State of the Service 2018: Woolcott restores the APS data deep dive

By Harley Dennett

November 26, 2018

Australian Public Service Commissioner Peter Woolcott has unchained his commission staff from the vapid ‘streamlined’ reports of recent years and let their deep expertise shine with the latest State of the Service Report, tabled today.

With the APS no longer a monopoly in its traditional or emerging functions, the political class stalled in what is beginning to feel like entrenched levels of uncertainty and public distrust, and the APS Review led by David Thodey at its midpoint and the Secretaries Board’s ‘Roadmap for Reform’ underway, the 21st annual report in this series has gone back to basics.

The report is underpinned by the 2018 APS census, which had a response rate of 74%, or 103,137 employees, the highest response rate in the history of the annual survey. The report also relies the APS agency survey and on internal agency records for some of its statistical claims.

Echoing APS Review panel chair David Thodey’s view that the APS is not broken, Woolcott has put a strong emphasis back on performance, which links all three of the report’s main themes — culture, capability and leadership.

The data-rich report was tabled shortly before The Mandarin‘s deadline, so we’ll be back shortly with a look at what has been revealed. For now, here are some of APSC’s key points.

1. Culture

Transparency and integrity

  • Increased transparency and more effective engagement with the community, especially in the codesign and implementation of services and policies, is a priority.
  • A total of 569 employees were subject to an investigation into a suspected  breach of the APS Code of Conduct that was finalised in 2017–18. This equates to 0.4 per cent of the APS workforce.
  • In 2018, 12 per cent of employees perceived discrimination at work in the past year.

Risk and innovation

  • Active promotion of risk management issues and effective communication from senior leaders are positively associated with employee perceptions of risk culture.
  • Employees who are encouraged to make suggestions and feel valued for their contribution, have the most positive perceptions about innovation.
  • The influence and ability of senior leaders to communicate strategic direction and organisational change effectively, supports positive perceptions about innovation.

Managing change

  • Most agencies (87 per cent) have identified the need to improve their change management capability.
  • Less than half of respondents to the 2018 APS employee census agreed that communication between the SES and employees was effective.
  • Positive perceptions of change management are associated with higher engagement from employees, better employee wellbeing, and perceptions of better performance of an employee’s workgroup and agency.

Diversity and inclusion

  • At 30 June 2018, 59 per cent of employees in the APS were women. This rate has remained reasonably stable over the past decade.
  • Despite an overall increase in the proportion of Indigenous employees in the APS, representation by classification was heavily skewed towards the lower end.
  • Of the APS employee census respondents in 2018, 8.7 per cent reported having an ongoing disability
  • In the 2018 APS employee census, 4.4 per cent of respondents indicated they identified as LGBTI+.

2. Capability

Organisational performance and effiency

  • Individuals in higher performing agencies were more likely to be satisfied with work-life balance, have a say in how they do their work, and have a positive attitude towards risk management.
  • SES employees have substantially higher levels of engagement compared to EL and APS employees.
  • Many employees (82 per cent) agreed that their supervisor actively supports the use of flexible working arrangements by all employees, regardless of gender.

Building capability

  • Sixty-eight per cent of APS employee census respondents reported being able to access learning and development solutions that meet their needs.
  • More than half of APS employee census respondents were attracted by the security, stability and employment conditions in seeking APS employment.
  • Around half of employees applied for another job over the previous 12-months, with most applying for jobs in their current agency.

Mobilising capability

  • Most APS employees (72 per cent) have only worked for one agency.
  • Mobility within the ACT was higher than in other jurisdictions.
  • Most movements occurred between, and into, policy agencies.
  • Just more than half of respondents to the APS employee census agreed their agency supports mobility within the agency.

3. Leadership

Leadership and stewardship

  • Most APS employees viewed their SES managers positively, although less so than perceptions of immediate supervisors.
  • Immediate supervisors and SES needed to invest more time in developing the capability of employees.

Developing leadership

  • There was no systematic approach across the APS to ensure that all leaders get the development they need at various stages in their career. There are patches of excellence, and areas of neglect.
  • Leadership and management were top priorities for capability development across the APS.
  • APS employees required more managerial support to implement new learnings in the workplace.
  • APS managers needed to focus on incorporating feedback and development opportunities into their day-to-day engagement with employees.


  • SES employees participating in talent management programs benchmarked well against counterparts in other jurisdictions and the private sector.
  • There was limited cultural and professional diversity among SES talent management participants.
  • Many SES employees received limited support for career management. This has often been left to the individual to pursue.
  • A common challenge faced by agencies when implementing talent management included not having the capability and capacity to implement a talent strategy.

FULL REPORT: State of the Service Report 2017–18

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