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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.

Promoting a positive work environment based on respect requires commitment from the top. Agencies should make clear the expected standards of behaviour and demonstrate a strong and consistent commitment to them throughout the organisation.

Integrating a values-based culture with broader people management strategies and aligning them with business planning and expected outcomes helps to reinforce that commitment.


Effective leadership at all levels is critical to inspiring and motivating employees to engage with the expected values and behaviours. The Public Service Act 1999 articulates the importance of role modelling and the special responsibilities of agency heads and the Senior Executive Service in relation to the APS Values and the Code of Conduct (sections 12 and 35 of the PS Act).

Leadership and values-based management

Leaders are more likely to build a positive work environment if they demonstrate their commitment to the APS Values. Senior staff who model the Values and the Code send a message to others that they work in a place that values all employees, where people can perform at their best.

Staff take their cues from their managers and immediate environment. They interpret the behaviour of others as acceptable conduct. If the leadership group actively models and champions the Values, other staff in the agency tend to do the same.

Values-based management means sustaining a culture of trust in employee relationships, based on a clear understanding of professional roles and responsibilities. Being professional means understanding and applying the Values and Code, and using them to guide behaviours and decision-making.

A good example is the values-based leadership model developed by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship.

Capabilities Individual behaviours – as leaders we:

Provide vision and meaningful direction

  • understand how our role contributes to The DIAC Plan, and help colleagues to understand their role
  • provide and create opportunities to participate in decision-making and planning
  • clarify our priorities and inspire others to achieve them
  • make sure we understand what is expected of us and how to achieve this.

Operate consistently with our values

  • understand our values
  • behave in accordance with our values
  • address behaviour that is inconsistent with our values.

Communicate constantly and meaningfully

  • communicate regularly in a clear, timely and effective manner
  • listen actively
  • find ways to communicate with colleagues at all levels
  • welcome and respond to feedback.

Create the environment for success

  • understand the role that we play in the department’s success, and help colleagues to understand their role
  • do our job well and develop our skills, and support colleagues to do the same
  • provide regular and constructive feedback on progress and performance
  • recognise and reward good work.

Function as team players

  • constructively interact and work with colleagues at all levels
  • encourage colleagues to express their opinions and views, and use appropriate opportunities to express our own
  • actively support and encourage teamwork across and beyond the organisation
  • actively seek and provide constructive feedback from and to our team.

Persist to achieve good outcomes

  • focus on following our plan
  • work to achieve our goals and support colleagues to achieve their goals
  • are resilient and optimistic when resolving barriers to good outcomes effectively address underperformance.

Modelling of expected behaviours by leaders also needs to be supported by other activities to encourage employees to behave with courtesy and respect. Activities like workplace discussions and mentoring, supported by training, also motivate employees to apply the Values and Code in their daily work.

Developing a policy on appropriate behaviour

Written agency policies on a commitment to the APS Values and cultural and behavioural expectations are useful. However, they need regular reinforcement through consistent communication and training strategies. Suggestions for written policy content include:

  • the agency’s commitment to the Values and Code and to promoting a positive culture in a workplace that is free from harassment and bullying
  • a statement by the agency head that harassment and bullying is a breach of the Values and Code and will not be tolerated
  • a clear view of expected standards of workplace behaviour, that clearly describes what is and what is not workplace harassment
  • the responsibility of agency heads, the Senior Executive Service, managers and employees to create a workplace culture in which harassment and bullying are unacceptable
  • strategies to promote a workplace culture, which address the issues of harassment and bullying
  • examples of unacceptable behaviour and the consequences of breaching the policy
  • processes for reporting or raising issues or complaints about harassment; where to go for advice; the review mechanisms; and information about support and protection for employees.

The best written policy however is only part of the framework. It needs to be followed through with action and regular reinforcement.

Agencies can also support their managers and staff to promote a positive workplace culture, for example by:

  • providing high quality learning and development programmes on leadership and people management, which include practical tips for encouraging a culture of mutual respect
  • establishing clear statements and guidelines on appropriate workplace conduct
  • involving employees in the processes that promote a positive workplace culture
  • giving employees the opportunity to participate in workplace surveys, consultations, team meetings and focus groups.

Developing and implementing a policy on appropriate behaviours

The Department of Health and Ageing is taking a strategic approach to building a workplace that is characterised by respect, is free from harassment and is based on the APS Values. The department continues to implement policy and practices that create a positive workplace culture.

Launched in October 2006 the Department’s Respect campaign delivered awareness raising activities focusing on the Code of Conduct and promoting positive behaviours in the workplace. The campaign was supported by tools including a series of posters, screensavers and a Respect intranet site that has links to Australian Public Service Commission publications. In March 2008, the second phase of the campaign was implemented, focusing on a top down education program. Interactive workshops focussed on improving individual awareness of how behaviour is interpreted and perceived by others, coupled with the need to modify behaviour depending on the audience.

The Department continues to raise awareness of the APS Values and the Code of Conduct and staff and manager responsibilities in creating and maintaining a work environment based on respect.

Taking care in selection

In selecting managers, it is important to make sure they can work within the APS Values environment and foster a positive and productive environment. The core Senior Executive Service criteria of cultivating productive working relationships, included in the Senior Executive Leadership Capability framework, reflects the need for this capability.

Reinforcing through induction

All new staff need to be aware of behavioural expectations, and provided with consistent information through, for example:

  • a management policy statement on supporting positive working relationships and preventing workplace harassment
  • orientation training and awareness raising programmes
  • a first-day meeting with a supervisor or manager, when expectations and standards are made clear
  • regular discussions with a mentor.

Raising awareness through training

Information could be integrated into learning and development activities for all staff on the agency’s policies and procedures and their own responsibilities in relation to appropriate workplace behaviours, occupational health and safety, and the APS Values and Code.

Training for supervisors and managers should cover their responsibilities for maintaining a workplace free of harassment and reinforce the skills they need to fulfil their responsibilities. They should also receive information about management liability and the costs of dealing with workplace harassment, and about conflict resolution, including workplace harassment case studies.

The Being Professional in the APS—Values Resources for Facilitators kit is designed to help agencies build their own training programmes on the Values and Code.

A way forward based on a shared understanding

Respect in the ABS

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) is committed to providing a respectful, safe, supportive and inclusive workplace environment for all staff members through an ongoing programme and regularly monitoring results through the State of the Service reports each year.

The 2004 Australian Bureau of Statistics Employee Survey results indicated around 20% of ABS central office staff believed they were victims of workplace harassment or bullying during the past year.

Senior management considered this unacceptably high, and to address it, agreed there needed to be a shared understanding of what behaviour was unacceptable. Focus has since shifted to a shared understanding of desired behaviours and away from focus on negative (unacceptable) behaviours.

The initial strategy implemented in 2004 had three elements which have been completed, but a continuing focus has been maintained as follows:

  • discussions and workshops were held to allow staff to think and talk about issues of harassment and bullying in the ABS and to suggest solutions to deal with these issues. These sessions are now available on an ‘as needs’ basis and have been refocussed on desired behaviours
  • the Merit Protection Commissioner spoke to a session of all Senior Executive Service and Executive Level 2 central office staff about their responsibilities relating to harassment and bullying. Manager responsibilities and accountabilities have now been added in a ‘Managers’ Handbook’ available to all employees through the intranet, with links to resource material
  • a Senior Executive Service harassment and bullying workshop was held to identify practical ways for the SES to understand their own impact and uphold the highest standards of behaviour. Senior management roles and responsibilities continue to be examined and defined through a ‘Strategic Alignment’ project, including a strong emphasis on the importance of role modelling appropriate behaviours.

By talking with and listening to its employees, demonstrating its commitment to building a good working environment, and by collaborating with Australian Public Service Commission staff to develop and implement anti-harassment strategies, the ABS has shown its continued commitment to a workplace free from harassment and bullying. This has culminated the development of and commitment to the ABS Respect Charter.

A further survey of employees is planned for 2010. This will generate comparative data and indicate if further action is required.

Commitment checklist

Ensure that: leaders

  • demonstrate visible and strong commitment to the APS Values and Code of Conduct
  • senior leaders communicate to all employees that they have a responsibility to ensure their behaviour is consistent with the Values and Code of Conduct
  • senior leaders communicate to employees that inappropriate behaviour, including harassment and bullying, is not tolerated
  • employees have mechanisms to protect them from victimisation for reporting inappropriate behaviour
  • strategic directions incorporate values-based decision-making, and that this is integrated at all levels of planning and performance
  • learning and development programmes for leaders and managers include how to model the Values, and training in coaching and mentoring for values-based management
  • induction programmes for all employees include information about behavioural standards and expectations, and the Values and Code
  • all employees know about and conform with expected standards of conduct and behaviour
  • management selection policies assess whether candidates are capable of fostering a positive and productive work environment
  • all employees have training and supporting material that cover their responsibilities under the Values and Code.

15 www.apsc.gov.au/selc/

16 APSC - Senior Executive Leadership Capability framework

Last reviewed: 
5 June 2018