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5 Comparing workplace attitudes - age and gender

Agencies need to understand what attracts employees to the APS and, more specifically, to their agency, and what keeps them there (or encourages them to leave). In terms of organisational renewal, it is important to understand whether these factors differ for younger employees and older employees and/or on the basis of gender.

Methodology

The research conducted for the Organisational Renewal project allows for such comparisons. To explore such differences, the survey data were disaggregated on an age and gender basis and the results for each are outlined below.

For age, the graduate population used has been limited to those aged 20 to 29 years. The attitudes of these younger employees are compared with those of the two groups of older employees (current mature-aged employees and former mature-aged employees).

For gender, the respective views of male and female respondents are analysed separately for the surveys of graduates and of mature-aged workers. A summary draws the main results together.

Survey data analysis: Age differences

Recruitment

In broad terms, younger and older employees saw factors relating to the nature of the work, workplace conditions and training or career development as being important in their recruitment to the APS or to their latest/last agency. Job security and interesting work were rated as the two most important reasons for joining the APS by all three employee groups.

For all three groups, location of the job was seen as somewhat important in their decision to join an agency or the APS. Graduates also rated training as an important joining factor. While it was given relatively low importance by current mature-aged employees and former mature-aged employees, both groups of older employees attributed some importance to the related factor of career development.

The recruitment strategies human resources sections saw as most effective were, for the most part, aligned with the factors identified as most important by employees, who identified interesting work and training as important factors in their joining the APS or their latest/last agency. Agencies rated agency goals and competitive pay for general recruitment as being more effective strategies than was evident in the importance ascribed to them by employees across both age groups.

Retention

Workplace factors

Both younger and older workers rated all workplace factors (e.g. the opportunity to utilise skills, interesting work and good working relationships) as being important, although graduates placed higher importance on workplace factors on average than mature-aged employees and former senior APS employees. Consequently the discrepancy between importance and satisfaction scores was greatest for graduates.

Both the graduates and current mature-aged employees placed the greatest importance on good working relationships and both groups also reported this factor as the one with which they had the highest level of satisfaction. Former mature-aged employees rated opportunities to utilise skills as the most important and rated the greatest satisfaction with the interesting work provided.

Recognition for effort and the opportunity to utilise skills were factors that all employee groups rated considerably lower in terms of satisfaction than importance across all three groups.

The recent graduates placed high importance on promotion opportunities (second after good working relationships) but their satisfaction levels for this factor were among their lowest (though this is substantially skewed by responses from ATO graduates).

Reasons for staying

Some of the current mature-aged employees reported that there were no factors encouraging them to stay in the APS (8%) while all recent graduates and former mature-aged employees felt there were factors encouraging them to stay.

Relative job security, good working relationships and interesting work were reported by high proportions of all three employee groups as factors encouraging them to stay.

However, other retention factors differed between younger and older workers. For example, considerably higher proportions of the graduates than older workers indicated that favourable employment conditions, the ability to move between locations or departments, and the training provided were reasons encouraging them to stay in the APS.

Conversely, both groups of older (current and former) employees were more likely to identify superannuation provisions as a factor encouraging them to stay.

These differences between the older and younger workers largely reflect the different life stages of the groups, but also suggest that mobility is of greater interest to younger workers.

In terms of main reasons for staying, relative job security and interesting work featured in the five main factors encouraging all three employee groups to stay in the APS. Once again though, there were some clear differences in the main retention factors across the three employee groups.

Favourable employment conditions was the standout main factor in encouraging the graduates to stay in the APS (reported by 45% of the graduates and followed by relative job security at 14%). This focus on working conditions is in keeping with the graduate group being more likely to be (or planning to) balance a career with family responsibilities, given the age of the group and the higher proportion of women in this group compared with the older workers. It may also reflect their perceptions about conditions relative to pay (see Reasons for leaving).

In contrast, the main factors encouraging the current mature-age workers to stay in the APS largely reflect their stage of life, these factors being relative job security (reported by 19%), superannuation provisions (19%) and interesting work (18%). For the former mature-aged employees, interesting work was predominant as the main reason they liked the APS (reported by 44%). The lower proportions of this group reporting factors such as job security and superannuation provisions is consistent with their having chosen to leave the APS.

Reasons for leaving

A much higher proportion of the graduates (93%) felt there were reasons discouraging them from staying in the APS than both groups of older workers (41% of current and 66% of former mature-aged employees). This is consistent with the generally greater gap between importance and satisfaction scores for the graduates, and is evidence of the greater openness to mobility of younger workers.

The factors the graduates were most likely to identify as encouraging them to leave differed considerably from those most likely to be identified by the older workers. The reasons commonly reported by the graduates focused on career opportunities outside the APS. These included more stimulating work elsewhere (reported by 50%), skills better developed elsewhere (59%) and better pay elsewhere (47%).

As noted earlier, for the graduates, dissatisfaction with the rate of promotion and with the promotion process were also among the most frequently identified (50% and 42%) as reasons discouraging this group from staying in the APS. This is in accord with the high discrepancy between importance and satisfaction scores for promotion opportunities in this group (most identified amongst the ATO graduates).

In contrast, the mature-aged workers were more likely to identify perceived shortcomings in the workplace, including poor management and supervision (reported by 23% current and 43% of former mature-aged employees), too much work or underresourced (23% and 43% respectively) and poor working relationships (10% and 17%). The feeling that their work was undervalued was among the commonly reported reasons for the current mature-aged employees (22%) and former mature-aged employees (37%). Once again this is reflected in their importance and satisfaction scores, with the greatest difference in scores occurring for recognition for effort.

In terms of main reasons for leaving, poor management and supervision, and more stimulating work elsewhere were among the five leading factors identified by all employee groups. It was the most commonly reported main factor among the current and former mature-aged employees.

More stimulating work elsewhere was the most commonly reported main factor discouraging the graduates from staying (reported by 19%) followed by dissatisfaction with the rate of promotion (17%) and better pay elsewhere (14%). In terms of their whole remuneration package, this suggests that graduates may see the choice to stay in the APS as one that trades off pay for conditions (as conditions were the main factor encouraging them to stay).

Agency perspective

The perspectives of agencies and employees in relation to retention factors were aligned to some extent. Of the factors used to retain graduate employees, agencies rated interesting work; work/life balance; and agency training, career development and mentoring as the most effective. They also rated promotion opportunities as among the most effective strategies for retaining graduates.

For general retention strategies, performance pay and flexibility were assessed as most effective. Both agencies and employees view recognition as being relatively important, however, while agencies perceived it to be an effective retention strategy this is somewhat at odds with the attitudes of employees (particularly older employees).

Survey data analysis: Gender differences

To analyse any gender differences, the results of the mature-aged employee and graduate surveys need to be considered separately. Overall findings on gender differences are then summarised.

Survey of mature-aged employees

Key characteristics of the current employees surveyed as part of the project are set out at the beginning of Chapter 3 and in the research methodology at Appendix B. The median age of this group was 53 years.

Retention

The 54/11 issue is less likely to influence the retirement/resignation decisions of female mature-aged APS employees as the CSS membership is skewed towards males (68%), with the same proportion applying to members over 50. Thus, significantly fewer women surveyed aged over 50 were members of the CSS scheme (34%) compared to men aged over 50 (50%). Only 8% of women over 50 identified 54/11 as the main reason for expecting to leave the APS at their nominated age compared to 14% of men over 50.

Similar proportions of men and women over 50 identified retirement as the main reason for intending to leave the APS at their nominated age (48% of men and 46% of women), while more women (6.2%) identified their partner retiring at the same time as being the main reason compared with 3.5% of men. Equivalent small proportions of men and women over 50 reported personal reasons such as caring for children or sick relatives as being the main reason for leaving the APS at their nominated age (2.4% and 3.0% respectively).

Mature-aged workers were asked what factors would keep them working beyond the age they currently intended to leave. The most commonly cited main factor identified by men over 50 was no loss to superannuation benefit (21% of men compared with 16% of women). The most common important factor identified by women over 50 was more flexible working conditions (25% of women compared with 16% of men). Around a third of both men and women reported that none of the factors presented would keep them working longer than they intended.

Those employees who were prepared to consider deferring retirement beyond the point at which they currently intended to leave were asked what their preferred working arrangements would be. Only 12% of these men and 7.8% of these women identified a preference for working the standard 5 days per week, 12 months per year pattern. When the same question was put to all the employees in the survey, only 4% of men and 0.9% of women over 50 identified their preferred working arrangements if they did rejoin the APS as the standard 5 days per week 12 months per year pattern. Currently the mature-aged employees in the survey work overwhelmingly on a full-time basis (99% of men and 92% of women).

Workplace factors

Current mature-aged employees were asked to identify which factors from a range of workplace factors were encouraging them to try and leave earlier than the age they otherwise intended to leave the APS. A number of differences are apparent between men and women. Sixty-five per cent of women aged over 50 reported that nothing was encouraging them to leave earlier compared to 56% of men.

The most common main reason which might induce men to leave the APS earlier than they otherwise intended was poor management/supervision (14% of men compared to 7.4% of women) while the most common main reason for women was too much work/under resourced (8.3% for women and 8.0% for men). Similar proportions of men and women over 50 identified feeling that their work is undervalued (6.8% of men and 5.3% of women), better pay elsewhere (3.9% of men and 3.4% of women) and more stimulating work elsewhere (4.0% of men and 3.2% of women) as being the main reasons they might try and leave earlier than their intended age of departure.

Mature-aged workers were also asked the main reason they were encouraged to stay in the APS. The most common main reason identified by men over 50 was that the work was interesting (19% of men compared with 15% of women) while the most common main reason for women was relative job security (22% of women compared with 18% of men). Similar proportions of men and women identified superannuation provisions (around 18%), location of job (around 5%) and the ability to balance work and family (around 3%). More women identified competitive pay (9.4%) and that conditions were favourable (5.5%) than men (6.9% and 2.8% respectively) as the main reason encouraging them to stay in the APS.

Re-employment

Gender differences emerged in mature-aged workers' response to the question as to whether they would rejoin the APS some time after they intended to leave. Fifty-six per cent of men over 50 reported that they would consider working in the APS again with 46% of women reporting the same thing. The difference between genders was most stark for those workers aged 55 and over with the comparative data being 55% of men and only 41% of women.

Survey of graduates

Characteristics of participants in the graduate survey are set out at the beginning of Chapter 4 and in the research methodology at Appendix B. The median age of this group18 was 23 years for women and 24 for men.

Recruitment

When asked about factors that had been influential in their decision to join the APS, female graduates were more likely to place a higher importance on all factors than male graduates. The difference was, however, most marked with respect to the desire for interesting work, and the reputation of the APS as an employer, both of which factors weighed more heavily with women than with men. Job security was critical to both groups, but still more important to women than to men.

Retention

Many graduates (45%- 44.3% female and 45.9% male) were uncertain as to whether they would remain in the APS for the next 10 years. Female graduates (32.7%) were more likely to report their intention to stay than male graduates (29.5%).

Overall, women seem more likely than men to find factors which encouraged them to stay on in the APS. 'Favourable employment conditions' was the standout main factor in encouraging all graduates to stay (46% of female graduates and 33% of male graduates identified employment conditions as the main factor encouraging them to stay). In addition to employment conditions, females were more likely to focus on pay and work and family issues. Male graduates identified only job security, superannuation and career paths as retention factors more frequently than women.

When graduates were asked to identify the main factor discouraging them from remaining in the APS, males were proportionally more focused on going elsewhere to find better rates of pay while females were proportionally more focused on finding more stimulating work and better skills development. Rate of promotion was also a key issue, but as noted in Chapter 4 that finding is heavily influenced by the particular circumstances of a particular agency.

Workplace factors

Factors in the workplace that were most influential in shaping graduates' attitudes to their employment were the same for both women and men, although women were overall more likely to cite them as important. These were good working relationships, promotion opportunities (particularly for ATO graduates) and opportunities to utilise skills. In addition to women's greater overall emphasis on good working relationships, the greatest differences between females and males were women's greater emphasis on regular feedback and recognition for effort, as well as their interest in having provision to discuss their career prospects.

In terms of their actual satisfaction with these factors, both female and male graduates were most likely to identify working relationships and training as satisfying (although as indicated in the Chapter 4, there were no areas where satisfaction ratings were higher than importance ratings). The only areas in which females were less satisfied than males were 'doing the type of work they expected to do' and the appropriateness of their workload.

It needs to be noted, however, that gender differences on these factors were not large, particularly when compared to the differences between the factors identified as important by both groups.

Summary findings on gender differences

Women now make up just over half of ongoing APS staff and 56% of all ongoing staff in the APS classification levels. Over time, and as numbers of women in the Service have increased, women have increased their representation at more senior classifications, and this pattern is likely to be sustained.

Survey data show some attitudinal differences between men and women.

  • The 54/11 issue is less likely to influence the retirement/resignation decisions of female mature-aged APS employees compared to males.
  • The most common important factor likely to keep women over 50 in the APS longer than currently intended was more flexible working conditions, while men were more concerned about the impact of staying on their superannuation. This is probably CSS-related and therefore a shorter term issue.
  • Fifty six per cent of men over 50 reported that they would consider working in the APS again and 46% of women reported the same thing. Flexible working conditions were also a key factor here: very few individuals would choose to work full-time on return.
  • Female graduates were more likely to respond positively when asked about factors inducing them to join and to remain in the APS, and more indicated that they were likely to stay on in the APS.
  • Female graduates are more likely to be attracted to the APS by the desire for interesting work and the reputation of the APS as an employer. They are encouraged to leave by the prospect of more stimulating work elsewhere.
  • 'Favourable employment conditions' was the standout main factor in encouraging all graduates to stay in the APS, but weighed much more strongly with women.
  • While both men and women valued good working relationships, women valued them more strongly, together with regular feedback, recognition for effort, and provision to discuss their career prospects.

18 For the purposes of the research paper referred to, a graduate is defined as someone who is engaged at the Graduate APS classification, then advances to APS 3 at the end of their training year (many agencies promote to higher levels immediately after such advancement). The definition excludes a number of persons engaged following an agency advertisement for graduates but at a classification other than a Graduate APS.