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There has been considerable focus on employee absence in the Australian Public Service (APS) in recent years. This is not, however, a recent phenomenon. For example, in 1920, the Royal Commission on Public Service Administration considered the ‘relative efficiency of male and female employment’. Among the results, it reported that women used more sick leave than men, a finding consistent with current data.1 The Royal Commission also worked through many issues that continue to feature in today's discussion of absence, including the role of medical practitioners and medical certificates, perceptions of an entitlement culture in the public service, and the ingenuity of employees in taking unwarranted leave. The Royal Commission highlighted another persistent theme when examining absence in the public service that also holds true today:

It should be understood these remarks do not apply to a large proportion of the Service, comprising honourable men and women who would scorn to take advantage of the departments, but unfortunately there is a proportion who do not hesitate to avail themselves of the liberality of the regulations, which were solely designed to help unfortunate and deserving officers.

Workforce absence and attendance is a complex issue that is influenced by a myriad of overlapping factors including workplace culture, employee health and wellbeing, the domestic circumstances of employees, employee engagement, job design, workplace conditions, and the quality of local leadership and management. At its core, workforce attendance is fundamental to the productivity of all APS agencies and as such deserves the constant attention of all APS managers.

This chapter examines workforce availability and its contribution to workforce productivity in the APS. In particular, it reports on the factors that influence workplace attendance, the measures used by agencies to manage attendance and absence, and the impact of workplace absence on agency productivity.

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1 Data from the 2014 APS Employee Census showed that 26% of female respondents had taken some sick leave in the previous fortnight compared with 23% of male respondents. Similar but smaller differences were present for carer's leave and miscellaneous leave.