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Assurance

Note that this page is under review. It has not yet been updated to reflect changes to the Public Service Act 1999 and Public Service Regulations 1999, or contained in the Australian Public Service Commissioner’s Directions 2013, that came into effect on 1 July 2013. Agencies may continue to use the guidance for reference, but should be aware that it may not reflect current legislative requirements.

Assurance approaches will vary, depending on an agency’s size, location and its business. Workable assurance mechanisms contribute to the prevention of misconduct and inappropriate behaviour. Agencies also need to monitor their control mechanisms to ensure they are effective in practice.

Monitoring and evaluating organisational health

As part of overall agency monitoring and evaluation, agencies should monitor their organisation’s ‘health’. This includes looking regularly at work environment and harassment and bullying policies, as well as communication and prevention strategies.

Data collection and analysis—broken down by business unit, classification, location and diversity groups—help to highlight any weaknesses in procedures and processes, and point to trends or difficulties with workplace issues in specific work areas.

Indicators of likely problems with harassment and bullying include:

  • staff retention/turnover rates
  • unusual patterns of internal staff transfers
  • rates of sick leave and unscheduled absences
  • information from exit surveys that include questions about experiencing or witnessing harassment and bullying
  • the number, type and cost of compensation claims
  • results of 360 degree feedback arrangements
  • available reports from counselling or employee assistance programme providers.

The Australian Public Service Commission publication, Agency Health: Monitoring agency health and improving performance, provides useful guidance and a checklist for agencies to ‘take their temperature’. The checklist at Attachment A includes key signs to look for in assessing key contributors to good or poor agency health, including leadership, relationships and integrity, and organisational culture.

Using both qualitative and quantitative data ensures more comprehensive monitoring and evaluation. For example, when quantitative data on the number of complaints is used as an indicator, qualitative information can show the reasons behind any rises or falls, such as the effect of a campaign to improve employee awareness about complaints systems.

Linking evaluation and communications strategies ensures ongoing awareness and education. Evaluation results can also keep the issues of harassment and bullying on the agenda.

Communicating to staff the successes or responses to identified problems, signals a commitment by leaders to a values-based approach, behavioural standards and expectations, and open communication.

Some agencies assign responsibility for reviewing and distributing harassment and bullying policies to a particular position or area. Allocating this as a specific responsibility helps to ensure that procedures take account of:

  • recent developments in the field, including new policy, case law or good practice
  • the need to reshape information and training programs in response to changes in the agency’s profile
  • feedback from managers and staff.

Staff surveys

Staff surveys test organisational culture, including views about respect, harassment and bullying. Staff surveys can be used to measure:

  • staff familiarity with the APS Values, Code of Conduct and related agency policies
  • how staff feel about reporting inappropriate behaviour
  • staff satisfaction with the speed, manner and the level at which complaints are resolved.

To compare performance, agencies can benchmark their survey results against APS-wide data included in annual State of the Service Reports.

Work teams should get the staff survey results so they can contribute to developing appropriate responses or programmes.

Quality assurance in the Australian Taxation Office

The Australian Taxation Office recognises that listening to employee concerns, providing safe avenues to raise and address issues, and quality assuring its associated processes and outcomes, will help to ensure organisational health and increase overall effectiveness and productivity.

In 1998, ATOconcern was launched as an independent, confidential and impartial service for all staff to raise issues that affect them or the workplace. Issues can include harassment, bullying, whistleblowing, discrimination, allegations of fraud/misconduct, interpersonal/ team conflict, and occupational health and safety.

With a focus on informal resolution, ATOconcern is designed to encourage all employees and managers to work together to resolve issues and to constructively resolve differences. As well, ATOconcern electronically records all contacts on a secure drive of the ATO People system, which is only accessed by ATOconcern staff. The system then collects, analyses and reports aggregated data for the Tax Office, which helps with evaluation and points to areas for improvement.

Quality controls also ensure that cases are managed appropriately. For example, a June 2006 technical quality review of a sample of conduct performance and review cases resulted in a 97% pass rate. The review also highlighted extremely positive feedback on stakeholder support, and the comprehensiveness of case record keeping.

By resolving issues informally, ATOconcern helps to prevent issues escalating to more formal and costly processes. ATOconcern contributes also to the integrity of the organisation by ensuring compliance with employment agreements and APS legislation. All of these processes—prevention, early intervention, case work, and quality assurance— contribute to the Tax Office having an engaged and high performing workforce.

Assurance checklist

Ensure that:

  • procedures for determining whether an employee has breached the Code of Conduct are effective, that sanctions for breaches of the Code are legal and reasonable, and that decision-making about sanctions is consistent across the agency
  • employees are encouraged to expose wrongdoing without fear of victimisation and are aware of complaints handling and whistleblowing procedures
  • decision-making review systems (both internal and external) are used to provide systematic feedback on agency systems and procedures and that they consistently support the APS Values
  • employees are aware of the agency’s review scheme, their review rights, and how to seek a review
  • staff surveys are used to assess if the agency is meeting its obligations under the Values and Code of Conduct
  • records meet accountability requirements (including compliance with legislation), business needs and community expectations
  • adherence to the Values and Code is monitored within standard corporate reporting and management information systems.

23 See Agency Health: Monitoring agency health and improving performance

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