One of the enduring characteristics of the Australian Public Service (APS) is the great diversity of agencies that go to make up the APS. APS agencies range in size from over 35,000 to less than a dozen staff, they can be grouped by function into one of four categories: regulatory, policy, specialist, and operational agencies, some agencies are largely confined to Canberra, whereas some are entirely regional. While this diversity contributes to the ability of the APS to deliver the capability the government and the population expect, it adds a layer of organisational complexity. One of the key resources the APS has to help it understand this is the annual State of the Service Report (SoSR).
While the SoSR was designed to be as comprehensive as possible, until 2012, the employee survey had been administered to a stratified random sample of APS employees, which, for technical reasons, excluded agencies with less than 100 staff (the “Micro-agencies”). The Micro-agencies are an important segment of the APS; although accounting for only a small proportion of the total APS workforce, they represent almost one-quarter of the agencies in the APS and are typically focussed on highly specialised, yet critical functions in the public sector. In order to better understand this segment of the APS, in 2011 Micro-agencies employees were invited to participate in the Micro-agency Snapshot, a modified version of the SOSR employee survey, in which 13 micro-agencies participated.
In 2012, however, the employee survey adopted a census sampling model, and all employees from all agencies, regardless of size, were invited to participate, thereby bringing Micro-agencies into the scope of the SoSR for the first time. The change to the employee survey sampling method builds on the 2011 Micro-agency Snapshot as employees from each of the 32 Micro-agencies in the APS have participated in the survey. This has allowed the APSC to do a more detailed examination and gain a better understanding of this important sector of the APS workforce which is reported in the present report—the State of the Micro-agencies Report—a valuable addition to the State of the Service series of reports.
This report is organised around the same workforce capability themes used in the SOSR 2011–12: leadership and culture; human capital management; and organisational effectiveness. The key findings for each are described below.
Leadership and culture
The majority of Micro-agency employees agreed that their supervisor acts with integrity and professionalism. They also held their supervisor’s management capabilities in high regard. Higher proportions of Micro-agency employees thought that their Senior Executive Service (SES) leaders act with integrity and professionalism than in the wider APS (they also rated their SES leaders’ capabilities highly). Similarly, higher proportions of Micro-agency employees considered their leaders were sufficiently visible in the workplace than in the APS generally—a finding related to higher levels of employee engagement. Finally, Micro-agency employees were more likely than those from other agencies to agree that their agency was well-managed, these positive perceptions of agency management being linked to higher levels of employee engagement.
Culture, values and conduct
Over 85% of Micro-agency employees believe that staff in their agency uphold the APS Values. Nevertheless, one in six (or about 15%) of Micro-agency employees, have experienced some form of bullying or harassment in the previous 12 months. Sixty-one per cent of employees who had been bullied or harassed did not report the problem. The majority of these employees thought their complaint would not be acted on or that the process was too difficult. The census also found that being bullied or harassed is linked to lower employee engagement levels.
Human capital management
Health and well-being
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 the work they do. Although a higher proportion of Micro-agency employees than in the APS generally had worked more than 80 hours in the fortnight before filling out the census, this had not led to a lower level of satisfaction with work-life balance.
Recruitment and retention
The most frequently cited factor attracting APS employees to their current position is the nature of the work. Micro-agency employees place an even greater emphasis on this than employees in other agencies. Only one in three Micro-agency employees intend to stay in their current agency for at least three years—a result lower than that for the wider APS. EL and APS 1–6 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 (in Micro-agencies) are well-regarded both by applicants and those employees who observed the process.
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 Micro-agency employees had received formal performance feedback in the last 12 months, but 15% of these indicated it would not help improve their performance. Micro-agency employees thought underperformance is not handled well by their agency’s performance management system.
Learning and development
Fifty-two per cent of Micro-agency employees were satisfied with their access to learning and development opportunities; 85% had spent at least part of a day in formal training over the last 12 months. However, the quality of e-learning is an area for improvement across the APS, and for Micro-agencies in particular.
Over half of Micro-agency employees reported that their workplace had introduced an innovation in the previous 12 months. Innovations’ most frequent effect was on administrative processes. Micro-agency employees were more likely to agree that their senior leaders are supportive of change than in the wider APS. They were also less likely to see barriers to innovation in their agency.
Most Micro-agency employees reported they were consulted about changes likely to affect them. However, less than half of respondents thought their agency handled change well. Fifty-eight per cent of Micro-agency employees had been affected by workplace change in the last 12 months. The most frequently cited example of this was a change in staffing numbers.
Social media and networking
Micro-agency employees are more likely to be using social media to work with non-government stakeholders. They are also more likely to telework than employees of larger agencies. However, this seems to be on an ad hoc basis, rather than as part of a stable arrangement.
The State of the Micro-agencies Report 2011–12 marks a significant development in APSC-APS agency collaboration on gathering comprehensive statistical data to support high-order analysis of public sector trends. This report should inform Micro-agency managers and HR practitioners about their workforce and allow larger agencies to examine the differences between themselves and this unique and important sector of the APS workforce.