Leadership perceptions holding back employee engagement

By David Donaldson

November 22, 2016

Perception of senior leaders is one of the strongest predictors of employee engagement.

This presents a problem for the Victorian Public Service — only half of government employees expressed a positive view of their leadership group in People Matter survey data released by the Victorian Public Sector Commission this week.

The overall employee engagement picture was generally positive, however. The average engagement score across the Victorian public sector is 67 points, up from 65 in 2013. The water sector has the highest engagement rate, at 73, while the VPS’ average is 65.

“This is positive result particularly given the multidisciplinary nature of the Victorian public sector workforce. An engagement score of more than 50 points indicates a positively engaged workforce,” explains the commission, while acknowledging there was “room for improvement”.

Employees reporting higher levels of engagement have more positive experiences and views about their organisation and overall work environment, says the VPSC. In general, employees who are more engaged:

  • are more satisfied with their jobs.
  • rarely think about leaving their organisation.
  • have more positive views about their career opportunities.
  • are less likely to experience high or severe stress.

According to the survey, 96% of respondents who reported high levels of engagement were satisfied with their jobs overall; on the other hand, only 7% of those with low levels of engagement were satisfied with their job. Only 11% of respondents with high levels of engagement experienced high to severe work-related stress; but 65% of respondents with low engagement levels were experiencing high to severe stress.

The biggest influences on engagement

There are six key drivers of employee engagement, argues the VPSC:

  • A sense of meaningfulness and competence derived from job.
  • Perceptions of senior leaders.
  • Equal employment opportunity.
  • Perceptions of manager.
  • Perceptions of workgroup.
  • Role clarity.

Although senior managers were given a low score by employees, the sector fared well across other measures. Perceptions of role clarity were highest at 85%, and the other four points all received relatively positive scores.

Although public employees had relatively low faith in senior leaders, other key drivers of engagement scored relatively well.
Although public employees had relatively low faith in senior leaders, other key drivers of engagement scored relatively well.

The perception score for senior managers was based on questions about their ability to provide clear strategy and direction, model the public sector values, provide sufficient information about the purpose of changes and make timely communications about change.

While people from non-English speaking countries registered a higher than the average engagement score at 72%, Indigenous people were about the same (68%) and people with a disability were lower (61%).

The engagement score measures employee engagement based on a framework used by the UK civil service known as “say, stay, strive” — employees identifying as part of the organisation, promoting it as a great employer, feeling personally attached to their organisation and being encouraged to support the organisation to deliver and succeed. To ascertain their overall engagement scores, the VPSC asked public servants to what degree they agreed with the following five statements:

  • I am proud to tell others I work for my organisation.
  • I would recommend my organisation as a good place to work.
  • I feel a strong personal attachment to my organisation.
  • My organisation inspires me to do the best in my job.
  • My organisation motivates me to help achieve its objectives.

The People Matter survey gauges Victorian public sector employee perceptions of their workplaces. The 2016 survey was conducted during May-July 2016. A total of 62,354 staff employed by 177 public sector organisations participated in the survey, achieving an overall response rate of 35%.

Previous tranches of data have demonstrated the importance of complaints processes, and revealed that many Aboriginal public servants are concerned that cultural background is a barrier to success in their workplace, that nearly a quarter of people with a disability had experienced discrimination at work, and that same-sex attracted people were nearly twice as likely to have been sexually harassed at work.

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