Appendix 4 - Unscheduled absence

Managing unscheduled absence is a critical issue for the Australian Public Service (APS). The Australian Public Service Commission (the Commission) has been working with agencies to refresh the guidance provided to managers on managing workplace absence and promoting an attendance culture.

In August 2012, the Commission facilitated a forum that focused on identifying the strategies agencies had found to be most effective in managing workplace absence. The forum was attended by 57 representatives from a cross-section of APS agencies. The workshop allowed the Commission to gain insight into the absence management strategies used by agencies and the experiences of different agencies. It was clear from this forum that effective absence management strategies are context dependent; that is, what worked well for one agency had not been effective when applied by another agency. This reinforces the view that managing unscheduled absence is best handled by agencies and local managers.

The Commission used the information provided by agencies at the forum to refresh existing guidance provided to managers on unscheduled absence. The draft guidance was discussed at a second forum attended by 60 representatives from a range of agencies. The draft guidance was subsequently provided to 45 agencies for comment. The guidance was also provided to a network of regional APS human resource managers through the Queensland People Management Network to gain an independent assessment. The network represents 13 agencies based in south east Queensland. Along with human resource managers in these agencies, draft guidance was provided to work health and safety and rehabilitation practitioners.

This process of consultation has assisted the Commission to refine its guidance. It has also provided a deeper appreciation of the difference in agency approaches to absence management and the variation in knowledge about absence management across the APS. In September 2013, the Commission issued a refreshed edition of its core absence management guidance Turned up and tuned in—a guide for APS managers as an e-guide available from the Commission website.1 A companion e-guide for APS agencies—Promoting an attendance culture, a guide for APS Agencies—will be issued following the launch of the 2013 State of the Service report. This e-guide will focus on the organisational factors that influence unscheduled absence in the APS and will incorporate learning from a more detailed analysis of the APS unscheduled absence data. The Commission will continue to work with agencies to assist them to improve absence management across the APS.

The definition of unscheduled absence

APS employees are granted a range of leave types and unscheduled absence in the APS is an aggregation of these types of absence2:

  • Personal—an aggregation of sick leave, carer's leave and miscellaneous leave:
    • sick—a workplace absence, regardless of duration, whether paid or unpaid, due to personal illness or injury or to undergo a planned medical procedure
    • carer's—a workplace absence, regardless of duration, whether paid or unpaid, to provide care or support for a member of the employee's immediate family or household who requires care or support
    • specific types of miscellaneous/other—a workplace absence, regardless of duration, whether paid or unpaid, that is taken upon the death of a member of the employee's immediate family or household (bereavement), or to spend time with a seriously ill, injured or dying person who is a member of the employee's immediate family or household (compassionate), or in the event of an unexpected emergency.
  • Compensation—a workplace absence resulting from personal injury or disease sustained out of, or in the course of, employment (that is, work related) and accepted by Comcare. This leave includes the number of days or part-days an employee is absent from work due to incapacity. It excludes time spent at work on rehabilitation programs, where rehabilitation takes place at the workplace in paid employment.
  • Unauthorised absence—a workplace absence, regardless of duration, that given the circumstances, is not supported or approved by management. For example an absence due to participation in workplace disputes.

Unscheduled absence rates

Overall unscheduled absence is a broad view of workplace absence, combining personal leave with other leave types (including compensation leave and absence not approved by management). This data is provided to the Commission as part of the annual State of the Service agency survey (agency survey). Notable points in the 2012–13 data provided by agencies include:

  • the median unscheduled absence rate across all APS agencies in 2012–13 was 11.6 days per employee, an increase of 0.5 days compared with 2011–12 and 2010–11 (both 11.1 days)
  • substantial variation in the unscheduled absence rate across APS agencies, which in 2012–13 ranged from 4.2 days per employee up to 19.9 days per employee. Last year the range was 3.1 days to 21.4 days, while in 2010–11 the range was 3.1 to 27.3 days. In all cases, the highest rates came from small agencies
  • small agencies unscheduled absence rates ranged from 4.2 days to 19.9 days with a median of 10.3 days per employee (9.3 days last year; 10.3 days in 2010–11)
  • medium agencies unscheduled absence rates ranged from 7.5 days to 18.9 days per employee with a median of 12.1 days per employee (11.9 days last year; 11.2 days in 2010–11)
  • large agencies unscheduled absence rates ranged from 8.2 days to 16.0 days with a median of 13.7 days per employee (12.6 days last year; 12.0 days in 2010–11).

Sick leave rates

Sick leave is a component of personal leave and, generally, accounts for the bulk of unscheduled employee absences over the year. Notable points in the 2012–13 data provided by agencies include:

  • the median sick leave rate across the APS in 2012–13 was 8.6 days, ranging from a minimum of 3.2 days to 13.0 days; this is a slight increase on last year (8.5 days)
  • ComSuper (13 days), Human Services (11.8 days), Australian Research Council (11.6 days), and National Health and Medical Research Council (11.6 days) had the highest average sick leave rates
  • 39 agencies had an average sick leave rate of eight or less days.

Care needs to be taken in interpreting this data, which can be affected by the experience of relatively few agencies clustered around the median.3 Tables A4.1 to A4.3 summarise sick leave rates and overall unscheduled absence rates for APS agencies covered by the agency survey in 2012–13.4 Agencies are grouped according to their size: small (20 to 250 employees); medium (251 to 1,000 employees); large (more than 1,000 employees). Unscheduled absence rates and sick leave rates are compared with rates from 2011–12, where available.

Table A4.1 Large agencies unscheduled absence and sick leave, 2011–12 and 2012–13—arranged from highest to lowest unscheduled absence in 2013
  Sick leave 2011–12 Sick leave 2012–13 Total unscheduled absence 2011–12 Total unscheduled absence 2012–13
Human Services 11.2 11.8 14.9 16.0
Australian Taxation Office 12.0 10.3 15.5 15.3
Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) 10.6 10.4 15.2 15.0
Infrastructure and Transport (DoIT) 9.5 11.0 14.0 14.9
Health and Ageing (DoHA) 10.8 9.8 15.2 14.1
Veterans' Affairs (DVA) 11.0 10.4 15.0 14.1
Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA) 9.5 9.9 12.4 13.9
Education, Employment and Workplace Relations 10.6 10.6 13.6 13.8
Finance and Deregulation 9.0 10.0 12.5 13.8
IP Australia 9.9 9.4 13.7 13.8
Industry, Innovation, Climate Change, Science, Research and Tertiary Education (DIICCSRTE) 7.7 11.5 10.1 13.7
Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) 9.7 9.5 13.4 13.7
Australian Customs and Border Protection Service 9.3 9.2 13.6 13.5
Defence 8.6 9.3 11.1 12.4
Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 8.8 9.3 10.9 12.3
Attorney-General's Department (AGD) 9.2 8.7 12.6 11.5
Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (SEWPaC) 7.0 8.8 9.3 11.2
Australian Securities and Investments Commission 7.7 8.0 9.9 10.6
Treasury 7.2 7.5 9.7 10.2
Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) 6.3 7.5 8.6 10.2
Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) 6.7 6.2 9.0 8.7
Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) 5.6 5.4 8.3 8.2
Table A4.2 Medium agencies unscheduled absence and sick leave, 2011–12 and 2012–13—arranged from highest to lowest unscheduled absence in 2013
  Sick leave 2011–12 Sick leave 2012–13 Total unscheduled absence 2011–12 Total unscheduled absence 2012–13
Indicates an agency unable to disaggregate data.
** Data for 2011–12 not available.
Aboriginal Hostels Limited 11.0 12.2 15.6 18.9
Comcare 9.3 11.1 13.2 15.7
ComSuper 11.4 13.0 13.8 15.7
Clean Energy Regulator ** 11.6 ** 14.3
Office of the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions 8.9 9.3 12.5 14.2
National Library of Australia 10.8 10.2 13.7 13.7
Australian Electoral Commission 10.0 10.2 13.4 13.5
National Archives of Australia 10.1 10.3 13.7 13.5
Australian National Audit Office 6.8 9.3 9.8 13.2
Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy 8.8 9.8 11.5 13.2
Murray-Darling Basin Authority 6.3 8.9 9.2 13.1
Regional Australia, Local Government, Arts and Sport * 10.9 13.7 12.7
Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre 8.8 9.7 11.1 12.5
Office of the Fair Work Ombudsman 10.1 9.2 12.8 12.4
Australian Financial Security Authority 9.0 9.6 11.9 12.4
Australian Crime Commission 9.0 8.4 13.1 12.2
Family Court of Australia 7.4 8.3 11.6 12.1
Migration Review Tribunal and Refugee Review Tribunal 11.9 10.2 14.3 11.9
Australian Public Service Commission 8.5 7.9 10.0 11.4
Australian War Memorial * 8.0 8.2 11.3
Australian Communications and Media Authority 9.4 8.3 12.6 11.0
Geoscience Australia 9.1 8.3 13.2 10.7
Resources, Energy and Tourism 7.2 7.7 10.5 10.7
Defence Housing Australia 7.0 7.7 10.0 10.5
Australian Competition and Consumer Commission 8.2 8.2 11.0 10.5
Australian Trade Commission 7.7 7.2 9.8 10.1
National Museum of Australia 7.2 7.2 10.0 10.0
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 9.1 6.4 10.0 9.2
Prime Minister and Cabinet 9.0 6.9 12.1 8.9
Fair Work Commission 8.8 6.9 11.8 8.7
Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority 7.6 6.9 8.6 8.6
Federal Court of Australia 6.4 6.2 8.4 7.8
Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority 7.2 4.8 12.0 7.5
Table A4.3 Small agencies unscheduled absence and sick leave, 2011–12 and 2012–13—arranged from highest to lowest unscheduled absence in 2013
  Sick leave 2011–12 Sick leave 2012–13 Total unscheduled absence 2011–12 Total unscheduled absence 2012–13
* Indicates an agency unable to disaggregate data.
** Data for 2011–12 not available.
Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity 7.3 11.5 19.8 19.9
Safe Work Australia 10.2 10.8 14.1 18.9
Australian Research Council 14.3 11.6 17.8 18.0
National Health and Medical Research Council * 11.6 15.1 15.5
Commonwealth Grants Commission 7.8 4.6 18.5 14.4
Social Security Appeals Tribunal 10.2 10.9 12.3 14.2
CrimTrac 9.5 9.7 14.1 14.1
Australian Fisheries Management Authority 7.2 8.5 11.6 13.4
National Film and Sound Archive of Australia 6.1 9.5 9.3 13.4
Torres Strait Regional Authority 3.6 7.6 7.0 12.9
Office of the Australian Information Commissioner 9.2 8.6 11.1 12.8
Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House 9.3 9.4 12.0 12.6
Administrative Appeals Tribunal 8.3 8.0 11.8 12.2
Office of Parliamentary Counsel 5.9 9.5 7.7 12.1
Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency 10.9 9.6 13.4 12.1
Australian Institute of Family Studies 8.3 8.6 11.4 11.9
Royal Australian Mint 9.3 8.8 11.9 11.8
Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman 10.9 8.3 15.1 11.8
Food Standards Australia New Zealand 8.8 10.6 9.8 11.3
Workplace Gender Equality Agency 7.1 9.6 8.0 11.1
Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority 8.7 8.5 9.1 10.8
Office of National Assessments 6.3 8.1 8.2 10.5
Australian Transport Safety Bureau 5.3 6.1 7.4 10.4
Office of the Fair Work Building Industry Inspectorate 7.8 6.3 12.8 10.3
Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies * * 10.8 10.1
Australian Skills Quality Authority 3.5 8.8 4.1 10.1
Australian Office of Financial Management 6.0 6.6 7.9 10.0
National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority 5.5 7.0 7.6 9.8
National Water Commission 9.0 6.4 10.3 9.7
Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research 4.8 9.1 6.0 9.3
Australian Institute of Criminology 7.1 7.8 10.3 9.1
Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency 2.7 5.8 3.2 8.9
Federal Circuit Court of Australia 4.1 7.0 5.0 8.9
Australian Organ and Tissue Authority 7.0 7.1 9.0 8.7
National Health Performance Authority ** 7.6 ** 8.6
Climate Change Authority ** 6.9 ** 8.3
National Capital Authority 9.3 6.4 10.3 8.2
Australian National Maritime Museum 6.8 6.3 8.0 8.2
Productivity Commission 6.6 6.0 8.1 7.8
Australian Human Rights Commission 5.8 5.4 7.3 7.2
Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care ** 5.3 ** 7.1
Independent Hospital Pricing Authority 5.1 6.0 7.6 7.0
Australian National Preventive Health Agency 7.1 6.2 9.3 6.7
Cancer Australia 7.5 5.3 9.5 6.7
Screen Australia * * 6.6 6.5
National Blood Authority 2.6 4.7 3.1 5.8
Future Fund Management Agency 3.0 3.2 4.1 4.2

Unscheduled absence in detail

While unscheduled absence is a relatively broad category, the agency survey allows a more detailed view to be taken. Figures A4.1 to A4.3 show unscheduled absence rates by all components of unscheduled leave—sick leave, carer's leave, miscellaneous leave, compensation leave and unauthorised leave.

Again, agencies are grouped by size. As Figure A4.1 shows, a relatively consistent pattern of leave types make up unscheduled absence in large agencies. Sick leave represents the largest contribution, followed by carer's leave. There is some degree of variability in the amount of compensation leave awarded—agencies with higher rates of total unscheduled absence typically having higher levels of compensation leave. While contributing little to unscheduled absence overall for most agencies, the Australian Taxation Office showed a high level of miscellaneous leave. Unauthorised absence consistently makes up only a very small proportion of total unscheduled leave rates.

Figure A4.1 Large agencies

A4.1 is a stacked bar chart showing the rates of absence for large APS agencies in 2012–13. The most common type of unscheduled absence was sick leave and the median average number of days unscheduled leave per person was 13.7 days.

Source: Agency survey

Figure A4.2 shows that a similar pattern of leave types make up unscheduled absence in medium size agencies with illness being the largest cause of unscheduled absence and carer's leave also relatively common. However, the extent to which compensation leave contributes to overall agency unscheduled absence rates appears greater than in large agencies. Miscellaneous leave also appears more variable in medium size agencies than in large agencies. Unauthorised absence is again generally low, except for Aboriginal Hostels Limited which recorded an average of two days unauthorised absence per employee.

Figure A4.2 Medium agencies

Figure A4.2 is a stacked bar chart showing the rates of absence for medium APS agencies in 2012–13. The most common type of unscheduled absence was sick leave and the median average number of days unscheduled leave per person was 12.1 days.

Source: Agency survey

Figure A4.3 shows the breakdown of total unscheduled absence for small agencies. Two small agencies were unable to disaggregate their personal leave data: Screen Australia and the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies. While the pattern of leave types is similar to medium and large agencies, the extent to which compensation leave contributes to workplace absence is more varied. The Commonwealth Grants Commission and Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity showed the highest rates of compensation leave in the APS—7.6 and 6.5 days per employee respectively. However, given the small number of employees in these agencies, it is possible that a small number of serious cases may have accounted for the bulk of these figures.

Figure A4.3 Small agencies5

Figure A4.3 is a stacked bar chart showing the rates of absence for small APS agencies in 2012–13. The most common type of unscheduled absence was sick leave and the median average number of days unscheduled leave per person was 10.3 days.

Source: Agency survey

Trends in unscheduled absence

Over the past four years, the APS has reported a steady increase in the median rates of sick leave and total unscheduled absence (Figure A4.4).

Figure A4.4 Unscheduled absence and sick leave rates 2009–10 to 2012–13

Figure A4.4 is a line graph showing the steady increase in unscheduled absence and sick leave from 2009–10 to 2012–13. Over the past 5 years unscheduled absence had increased from 10.5 days to 11.6 days per employee and sick leave has increased from 7.9 days to 8.6 days per employee.

Source: Agency survey, 2009–10 to 2012–13

While Figure A4.4 shows a relatively consistent trend for the APS as a whole, individual agencies demonstrated substantial variation in changes to their unscheduled absence rates from 2011–12 to 2012–13. Thirty-eight agencies reported a reduction in their total unscheduled absence rates, with these agencies experiencing the greatest reductions:

  • Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (decrease of 4.5 days since 2011–12)
  • Commonwealth Grants Commission (decrease of 4.1 days)
  • Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman (decrease of 3.3 days)
  • Prime Minister and Cabinet (decrease of 3.2 days)
  • Fair Work Commission (decrease of 3.1 days).

However, 58 agencies reported an increase in unscheduled absence with these agencies experiencing the greatest increases:

  • Australian Skills Quality Authority (increase of 6.0 days from 2011–12)
  • Torres Strait Regional Authority (increase of 5.9 days)
  • Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (increase of 5.7 days)
  • Safe Work Australia (increase of 4.8 days)
  • Office of Parliamentary Council (increase of 4.5 days).

Each of these is a relatively small agency and the data can be affected by the circumstances of a few people (for example, experiencing chronic illness or injury, including workers compensation).

Whether an agency has shown an increase in unscheduled absence in 2012–13 appears to be largely unrelated to their 2011–12 results. Figure A4.5 shows the change in unscheduled absence rate for agencies when ranked from highest to lowest on 2011–12 results. As can be seen, even agencies with lower levels of unscheduled absence in 2011–12, towards the left side of the graph, showed sizeable increases in unscheduled absence rate. Conversely, agencies that had higher rates of absence in 2011–12, towards the right hand side of the graph, showed relatively small increases or even decreases. These variations appear unrelated to where agencies stood in 2011–12 and can be quite large. This suggests that the explanation for changes in agency absence rates will be specific to that agency.

Figure A4.5 Unscheduled absence variation 2011–12 to 2012–13

Figure A4.5 is a line graph showing the change in agencies’ unscheduled absence rates. The graph shows that there is no pattern in unscheduled absence rates for agencies. Those with the lowest absence rate in 2011–12 show considerable variation in unscheduled absence rates in 2012–13, some with increases and some with decreases. The same (lack of) pattern exists for agencies with the highest absence rates in 2011–12, with similar increases and decreases in 2012–13.

Source: Agency survey, Agency survey 2011–12

Figure A4.6 shows the year-on-year unscheduled absence rates for large agencies.6 While total unscheduled absence has decreased (from 8.2 days in 2009–10 to 7.1 days in 2012–13) there is otherwise no discernible pattern across agencies. Some agencies show a consistent increase in unscheduled absence (for example, Finance and Deregulation and Infrastructure and Transport), while others demonstrate less consistent patterns (for example, DIAC, DIICCSRTE, DoHA and DFAT). Other agencies, such as DVA, demonstrated a decrease in unscheduled absence rates this financial year after increasing each year between 2009–10 and 2011–12. Taken together, this data shows that changes in unscheduled absence rates are agency specific, reinforcing the conclusion that the explanation for these changes will also be agency specific.

Figure A4.6 Large agency unscheduled absence rates, 2009–10 to 2012–137

Figure A4.6 is a line graph showing the variation of large agencies’ unscheduled absence rates over the past 4 years. The lines show that there is no consistent pattern in large agency unscheduled absence rates from 2009–10 to 2012–13.

Source: Agency survey

Further analyses of the unscheduled absence data shows there has been only small changes in the types of leave employees have taken. As Table A4.4 shows, there has been a decrease of 3.7 percentage points in the proportion of unscheduled absence attributed to sick leave since 2009–10. There has also been an increase in carer's leave of 1.2 percentage points. Although still relatively small, the proportion attributable to compensation leave has also increased by 1.8 percentage points since 2009–10.

Table A4.4 Composition of total unscheduled absence8
  Sick (%) Carer's (%) Compensation (%) Other (%) Unauthorised (%)
2012–13 72.6 15.1 7.4 4.6 0.4
2011–12 74.7 14.7 6.5 3.7 0.4
2010–11 75.0 15.4 5.9 3.4 0.3
2009–10 76.3 13.9 5.6 3.8 0.4

Agency actions

Through the agency survey, agencies were asked to comment on the application of a range of absence management strategies; this data is shown in Figure A4.7 below.

The most widely used strategies were those focussing on raising awareness of health and wellbeing issues that might have an impact on unscheduled absence and promoting a balanced and supportive culture around workplace absence. Those that were least widely used were the implementation of practices to understand the causes of workplace absence (56% of agencies had a strategy covering at least part of their organisation) and, perhaps surprisingly, monitoring of absence trends and building an understanding of the underlying causes of employee absence (60% of agencies had a strategy covering at least part of the organisation).

Figure A4.7 Agency application of absence management strategies

Figure A4.7 is a stacked bar chart showing the most commonly used fully developed agency unscheduled absence management strategies were health and wellbeing awareness (77%), followed by promoting a balanced view (59%) and clearly defining roles for managers (47%). The least commonly used unscheduled absence management strategies were understanding the causes of absence (34%) and implementing absence management practices (28%).

Source: Agency survey

Of the 61 agencies that monitor and report on unscheduled absence rates within their agency as part of an unscheduled leave management strategy, 67% provide this information down to individual team leader. Twenty eight per cent provide it to senior executive level; two agencies make this information available to all employees. For the 33 agencies that reported the frequency with which they provide this data, 45% report absence data monthly, 27% provide absence data on an as required basis, 18% provide this information quarterly and 9% report absence data annually.

While reporting of absence data for the APS as a whole has typically been aggregated, agencies are able, to varying degrees, to disaggregate their absence data. While most agencies did not or could not disaggregate their absence data for reporting within the agency, in 2012–13:

  • 37% of agencies had reported absence rates segmented by state or region to internal stakeholders
  • 36% had reported absence rates by classification level
  • 29% had reported absence rates by the day of the week when the leave was taken
  • 24% had reported absence rates by sex of the employee.

As shown in Figure A4.5, changes in unscheduled absence rates appear to be quite specific to individual agencies with no overall pattern noticeable in the data. The same appears true in the relationship between changes in unscheduled absence rate and application of leave management strategies.

The five large agencies9 with the greatest increase in unscheduled absence rates were:

  • DIICCSRTE—3.6 days
  • SEWPaC—1.8 days
  • BOM—1.6 days
  • FaHCSIA—1.5 days
  • ABS—1.5 days.

Table A4.5 shows the leave management strategies these agencies had implemented in all or part of the agency. As can be seen, despite having the largest increase in unscheduled absence, DIICCSRTE had implemented all strategies covered by the agency survey in at least part of their agency. ABS and FaHCSIA were in a similar situation. BOM had implemented most strategies, although their capacity to monitor absence was still in development. SEWPaC had implemented only five of the eight strategies. However, only FaHCSIA and DIICCSRTE had formally evaluated any of their leave management strategies.

Table A4.5 Strategies implemented to manage unscheduled absence by large agencies with the highest increase in unscheduled absence
  ABS BOM FaHCSIA DIICCSRTE SEWPaC
✓ Indicates an agency has this strategy in place in all or part of the agency.
✗ Indicates an agency has not implemented this strategy.
Promoted a balanced view of workplace absence (i.e. support for genuinely sick or injured employees while deterring any discretionary absence)
Built on an understanding of the underlying causes of workplace absence and the impact of culture, practices and leadership
Implemented the short and longer-term practices needed to address the underlying causes of workplace absence
Communicated agency expectations and approach to managing workplace absence
Clearly defined roles and responsibilities for line managers in managing workplace absence
Provided support and training to line managers to build their capability to actively address any problematic absences
Monitored workplace absence, identified trends and highlighted areas for further investigation Being developed
Raised awareness of health and safety issues and promoted employee wellbeing

Conversely, the five large agencies with the greatest decrease in unscheduled absence were:

  • AGD—1.1 days
  • DoHA—1.1 days
  • DVA—0.9 days
  • AusAID—0.3 days
  • DAFF—0.2 days.

When compared with agencies that experienced an increase in unscheduled absence, AGD, DVA and DoHA appear to have implemented a similar range of strategies but experienced a decrease in overall unscheduled absence rates (Table A4.6). Furthermore, AusAID and DAFF showed a drop in unscheduled absence rates, although they were still developing several strategies. Of the agencies that experienced a decrease in their unscheduled absence rates, only AGD had formally evaluated their unscheduled absence strategies for effectiveness.

Table A4.6 Strategies implemented to manage unscheduled absence by large agencies with the greatest decrease in unscheduled absence
  AGD AusAID DAFF DoHA DVA
✓ Indicates an agency has this strategy in place in all or part of the agency.
Promoted a balanced view of workplace absence (i.e. support for genuinely sick or injured employees while deterring any discretionary absence)
Built on an understanding of the underlying causes of workplace absence and the impact of culture, practices and leadership Being developed
Implemented the short and longer-term practices needed to address the underlying causes of workplace absence Being developed
Communicated agency expectations and approach to managing workplace absence Being developed Being developed
Clearly defined roles and responsibilities for line managers in managing workplace absence Being developed Being developed
Provided support and training to line managers to build their capability to actively address any problematic absences Being developed Being developed
Monitored workplace absence, identified trends and highlighted areas for further investigation
Raised awareness of health and safety issues and promoted employee wellbeing

While a comprehensive review of the effectiveness of agency leave-management strategies requires a far more detailed analysis than can be performed here, these results reinforce that agencies are likely subject to a range of factors that may have an impact on their unscheduled absence rates.

Employee characteristics and sick leave use

The 2013 APS employee census asked APS employees how much sick leave they had taken in the two weeks before completing the census. Responses were compared across two employee characteristics: classification level and age group. Figure A4.8 shows that most employees reported they did not take any sick leave in the two weeks before the census. Furthermore, Senior Executive Service (SES) employees were less likely than other employees to have taken sick leave.

Figure A4.8 Sick leave use by classification

Figure A4.7 is a stacked bar chart showing the most commonly used fully developed agency unscheduled absence management strategies were health and wellbeing awareness (77%), followed by promoting a balanced view (59%) and clearly defining roles for managers (47%). The least commonly used unscheduled absence management strategies were understanding the causes of absence (34%) and implementing absence management practices (28%).

Source: Employee census

As can be seen by Figure A4.9, when this data is examined by age, both older and younger employees were marginally more likely to have taken some sick leave in the preceding two weeks. However, older employees were slightly more likely to have taken more than five days sick leave in the prior two weeks.

Figure A4.9 Sick leave use by age group

Figure A4.9 is a bar chart showing employees under 30 years and employees 65 years and over were slightly more likely to report they used sick leave in the two weeks before the census than other employees.

Source: Employee census

Similar to last year, there is a small but consistent relationship between employee engagement and use of sick leave. These findings suggest that while there may be a relationship between employee engagement and absence from work, it is not the primary driver of employee use of sick leave. For all types of engagement, the main element of the relationship between engagement and sick leave use was that employees who took no sick leave in the previous fortnight showed substantially higher levels of engagement than those who took some. Within the group who took some sick leave, irrespective of how much leave they took, there tended to be no substantial difference in engagement levels. Results for both years showed that while engaged employees are less likely to use their sick leave, sick leave use in the APS is not driven by employee engagement. It is more likely driven by issues relating to employee health.

While this demonstrates a potential relationship between the characteristics of the employee and the likelihood they will take sick leave, the differences are not large. The Commission will continue research activities to improve its understanding of this aspect of the APS workforce.


Footnotes

1 The guide can be found at: http://www.apsc.gov.au.

2 Australian National Audit Office, Absence Management in the Australian Public Service, Performance Audit Report no. 52, 2002–03, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, (2003), p. 34.

3 A measure of central tendency, found by arranging the values in order and then selecting the one in the middle.

4 Agencies with fewer than 20 APS employees did not complete the State of the Service agency survey.

5 Two agencies were unable to disaggregate unscheduled absence data. A single, total figure is reported.

6 Only large agencies are discussed for simplicity of reporting.

7 Grey lines indicate unscheduled absence trends for ATO, Defence, ABS, AGD, Australian Securities and Investments Commission, AusAID, BOM, Australian Customs and Border Protection Service, DAFF, Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, SEWPaC, FaHCSIA, IP Australia and Treasury.

8 Data presented here is a proportion of total unscheduled absence for all agencies.

9 Only large agencies are discussed for simplicity of reporting.