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The APS is operating from a strong foundation. It continues to evolve by streamlining its functions and processes in order to drive productivity and performance improvements.

Many of the practices that contribute to delivering strong performance also have a positive impact on employee job satisfaction, retention and loyalty. These practices include:

  • setting and communicating clear performance expectations
  • delivering relevant and regular performance feedback
  • evaluating performance
  • providing appropriate learning and development opportunities
  • identifying organisational career paths for employees
  • recognising and rewarding good performance
  • managing underperformance.

The APS starts with a strong employment proposition that is designed to encourage high levels of engagement from employees and provide a framework to ensure the wellbeing of employees is maintained.

Employment framework

The APS employment framework enables the effective management of staff. It structures the recruitment, development and mobility of staff. It operates efficiently, but it would be wrong to be complacent. The nature of work and the expectations of staff and managers are changing. The employment framework has to adapt to these changes.

The composition of the APS workforce has undergone a major shift in recent years in response to the changing nature of work. The APS has a small but growing proportion of non-ongoing staff. At 30 June 2016, non-ongoing employees comprised 11.5 per cent of the total APS. This is an increase from 10.3 per cent of the total APS in 2015. As shown in Figure 1, the proportion of non-ongoing employees in the APS has been gradually increasing since 2004.

Figure 1: Proportion of non-ongoing employees in the APS, June 2002 to June 2016

Source: APS Employment Database.

APS employment practices are reviewed to ensure they remain relevant and administratively proportionate. APS recruitment practices have to be flexible to enable the engagement of contractors, labour hires, non-ongoing and casual employees according to an agency's workforce needs.

Staff mobility and flexible working arrangements currently receive additional focus. They can enable a shift from a work–life balance to more work–life integration. Encouragingly, results from the APS employee census show that 75 per cent of respondents are satisfied with their work–life balance and their ability to access flexible working arrangements. Results also show that 76 per cent are satisfied with their non-monetary employment conditions.

In 2015, Sandra McPhee AM, with the support of the Australian Public Service Commission, conducted a review of APS workforce management practices. Launched in April 2016, the report of the review, titled Unlocking potential, provides a rich set of actions to accelerate the modernisation of the APS workforce. It is framed around four key areas for change:

  • attracting and recruiting staff
  • optimising talent and driving high performance
  • improving flexibility
  • redesigning human resources.

The Commission has recognised and responded to the need to modernise the APS employment framework to align with changing work patterns and provide greater flexibility for agencies to manage their workforces.

The streamlining of the APS employment framework will be advanced by the amendments to the Public Service Commissioner's Directions. The aims of the amendments are to:

  • streamline the engagement of non-ongoing employees
  • broaden Indigenous and disability affirmative measures
  • give agencies greater flexibility to determine their performance management arrangements.

Attraction, retention and separation

During 2015–16, the APS experienced 11,005 engagements and 9,759 separations of ongoing employees. Of the separations, the number of resignations during 2015–16 was greater than the number of retrenchments for the first time since 2013.

The APS competes for skilled people. It is important to understand what attracts people to working in the public sector and what factors cause people to leave. Since 2013, the Commission has managed entry and exit surveys to assist agencies to obtain information about engagement, retention and staff movements.

The most common reason for joining the APS during 2015–16 was the type of work available. Long-term career progression and development opportunities also featured highly in reasons for joining or remaining in the APS. Most employees taking up ongoing positions expected to stay with their new agencies for at least two years.

Most respondents to the exit survey reported that they were leaving their agencies voluntarily. Employees most commonly reported that a lack of future career opportunities affected their decision to leave their agencies. A desire to try a new career, unmet work expectations and having achieved all they could in their job were also important factors.

The exit surveys show that it is imperative to provide attractive and flexible work environments. This area will remain a focus for the APS, although staff turnover is relatively low.

Employee engagement

Employee engagement is critical. An engaged workforce is likely to be more committed, innovative and productive.

The 2016 APS employee census demonstrates that employee engagement in the APS remains high (see Figure 2). Job engagement and engagement with immediate supervisors have particularly strong results

Figure 2: APS employee engagement scores, 2014, 2015 and 2016

Source: 2014, 2015 and 2016 APS employee censuses.

As with previous years, significant variations are evident across job, team, supervisor and agency engagement measures depending on agency function. Specialist and policy agencies are consistently rated higher on each measure, while operational agencies rate lower. Members of the Senior Executive Service (SES) also report higher engagement levels on each measure compared to the workforce overall.

Attendance management

In 2015–16 the unscheduled absence rate across the APS decreased by 0.1 days to 11.5 days from 11.6 in 2014–15. This is the first decrease in four years. However, the APS rate remains well above private sector trends.

Similar to previous years, differences are evident depending on the size of the agency. Large agencies have the highest rates of personal leave with an average of 12.5 days on average per employee.

The APS continues to investigate the drivers of workplace attendance and the connection between employee engagement and sick leave use. The Commission is also examining the factors that influence leave-taking behaviour. The objective is to reduce the relatively high unscheduled absence rate in the APS.

Employee performance management

More than ever, employees need to be innovative, agile, responsive and resilient. Employee performance and its management continues to attract close scrutiny.

The tools that agencies and supervisors use to effectively manage employees are a key focus for the APS. Also, it is an area that continues to undergo significant modification.

Supervisors and the policies they administer determine whether performance management is effective or not. Results from the 2016 APS employee census shows that while supervisors may be confident in their ability to manage performance, they are less confident about the policies that govern their actions. The same result was recorded last year.

Fifty-five per cent of responding APS supervisors agree that their agencies' performance management policies provide them with clear guidelines for measuring employee performance. Similarly, 55 per cent of APS supervisors agree that their performance management policies are transparent and promote fair and equitable processes. Furthermore, 61 per cent of supervisors agree that the requirements necessary to rate an employee as performing at an acceptable level are clear.

A key to successful employee performance management is ensuring that good performance conversations occur regularly between managers and employees. Good performance conversations are ones that are honest and forward-looking and that highlight the impact an employee's performance has on the organisation's success.

It is encouraging that 86 per cent of responding APS supervisors maintain that they provide performance feedback in a timely manner and 85 per cent say that they articulate clear and consistent performance expectations. Similar numbers of supervisors also report that they proactively deal with issues of underperformance. Seventy-six per cent of responding supervisors believe that they can rely on their managers for guidance and support to address underperformance.

Interestingly, in the 2016 employee census, 62 per cent of responding employees report that their managers provide them with clear and consistent performance expectations. In comparison to the 85 per cent of managers who report that they articulate clear and consistent performance expectations to their staff. These results show that there is scope to improve the way in which performance expectations are communicated to employees.

An element that is pleasing to observe is that 68 per cent of APS employees agree that their jobs give them a feeling of personal accomplishment. Also, 74 per cent report that they use their skills in their current jobs.

These results are mixed. They reflect a commitment to treat performance management seriously. However, the policies in many agencies can be improved. Most agencies report that they have developed or are in the process of introducing performance management initiatives.

Increasing mobility

As reported last year, increased staff mobility in all its forms is needed to broaden perspectives, make new linkages and improve collaboration. This includes mobility across industry sectors, across APS agencies and across government jurisdictions.

Greater mobility will assist the APS to improve its capability and relevance by:

  • broadening individual experiences through exposure to alternative operating environments
  • introducing employees to new ways to address challenges and problem-solve
  • identifying contemporary workforce management practices that ensure employees are able to reach their full potential.

Seventy-seven per cent of ongoing APS employees have only worked in one agency. A number of barriers exist to the movement of staff between agencies, other government jurisdictions and the private sector. Several barriers are based on perceptions, while others are more structural.

In the 2016 APS employee census, 48 per cent of respondents agree that their agencies provide opportunities for workplace mobility. Sixty-one per cent, however, are of the view that workplace mobility, including secondments and temporary transfers, should be more common in their agencies.

Agency survey data indicates that most agencies have policies in place to promote employee mobility. In 2016, 61 per cent of agencies promoted 'within agency' mobility. Support for external mobility was lower, with 41 per cent of agencies promoting interagency mobility, 28 per cent promoting non-APS public sector mobility and 17 per cent promoting movement to the private sector. With increasing technology enablers, shifting policies and changing procedures, the APS is expected to adopt more flexible work practices heading into the future, like Operation Free Range.3

Creating a diverse workforce

The APS has a long-standing commitment to a workforce that reflects the diversity of the community it serves. A range of initiatives are being undertaken with a focus on gender, Indigenous and disability issues.

A diverse workforce is best achieved with an accepting and supportive workplace. Supervisors and workgroups that foster a sense of inclusion are a positive force in this regard. In 2016, the vast majority of responding employees agree that the people in their workgroup and their supervisors behave in an accepting manner towards people from diverse backgrounds. Sixty-nine per cent of respondents agreed that their agency is committed to creating a diverse workforce.

Gender balance

Launched in April 2016, Balancing the future: the Australian Public Service Gender Equality Strategy 2016–19 sets out actions for driving high performance and boosting productivity in the APS. It is a strategy for harnessing the best talent, changing cultures, and challenging assumptions that hold us back. In 2016, over 40 per cent of agencies reported implementing the gender equality strategy.

Women currently make up 58 per cent of the ongoing APS workforce. The representation of ongoing women in the APS has now reached parity with or exceeded ongoing men at all levels from APS 1 to Executive Level (EL) 1. Since 1996, the representation of ongoing women in the APS has almost doubled at the EL 2 and SES Band 1 levels and tripled at the SES Band 2 level. The representation of ongoing women at the SES Band 3 level has increased five-fold. Twenty years ago, women made up 19 per cent of ongoing SES employees, compared to 43 per cent
in 2016.

The gender equality strategy will further drive this trend toward equal representation of women and men in the APS leadership.

Indigenous employees

The Commonwealth Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Employment Strategy, launched on 1 July 2015, supports a new target to lift Indigenous employment to 3 per cent across the Commonwealth public sector by 2018. In 2016, 50 per cent of agencies report implementing the employment strategy.

Representation of Indigenous Australians in the APS has increased over the past few years. In 2014, representation was 2.6 per cent of ongoing employees, rising to 2.7 per cent in 2015 and 2.9 per cent in 2016. The APS continues to have reasonable success in attracting and recruiting Indigenous people. We are also seeing a lower separation rate among Indigenous employees than there has been in the past. A number of factors may have contributed to this improvement, including better agency-specific Indigenous employment strategies and the introduction of Indigenous Champions.

In this year's agency survey, 59 per cent of agencies report that they offered mandatory or voluntary Indigenous cultural awareness training to employees. In these agencies, Indigenous employees are more likely to agree that their agencies are committed to creating a diverse workforce(see Figure 3). This is an important finding and supports the greater uptake of
these programs.

Figure 3: Indigenous APS employee perceptions of support for diversity in the workplace, 2016

Source: 2016 APS employee census

Employees with disability

The APS remains committed to improving the representation of people with disability. Launched in May 2016, the As one: making it happen—APS Disability Employment Strategy 2016–19 sets out four key action areas centered on expanding the range of employment opportunities, developing capabilities, increasing representation and fostering inclusive cultures in the workplace. Agency survey data indicates that 43 per cent of agencies have commenced implementing the employment strategy.

According to APSED, representation of people identifying with disability in the APS is at 3.7 per cent of ongoing APS employees, an increase from 3.6 per cent in 2015. As at 30 June 2016, 5,161 people with disability were employed as ongoing APS employees. This is the largest number of employees with disability in the APS since 2010 and the highest proportion since 2007. Self-reporting of disability may not be an accurate gauge of numbers.

Eight per cent of respondents in the 2016 employee census reported that they have an ongoing disability. Our experience in the APS is that confidential surveys record higher disability employment rates.

Employees from non–English speaking backgrounds

A small decrease in the representation of people from non–English speaking backgrounds has occurred. The representation fell from 14.7 per cent in 2015 to 14.5 per cent in 2016. The proportion of APS employees born overseas is around 22 per cent. This is marginally lower than the 25 per cent of Australians who were born overseas.

3 Australian Public Service Commission 2016, 'Operation Free Range', viewed 2 October 2016, www.apsc.gov.au/priorities/aps-reform/freerange.

Last reviewed: 
31 May 2018