APS employee census: SES could do more to identify and develop talented people

By Shannon Jenkins

Wednesday March 31, 2021

CPSU points the finger at Services Australia’s insecure workforce for contributing to the government’s unlawful robodebt scheme.
CPSU points the finger at Services Australia’s insecure workforce arrangements for contributing to the government’s unlawful robodebt scheme. (Image: Adobe/Rafael Ben-Ari)

Around half of the Australian Public Service workforce believe their productivity levels have improved since the coronavirus pandemic began, the latest APS employee census has revealed.

Agency-level and APS-wide results from the 2020 census were released on Wednesday, revealing largely positive perceptions toward senior leadership, change management, and employee engagement.

The APS employee census has been running since 2012, but the 2020 survey was a little different. It was adapted to reflect the unique challenges the APS faced due to COVID-19, giving more attention to themes like working differently, mobility, and wellbeing.

APS commissioner Peter Woolcott noted that the 2020 survey has presented agencies with the option to publicly release their census results for the second time.

“By sharing insights from the census we continue to demonstrate our commitment to transparency and accountability across the service,” he said in a statement.

“It was like no census we have seen before, so it was encouraging to see nearly 80% of agencies have elected to share their results publicly.”

READ MORE: 2020 APS employee census to focus on changing work practices, but won’t be included in upcoming State of the Service Report

The 2020 census received 108,085 responses — a response rate of 78%. It found that while 92% of staff said they were happy to go the “extra mile” at work when required, only 57% said their agency inspired them to do their best work every day, and 36% felt burned out by their work.

Most employees (85%) said their job has given them opportunities to utilise their skills. However, 18% felt they have not been fairly remunerated for the work they do.

A greater proportion of respondents felt committed to their work and to their agency’s goals and objectives last year, with the employee engagement index score having increased from 72% in 2019 to 73% in 2020. The majority of respondents (85%) said they believed strongly in the purpose and objectives of the APS, compared to 82% the previous year.

The wellbeing index score has also increased, from 67% to 70%. While 84% of respondents felt their immediate supervisor cared about their health and wellbeing, less staff (69%) agreed that their agency has adequately promoted health and wellbeing.

SES could do more to develop talent and work as a team

Public servants were asked about the leadership of their Senior Executive Service managers, and responses were mostly positive.

Most staff (71%) said their SES manager ensured that work effort has contributed to the strategic direction of the agency and the APS. Meanwhile, 69% said their manager communicated effectively, and 66% said their manager clearly articulated the direction and priorities for their area.

When asked whether their SES manager has given their time to identify and develop talented people, only 49% of respondents agreed, 36% felt neutral, and 16% disagreed.

Around half (53%) of employees said the SES worked as a team within their agency, and communicated effectively with other staff in the agency (56%). Conversely, 81% said their supervisor communicated effectively.

READ MORE: State of the Service report makes case for permanent Surge Reserve following COVID-19 success

Perceptions on workplace culture were mixed. Only 48% of respondents agreed that staff were consulted about change at work, but a whopping 91% said they understood how their role has contributed to achieving an outcome for the public. Meanwhile, 64% of respondents felt a strong personal attachment to the APS.

Most employees (81%) felt their agency has supported and actively promoted an inclusive workplace culture.

Since COVID-19 hit Australian shores in early 2020, only 10% of public servants felt their productivity levels had dropped, with 49% reporting that their productivity had actually improved. Most respondents (89%) thought their workgroup successfully adapted to new ways of working when required, while 80% agreed their workgroup had used COVID-19 to improve the way they worked.

Discrimination, bullying and harassment continue

Twelve percent of respondents said they had experienced discrimination over the past 12 months, with the most common reasons for discrimination being gender (32%), age (27%), and caring responsibilities (23%).

The same number of respondents indicated that they had experienced harassment or bullying in their current workplace over the same period of time, most commonly through verbal abuse (45%), interference with work tasks (43%), and inappropriate and unfair application of work policies or rules (38%).

READ MORE: Union addresses gap in APS employee census with new labour hire survey


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