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2 Human Capital management

Health and well-being

The obligations of employers regarding the health and welfare of their employees are regulated by federal occupational health and safety legislation. The harmonisation of legislation with the introduction of the Occupational Health, Safety and Welfare Regulations 2010 emphasises these obligations, particularly in regard to stress and mental health.

The employee census used the following four measures of health and well-being:

  • the UK Civil Service Health and Safety Executive (HSE) Tool
  • the percentage of employees who had taken sick leave or compensation leave[16] in the two weeks prior to completing the survey
  • the numbers of hours worked in the previous 14 days
  • employees’ satisfaction with work-life balance.

The HSE is an internationally validated[17] instrument designed to help organisations manage potential sources of work-related stress. It measures seven sources of potential stress in the workplace:

  • demands (including such issues as workload, work patterns and the working environment)
  • control (how much autonomy the person has in the way they do their work)
  • manager support (including the encouragement, sponsorship and resources provided by managers)
  • peer support (including the encouragement, sponsorship and resources provided by colleagues)
  • relationships at work (including promoting positive working practices in order to avoid conflict and dealing with unacceptable behaviour)
  • role clarity (whether people understand their role within the organisation and whether the organisation ensures that the person does not have conflicting roles)
  • change (how organisational change, large or small, is managed and communicated in the organisation).

Figure 2.1 compares Micro-agency HSE scores with those for the wider APS. Higher scores indicate a healthier workplace. Scores were generally comparable between the Micro-agencies and the wider APS. However, Micro-agency employees reported higher levels of control than employees of other agencies.

Figure 2.1[18]: HSE scores

*Indicates a statistically significant difference which is at least small in magnitude.

Figure 2.2 shows the percentage of employees who have taken sick or compensation leave in the 14 days before filling out the employee census. There were no significant differences in the amount of leave taken between the Micro-agencies and the wider APS. The majority of both groups had taken no leave in the previous 14 days (78% and 72%, respectively). For those who had taken leave the majority had taken one day or less (see Figure 2.2).

Figure 2.2: Absence due to illness or injury

Figure 2.3 shows full-time Micro-agency employees had worked more hours in the last fortnight than those in the wider APS. It is unclear whether this reflects regular work patterns, or a short surge in productivity. Despite working more hours, demand scores on the HSE tool were comparable between the two groups, suggesting this has not had a negative impact overall.

Figure 2.3: Number of hours worked

 

*Indicates a statistically significant difference which is at least small in magnitude.

Furthermore, despite this difference in hours worked, there is no evidence that full-time Micro-agency employees are less satisfied with their work-life balance (see Figure 2.4). Between 70% and 75% of Micro-agency employees were satisfied with their current situation and their agency’s culture regarding work-life balance. There were no pronounced differences between the Micro-agencies and the wider APS on these issues.

Figure 2.4: Satisfaction with work-life balance

Key findings

  • Health and well-being indicators are generally comparable between Micro-agencies and the wider APS, although Micro-agency employees reported they have greater levels of autonomy or control over their work.
  • While a higher proportion of Micro-agency employees had worked more than 80 hours in the fortnight before filling out the census, this had not led to lower satisfaction with work-life balance.

Recruitment and retention

Attraction

The employee census asked employees how important a variety of factors had been in attracting them to their current position. Micro-agency employees were more likely than those from the wider APS to report that the type of work and job-skills match were important factors. This is consistent with the 2011 Snapshot report[19]. Results for micro-agency employees were similar to those from the wider APS for the remaining factors as Figure 2.5 shows.

Figure 2.5: Factors attracting employees to their current position

*Indicates a statistically significant difference which is at least small in magnitude.

The selection process

The employee census asked whether employees had applied for any APS jobs in the last 12 months. As Table 2.1 shows, Micro-agency employees were more likely to have applied for a job outside their current agency than those from the wider APS. Conversely, the percentage of Micro-agency employees who had applied for a position within their agency was smaller. This tendency to move out of Micro-agencies is consistent with results from 2011 in which employees from the Micro-agencies identified concerns regarding career progression and opportunities for learning and development[20].

Table 2.1: Percentages of staff who have been through a recruitment process in the previous 12 months
  Micro-agencies Other APS agencies
*indicates a statistically significant difference which is at least small in magnitude
Yes, in my agency 28% 36%
Yes, in another APS agency* 24% 16%
No 54% 56%

Figure 2.6 shows successful applicants’[21] perceptions of the selection process. Applicants who applied to a Micro-agency were more positive about the selection criteria and the process in general than those who applied to a larger agency. They were also more likely to be satisfied with the feedback they received and less likely to report that the process took too long. A higher proportion of Micro-agency applicants reported being left with a positive impression of the agency. However, applicants who required reasonable adjustments to be made to the process were less likely to be satisfied when they had applied for a position in a Micro-agency.

Figure 2.6: Perceptions of the selection process for successful applicants

*Indicates a statistically significant difference which is at least small in magnitude.

While it is evident from Figure 2.6 that APS selection processes can be improved successful applicants’ perceptions that the selection process was fair and transparent were overwhelmingly positive. Similarly, Micro-agency employees who have not been through a selection process in the last 12 months, but who have observed from the ‘sidelines’, tended to agree that their agency’s selection processes were fair and merit-based (see Figure 2.7). In both cases, significantly higher proportions of Micro-agency employees agreed that the process was fair.

Figure 2.7: Perceptions of selection processes by current employees

*Indicates a statistically significant difference which is at least small in magnitude.

Retention of Micro-agency employees

Table 2.2 compares career intentions of Micro-agency employees with those in the wider APS. Only one in three Micro-agency employees intend to stay in their agency for the long-term. This result is considerably lower than that for the wider APS. Correspondingly higher proportions of Micro-agency employees intend to leave within the next one to two years. One possible explanation for this is that employees joining Micro-agencies do not see them as a long-term employer but as a developmental opportunity or springboard for opportunities in the wider APS.

Table 2.2: Career intentions of employees
  Micro-agencies Other APS agencies
*indicates a statistically significant difference which is at least small in magnitude
I want to leave my agency as soon as possible 8% 8%
I want to leave my agency within the next 12 months* 21% 14%
I want to stay working for my agency for the next one to two years* 37% 26%
I want to stay working for my agency for at least the next three years* 34% 53%

The employee census further investigated the plans of those who intend to leave their agency either in the next 12 months or as soon as possible. The majority of employees intending to leave their Micro-agency expect to continue working in the public sector, otherwise Micro-agency employees’ expected destinations are similar to those of their colleagues in the wider APS (Table 2.3).

Table 2.3: Career intentions of employees
  Micro-agencies Other APS agencies
Working for another public sector organisation 64% 56%
Working for a private sector organisation 15% 16%
Other 9% 12%
Working for a not-for-profit sector organisation 6% 3%
Retired 6% 10%
Studying full-time 1% 2%

Employees who indicated that they intended leaving their agency in the next 12 months or as soon as possible were asked to nominate three reasons which contributed to their decision to leave. In both the Micro-agencies and the wider APS, the most frequently cited reason was a lack of career opportunities in their current agency. However, a much higher proportion of employees were concerned about this in the Micro-agencies than in the wider APS. By contrast, a lower proportion of Micro-agency employees reported that they had concerns over how rewards and promotions were allocated. As Figure 2.8[22] shows, however, only a minority of employees cited this as a reason for leaving their current agency.

Figure 2.8: Reasons for leaving the current agency

*Indicates a statistically significant difference which is at least small in magnitude.

Career progression for Micro-agency employees

While Micro-agency employees who intend to leave their agency see limited opportunities for career progression within the agency, a question remains about whether those who intend to stay share this view. Figure 2.9 shows the percentages of Micro-agency employees who were satisfied with their opportunities for career progression in their current agency and the wider APS.

Figure 2.9: Micro-agency employees’ perceptions of opportunities for career progression

While only 28% of Micro-agency APS 1–6 employees were satisfied with opportunities for career progression within their agency, more than half (51%) were satisfied with opportunities for career progression in the APS, this difference in perceptions is much greater than for employees in all other APS agencies and a similar pattern occurs for EL employees. Since over half of Micro-agency employees are APS 1–6s, this is a salient result and adds to the argument that some micro-agency employees may see their agency less as a long term employer than as a springboard into the broader APS.

Key findings

  • The nature of the work is the most frequently cited factor attracting APS employees to their current position. Micro-agency employees place an even heavier emphasis on this than employees from other agencies.
  • Only one in three Micro-agency employees intends to stay in their current agency for at least three years. This result is lower than that in the wider APS.
  • APS 1–6 and EL Micro-agency employees perceive their career opportunities to be limited in their current agencies and tend to pursue employment elsewhere. However, since limited opportunities might well go hand-in-hand with the comparative size of the Micro-agency, no easy retention remedy is readily apparent.
  • Selection processes are well-regarded both by applicants, and by employees who observed the process from the sidelines.
  • Reasonable adjustments in selection processes are an area for improvement for both the Micro-agencies and the wider APS.

Performance management

The APS Reform Blueprint recommended that the APS strengthen its performance management framework as a central component of improving outcomes. The APSC, in collaboration with agencies, has worked to better understand what constitutes good performance in the APS and develop a more comprehensive performance management framework. While performance management is normally the domain of employees of higher classifications, not all EL and Senior Executive Service (SES) employees have these responsibilities. Figure 2.10 shows the percentages of APS 3 to SES employees who do not have direct performance management responsibilities. These percentages clearly fall as classification rises. However, Micro-agency employees at most classifications are less likely to have direct performance management responsibilities than colleagues from larger agencies.

Figure 2.10: Percentages of employees without performance management responsibilities

*Indicates a statistically significant difference which is at least small in magnitude.

Micro-agency supervisors were positive about their abilities to manage employee performance effectively (see Figure 2.11). Less than one-third felt they had insufficient time to manage their staff. These results are in line with those for the wider APS.

Figure 2.11: Confidence in performance management skills and abilities

*Indicates a statistically significant difference which is at least small in magnitude.

For supervisors who were not confident managing performance, 60% believed improved guidelines on the process would help. Over half (55%) reported that increased access to training would assist. Forty per cent reported that improved access to advice from within the agency would be beneficial. Six Micro-agency employees provided additional comments about what would assist them in conducting performance management. Micro-agency supervisors nominated experience, senior management support and consistent advice as factors which would improve their confidence. One employee commented that being able to manage the reaction of the employee under review would improve their confidence. These results are similar to those for the APS as a whole[23].

Performance feedback

Seventy-four per cent of Micro-agency employees had received formal, individual performance feedback over the last 12 months. Fifteen per cent of Micro-agency employees who had received feedback thought it would not help improve their performance. This result is similar to that for the wider APS (16%). As Figure 2.12 shows, most of these employees thought the feedback simply did not identify ways to improve. One-third thought feedback failed to consider career development, or that it was too generic. There were no significant differences between the Micro-agencies and the wider APS in relation to any of these issues.

Figure 2.12: Reasons for dissatisfaction with formal performance feedback

Strengths of performance management in the Micro-agencies

Of the 900 Micro-agency respondents to the employee census, 227 provided comment about what elements of performance management were done well in their agencies. Employees identified three key strengths:

  1. opportunities for training and development, for example:
    • “Provision of training opportunities and support for staff to attend conferences and seminars to keep abreast of developments in their field and network with colleagues”.
  2. the systematic planning process:
    • “Timelines and objectives (are) discussed by management and planned ahead”.
    • “Ensuring that there is a positive link between business planning and individual work plans. Ensuring that performance feedback is conducted on a regular basis”.
  3. the support and feedback provided as part of the process:
    • “There is good information, an effective new system has been implemented, HR staff are helpful and always willing to offer advice and support”.
    • “Clear requirements for performance reporting”.

Weaknesses of performance management in the Micro-agencies

Managing underperformance was a frequently reported weakness in performance management. This is consistent with the quantitative data, where only 25% of Micro-agency employees agreed that their agency handled underperformance effectively. Lack of consistent feedback and communication were also frequently cited weaknesses. The three most frequently occurring themes were:

  1. Lack of constructive or useful feedback:
    • “I don't think we get adequate constructive feedback —positive or negative—to help us understand and improve our own performance”.
  2. Underperformance or poor performance:
    • “The APS rules about the management of poor performance are restrictive and inflexible, reducing the ability to communicate in circumstances where negative messages are delivered”.
    • “poor performers are not performance managed. Reluctance to address poor performance”.
  3. The process of managing performance:
    • “(the) performance review process can seem just like a ‘going through the motions’ exercise with little benefit to staff”.
    • “Time poor (lack of staff with increasing responsibilities) – not enough time with supervisor/staff”.

Key findings

  • Micro-agency employees were less likely to have performance management responsibilities than those in other agencies. However, the vast majority of supervisors have confidence in their abilities to perform this role.
  • Three-quarters of employees had received formal performance feedback in the last 12 months. Fifteen per cent of these felt it would not help to improve their performance.
  • Employees felt underperformance is not handled well by their agency’s performance management system.

Learning and development

Just over half of Micro-agency employees were satisfied with their access to learning and development opportunities (see Figure 2.13). While this result is higher than that for other agencies, the difference is statistically minor. Opportunities to pursue other job experiences including secondments were less well-regarded, although the result here was similar to that for the wider APS.

Figure 2.13: Satisfaction with access to learning and development opportunities

 

As Figure 2.14 shows, the majority of Micro-agency employees who were dissatisfied with their access to training cited budgetary reasons, this is similar for employees in all APS agencies. Although one of the least cited reasons, there would appear to be substantially less support among Micro-agency supervisors for training than in the broader APS. Of those who selected ‘Other’, 54 employees provided further detail. The three main reasons Micro-agency employees who provided comments offered for their dissatisfaction with access to learning and development opportunities were:

  • lack of senior management support (as opposed to supervisor support as shown in Figure 2.14)
  • limited opportunities for relevant developmental opportunities
  • lack of agency-level strategic or policy focus on learning and development.

Other reasons offered were consistent with reasons shown in Figure 2.14.

Figure 2.14: Reasons for dissatisfaction with access to learning and development

 

Figure 2.15 shows the amount of time employees had spent in formal training during the last 12 months. Only 15% of Micro-agency employees reported receiving no formal training at all. Conversely, over half had received three days or more. This result is similar to that for the wider APS.

Figure 2.15: Time provided for formal training

Employees who received formal training were generally satisfied with its quality (see Figure 2.16). The majority were also satisfied with the quality of on-the-job and informal training, although mentoring was less well-regarded. Satisfaction with e-learning was lower in the Micro-agencies than other agencies, however.

Figure 2.16: Satisfaction with the quality of learning and development

*Indicates a statistically significant difference which is at least small in magnitude.

Key findings

  • Fifty-two per cent of Micro-agency employees were satisfied with their access to learning and development opportunities.
  • Eighty-five per cent of employees had spent at least part-day in formal training over the last 12 months.
  • E-learning is an area for improvement across the APS as a whole, and for Micro-agencies in particular.

 

[16]Compensation leave relates to a work-related injury or disease which has been accepted by Comcare. This is different from the unscheduled absence figures reports in the SOSR 2011–12. Unscheduled absence includes leave types which are not related to the respondent’s health, such as carer’s leave and other miscellaneous types of leave.

[17] Health and Safety Executive, Work Related Stress—Research and Statistics, R. Kerr, M. McHugh and M. McCrory, HSE Management Standards and Stress-related Work Outcomes, Occupational Medicine, Vol. 59, No. 8, 2009, pp. 574–579.

[18]Control: t(892.42)=11.61, p<0.001, d=0.37; Manager Support: t(885.14)=2.94, p=0.003, d=0.1; Peer Support: t(81438)=-0.18, p=0.85, d=0.01; Role Clarity: t(81362)=0.45, p=0.65, d=0.02; Change: t(81307)=4.24, p<0.001, d=0.15; Demands: t(81491)=3.08, p=0.002, d=0.10; Relationships: t(81348)=0.5, p=0.62, d=0.02.

[19] The 2011 Micro-agency snapshot survey equivalent of this question was open-ended, allowing respondents to cite their own reasons for applying for their current position. Eight per cent were attracted by the idea of working in a small agency. Because the item changed for the employee census, it was not possible to follow this issue up.

[20] APSC, Research Note 17–12, Canberra, 2012; APSC, APS Micro-agency Snapshot Survey Report, Canberra, 2012.

[21] Successful job applicants are more likely to view the selection process favourably than unsuccessful applicants. Given that a higher proportion of Micro-agency respondents were successful (70% compared with 40%), if all applicants are considered together then Micro-agencies will have a higher proportion of satisfied applicants because of this higher success rate. Further investigation will therefore be based only on successful applicants.

[22]The employee census offered respondents a list of 25 factors and asked them to select the three which were influencing their decision to leave their agency. For the purpose of brevity, only the 16 most frequently cited have been reported.

[23] APSC, Research Note 81–12, Canberra, 2012.