Engaging the workforce

In this section:

Employee engagement is a concept that describes and measures the link between employees, the work they do and the organisations within which they work (OECD, 2016). Generally, it can be said that employee engagement is the level of commitment an employee has towards the organisation in which they work.

Research and evidence from around the world suggests employee engagement, and the concepts of commitment and motivation, lead to better outcomes. This includes efficiency, productivity, innovation, customer service, public trust and employee trust in leadership (OECD, 2016).

Measuring engagement

Engagement is commonly measured through carefully designed employee surveys, and the results give leaders insight into the culture and overall health of an organisation. 

Each year, the Commission administers the Employee perception survey (EPS) across a sample of public sector agencies to gauge perceptions about public sector employees’ attitudes towards their job, team, organisation and the broader sector. 

Employee surveys provide a snapshot of the workforce at a ‘point-in-time’. As many internal and external factors influence employees’ views over time, authorities should consider conducting employee surveys regularly to ensure views remain reflective of their workforce. Other human resources and governance processes, like formal performance management programs and the monitoring of employee complaints, can also be useful interim indicators of engagement levels.

Drivers of engagement

Engagement drivers will differ depending on an authority’s culture and workforce characteristics. Across this year’s EPS sample, the following six engagement drivers were identified as having an impact on employee engagement:

  • Culture and leadership: views on effective leadership, change management and recruitment decisions.
  • Managers and supervisors: views on communication, management style and ethical behaviour.
  • Workplace behaviour: views on encouraging ethical behaviour and reporting and dealing with unethical behaviour.
  • Team productivity: views on efficiency, effectiveness and innovation in teams.
  • Workplace diversity: views on diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
  • Job satisfaction and capability: views on ability to use skills and how satisfied employees are with their job.

Understanding the factors that drive engagement in an authority or sector help to identify the levers available to management to address and improve engagement (OECD, 2016).

Improving engagement

Conducting surveys and identifying drivers will not change employee engagement and culture unless proactive improvement actions are taken by leaders. The Commission encourages public sector leaders of EPS sample agencies to discuss the results with their corporate executive team and workforce. 

Transparency fosters trust, further bolsters engagement, and shows management’s commitment to continuous improvement. Once communicated, behaviours, processes and practices in identified areas can be modified to drive improved engagement. 

Engagement, customer satisfaction and public trust

Research shows there is a strong correlation between engaged customer-facing staff and customer indicators like satisfaction, loyalty and advocacy (OECD, 2016). This correlation has long been recognised, with a 2005 study suggesting in the public sector, a public value chain exists that links engaged employees to customer satisfaction, community trust and confidence in government. By investing in human capital and raising employee engagement, public sector organisations can directly influence community perceptions and trust in government (Heintzman, 2005). With the majority of the public sector workforce in service delivery occupations that are considered front-line, ensuring these employees have high levels of engagement should be a sector-wide priority.

Engagement and change

Engaged employees make implementing, managing and sustaining change easier, as they are more committed to the organisation. Implementing effective and sustainable change requires managers to support the change process, and clearly and transparently communicate the contents of reform (OECD, 2016). With the change being experienced in the public sector, the high levels of engagement that currently exist can quickly be eroded if the reform agenda is not well communicated by leaders and understood by employees. Employee engagement is both an opportunity and a risk to be managed during times of transition (Aon Hewitt, 2013).

How we measure engagement

The Commission includes questions in the EPS that seeks to measure engagement through asking public sector employees about their levels of pride, motivation, inspiration, advocacy and attachment to their job and agency.

An employee engagement score for the public sector is calculated using results of these ‘commitment’ questions. The average employee engagement score for the 2017 EPS sample (5794 employees across 15 public sector agencies) was 70. This compares favourably with other jurisdictions and is the highest engagement score since the index was first calculated by the Commission in 2014.

The EPS and engagement score is only one indicator of engagement. Many public authorities regularly run surveys and other assessments with their workforces to monitor employee engagement levels.

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Page last updated 19 October 2017