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I am an APS4 (I was a grad last year) working in a large department that is downsizing. We have all been told ''it's not a good time for promotions'', which means I could be stuck at my current level for a while. I have asked for tasks above my level and I am handling these without any trouble. But other people in my team are basically getting more pay for the same work. Two questions: how can I get my agency to reward me for my efforts? And, if I can't, should I leave the public service?

The Counsel

Jennifer Wyborn: Generally, your employer has a right to determine what duties you will perform from time to time, and this may include asking you to perform extra tasks outside your classification. This is part of your employer's legal right to direct the way you do your work. As an employee, you must comply with any such directions, provided they are reasonable. If you have a concern that you are being asked to perform duties beyond your capability, then you should raise this with your supervisor.

One option to generate extra income on a short-term basis might be a temporary assignment of higher duties through acting arrangements. If you want a permanent increase in salary, however, you might find there is little your agency can do at the moment. The salary you are paid is likely to be limited to what is set out in its enterprise agreement, and there is generally little discretion for agencies to offer discretionary salary increases.

The Coach

Jacqueline Jago: If the thing you love to do is in the public service (for instance, you are a policy wonk with an eye on a team you'd kill to work in), the current downsizing cycle might not be the time to contemplate leaving. If the thing you love to do is outside the APS and you can figure out how to get paid for it, then, by all means, embrace the advantages of youth and try out your alternatives: career switches are harder midstream.

Now, about your promotion: these are going to be hard to get for a while, and they will come to the thankless and the prepared. Your current effort is to be applauded, so let's amplify it.

For example, enlist your supervisor's help to develop the competencies set out in the work level standards for APS5-6 - you can work out together what's possible in your current team - and log the tasks you complete so you can boast about them later at interview. You could also prepare for success by building networks and corporate competencies (e.g. supervision and small team management) on the periphery of your role.

Jennifer Wyborn is the lead partner of Meyer Vandenberg's employment, industrial relations and safety practice. Jacqueline Jago is a certified executive coach with a legal and public service background.

Send your workplace conundrums to counsel@canberratimes.com.au.