Equally important, share what you are doing with your colleagues and you will find they are able to give you new insights and ideas to improve the work you are doing.

5. Support. Take a look around your division or Department.  How can you support or assist a colleague in their job? What can you do to help give a colleague what they need to excel at their work?  Resolve to work with your colleagues, to help your colleagues become better at what they do.

6. Serve. Think about this idea of service.  No seriously, think about it.  You are a public servant. There is no greater work to be done than the work in service to your community.  So take pride in the opportunity you have to serve. As you go about your work, think of the greater good and the interests of your community.  Make a commitment to be a better servant of the people, a better public servant.

I encourage you to share any resolutions you have made about your role as a public servant.

regards, Jason
A public servant since 28 June 1999.