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APS employee database

The Australian Public Service Employment Database (APSED) contains employment, diversity and education details for all people employed in the Australian Public Service (APS) under the authority of the Public Service Act 1999 (Cwlth).

Information on staffing, including trends in the size, structure and composition of the APS, contributes to research and evaluation work on the changing nature of the APS and the impact of people-management policies on the structure of the APS. This, in turn, assists agencies to formulate their people management policies and practices.

APSED is the definitive source of APS employment data, supporting strong evidence-based APS workforce policy, people management and advice.

APSED scope and collection methodology

APSED stores the employment data of all current and former APS employees. The database was established in 1999 but contains data on APS employees from 1966. The most recent snapshot, conducted on 30 June 2018, contained records relating to 150,594 employees.

APSED is maintained by the Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) and the data is supplied to APSED from the human resources (HR) systems of APS agencies.

Two types of data files are used to update and maintain APSED—movement files and snapshot files. In general, both file types contain the same data items, but they differ in purpose.

  1. Movement files are provided to the APSC from each agency every month. They are used to document changes in employment history (for example, engagements, promotions and maternity leave) for all people employed under the Act on a monthly basis.

    Changes in employment characteristics every month are recorded using movement codes. Movement files contain a record for every movement relevant to updating and maintaining employee records in APSED that has been processed in an agency’s HR system during the month. Therefore, if an employee undertakes multiple movements within a reference period, the corresponding movement files will contain multiple records for that employee. Conversely, if an employee has no movements during the reference period they will not appear in the movement file.

  2. Snapshot files are provided to the APSC from each agency on a six-monthly basis. They are used to verify that the information stored in APSED, as provided by each agency in the monthly movement files, is correct and current at 31 December and 30 June each year. Snapshot files contain a single record for every person employed by a particular agency on a particular day (that is, on 30 June or 31 December).

APSED items

Agency HR systems supply APSED with unit records containing this personal information:

  • personal particulars: Australian Government Staff Number, name, and date of birth
  • diversity data: gender, Indigenous identification, country of birth, year of arrival, first and main languages spoken, parents’ first languages, disability status
  • employment data: classification, email address, date of engagement, employment status, standard hours, workplace postcode, movement codes and dates, operative status, previous employment, job family code, agency
  • educational qualifications and main fields of study.

Under Section 50 of the Australian Public Service Commissioner’s Directions 2016, an agency head must ensure there are measures in place to collect information from each employee and give collected information to the Australian Public Service Commissioner. While individuals do not explicitly consent to the collection of their movement and employment data, they can choose to supply or withhold all diversity data except gender, as well as data relating to their educational qualifications. In relation to these items, Section 50 states that an agency head must allow APS employees to provide a response of ‘choose not to give this information’.

Management and administration

Agency HR systems collect relevant data items through movement and snapshot files, and supply these to the APSC through secure or encrypted means. Agencies are responsible for the collection, security, quality, storage, access, use, and disclosure of their HR data as well as compliance with the Australian Privacy Principles. While agency HR systems capture detailed information on each APS employee’s pay, leave history and entitlements, these are out of scope for APSED. Only data fields supplied to the APSC are in scope.

Upon receipt, each data file is corrected in an iterative process. Once validated and transferred to the APSC, error checks on the new files are performed by the APSC against the extant data in APSED. The APSC and agency work together to resolve these differences. Once resolved, cleaned data is incorporated.

APSED data is stored on a secure information technology system that is password protected and accessible only by a small team in the APSC who have been granted access by team supervisors and trained in protecting and using these collections. Standard operating procedures dictate when personal information can be added or changed. All changes to the database are logged in an audit file.

Privacy and confidentiality

APSED is fully compliant with the APSC’s privacy policy, which sets out the kinds of information collected and held, how this information is collected and held, its purposes, and authority for its collection. The full APSC privacy policy, which includes specific information related to APSED collection, is available at www.apsc.gov.au/Privacy. The APSC has undertaken a detailed privacy impact assessment in relation to APSED, concluding that it complies with all relevant Australian Privacy Principles.

Data protections within APSED include secure transfer of information between agencies and the APSC, storage of data on APSC servers requiring individual logons to access, restriction of access to a small number of authorised users, and ensuring public release of data is undertaken in aggregate format only.

APS employee census

The APS employee census is conducted between early May and early June each year. It has been conducted since 2012.

The APS employee census is administered to all APS employees. It collects confidential attitudinal information on important issues, including employee engagement, wellbeing, performance management, leadership, and general impressions of the APS.

Data from the employee census helps target strategies to build APS workplace capability now and in the future.

APS employee census collection methodology

The 2018 APS employee census was administered to all available APS employees during the period 7 May to 8 June 2018. This timing was consistent with the timing of the past six annual employee censuses.

The employee census provides a comprehensive collection of the opinions and perspectives of APS employees and gives all eligible respondents the opportunity to have their say on their experiences of working in the APS.

Although participation is encouraged, the APS employee census is voluntary. If a respondent chooses to participate, only a limited number of demographic-type questions must be answered. The remaining questions do not need a response.

APS employee census design

The 2018 APS employee census was designed to measure key issues such as employee engagement, leadership, wellbeing, diversity, job satisfaction and general impressions of the APS. Questions from previous years were used as the basis for the 2018 APS employee census. Some questions are included every year or on a particular cycle (for example, every two or three years). Some questions were included for the first time to address topical issues or improve the quality of the data collected following a thorough evaluation of the content of the 2017 APS employee census. To maintain a reliable longitudinal dataset, changes to questions are kept to a minimum. While a standardised questionnaire is employed, agencies can ask their employees a limited number of agency-specific questions.

APS employee census development

The 2018 APS employee census questionnaire included 212 individual questions grouped into 15 sections. Each section addressed a key aspect of working for an APS agency.

Each year the content of the APS employee census questionnaire is reviewed to ensure each question has value and meets a specific purpose. The APSC researches and consults broadly to develop and select questions for inclusion. In 2018, the APSC:

  • Considered strategic-level priorities coming from the Secretaries Board and other senior-level committees to ensure the employee census would capture appropriate information to inform these priorities.
  • Consulted with subject matter experts from within the APSC and other APS agencies to seek their input to question design and information requirements for supporting APS-level policies and programs.
  • Researched contemporary understanding of issues and options for questionnaire content.
  • Provided participating agencies with an opportunity to give feedback and input to questionnaire design.

The resulting questionnaire covered numerous themes and measures. Central to these are three indices addressing employee engagement, innovation and wellbeing.

APS employee census delivery

The 2018 APS employee census was administered using these collection methods:

  • online, through a unique link provided to each employee by email from ORC International, the contracted census administrators
  • telephone surveys with a number of employees working in specific agencies and employees who did not have available supportive information technology to provide reasonable adjustment for their disability
  • paper-based surveys for employees who did not have access to an individual email account or did not have suitable access to the Internet.

Sampling and coverage

The 2018 APS employee census covered all ongoing and non-ongoing employees from 101 APS agencies. Two APS agencies elected not to participate. The initial population for the census comprised all APS employees from the 101 participating agencies who were recorded in APSED as at 31 March 2018. This population was then provided to each participating agency for confirmation.

Invitations to participate in the census were sent to employees from 7 May 2018. The number of invitations was adjusted as new employees were added, separations processed, and incorrect email addresses corrected. The deadline for survey completion was 8 June 2018.

The final sample size for the census was 140,291. Overall, 103,137 employees responded, giving a response rate of 74 per cent, the highest response rate in the history of the annual APS employee census. This response rate is encouraging given the size of the APS workforce, the number of participating agencies, and that the employee census has been administered annually for some time.

Management and administration

The APS employee census is managed and coordinated by the Workforce Information Group within the APSC. The APSC contracts an external service provider to support survey administration and reporting activities. ORC International was this service provider in 2018.

Privacy, anonymity and confidentiality

Maintaining confidentiality throughout the employee census process is of primary concern to the APSC. To ensure confidentiality, each APS employee was provided with a unique link to the survey questionnaire by email. Only a small number of staff at ORC International had access to individual email addresses and the associated responses. All responses provided to the APSC by ORC International were de-identified. As a result of these precautions, APSC staff could not identify individual respondents to the survey or identify those who had not taken part.

Employee engagement index

The APSC employs a model of employee engagement developed by ORC International. This model addresses three attributes associated with employee engagement and measures the emotional connection and commitment employees have to working for their organisation. In this model, an engaged employee will:

  • Say—the employee is a positive advocate of the organisation.
  • Stay–the employee is committed to the organisation and wants to stay as an employee.
  • Strive–the employee is willing to put in discretionary effort to excel in their job and help their organisation succeed.

The Say, Stay, Strive employee engagement model is flexible and the APSC has tailored the questions for the APS context, making further amendments in 2018 following the introduction of the model in 2017. The elements that address each attribute and contribute to the index score for employee engagement are presented in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Say, Stay Strive employee engagement model elements

The results for the individual elements of the employee engagement index are presented in Appendix 4.

Innovation index

In part, the 2018 APS employee census addressed innovation through a set of dedicated questions that contribute to an index score. This innovation index score assesses both whether employees feel willing and able to be innovative, and whether their agency has a culture that enables them to be so.

The results for the individual elements of the innovation index are presented in Appendix 4.

Wellbeing index

The wellbeing index included in the APS employee census provides a measure of wellbeing for employees within an organisation. It measures both the practical and cultural elements that allow for a sustainable and healthy working environment.

The results for the individual elements of the wellbeing index are presented in Appendix 4.

Calculating and interpreting index scores

The questions comprising the employee engagement, innovation and wellbeing indices are asked on a five-point agreement scale. To calculate the index score, each respondent’s answers to the set of questions are recoded to fall on a scale of between 0 and 100 per cent. The recoded responses are then averaged across the five or more index questions to provide the index score for that respondent. An individual only receives an index score if they have responded to all questions comprising that index.

  Strongly agree Agree Neither agree or disagree Disagree Strongly disagree Score
Weight 100% 75% 50% 25% 0% %
Example question 1   Yes       75
Example question 2   Yes       75
Example question 3     Yes     50
Example question 4       Yes   25
Example question 5   Yes       100
Sum of question weights for this employee 325
Index score for this example respondent (325/5) 65

Index scores for groups of respondents are calculated by averaging the respondent scores that comprise that group.

An index score on its own can provide information about the group to which it relates. Index scores, however, have the most use when compared with scores over time or between work units, organisations and demographic groups.

Treatment of responses of ‘don’t know’ and ‘not applicable’

Specific questions included within the 2018 APS employee census and other surveys enabled respondents to provide responses of ‘don’t know’, ‘not applicable’ or similar. Responses of this nature were typically excluded from the calculation of results for inclusion within this report. This was so results reflected respondents who expressed an informed opinion to the relevant question.

Depending upon the intent, other products generated from the 2018 APS employee census and other surveys may not apply these same rules. The method in analysis and reporting will be made clear within these products.

APS agency survey

The APS agency survey is conducted annually from late June to mid-August. It collects functional data and workforce metrics from APS agencies with at least 20 APS employees.83 The information collected through the agency survey is used to inform workforce strategies and for other research and evaluation purposes.

Data collection methodology

Since 2002, the agency survey has been administered to APS agencies with employees employed under the Public Service Act. The annual survey assists the Australian Public Service Commissioner to fulfil a range of duties as specified in the Act. These duties include, but are not limited to:

  • informing the annual State of the Service report
  • strengthening the professionalism of the APS and facilitating continuous improvement in its workforce management
  • monitoring, reviewing and reporting on APS capabilities.

Participating agencies complete the survey across an eight-week fieldwork period that begins in late June. The survey collects information on a range of workforce initiatives, strategies and compliance matters, including the number and type of APS Code of Conduct breaches, workplace diversity strategies and agency approaches to enable staff mobility.

APS agency survey collection methodology

In 2018, the APS agency survey was administered to 95 agencies during 25 June to 17 August 2018. The response rate for 2018 was 100 per cent, which is typical for the agency survey.

Each year the APS agency survey is sent to the contact officers nominated for each agency. These contact officers are responsible for coordinating the input from relevant areas and uploading responses to an agency survey portal managed by ORIMA Research. The survey requires each agency head to verify the agency’s submission for completeness and accuracy of responses.

APS agency survey design

The agency survey measures activities related to the APS Values and Code of Conduct, as well as other broader HR management activities such as diversity, mobility, innovation, talent management and workforce planning.

Before fieldwork each year, the content of the APS agency survey questionnaire is reviewed so each question has value and meets a specific purpose. The APSC researches and consults broadly to develop and select questions to include in the questionnaire.

APS agency survey management and administration

The Workforce Information Group within the APSC manages and coordinates the APS agency survey. The APSC contracts an external service provider to support survey administration. ORIMA Research was this service provider in 2018.

Privacy, anonymity and confidentiality

Maintaining confidentiality and security throughout the agency survey process is of primary concern to the APSC. All responses are stored in a secure password-protected environment.

The questions in the survey require only de-identified or aggregated agency responses and data is further aggregated before reporting.


83 An APS employee is an employee engaged under the Public Service Act 1999 (Cwlth).

Last reviewed: 
30 November 2018