Building leadership and employee engagement

In this section:

As public sector leaders guide their entities through increasingly complex social, fiscal and service delivery challenges, identifying and building the capability of current and future leaders becomes more critical. Not only is strong leadership a key component of good public sector governance, it is also a strong driver of employee engagement. This chapter discusses the approaches taken by public sector entities to promote capable leadership and a healthy workplace culture.

State of the WA public sector 2014 - Measuring up (the report) is the first report by the Public Sector Commission to test the drivers and outcomes of employee engagement in the public sector. In 2013/14, public sector employees continue to be satisfied with, and committed to, their job during a time of change.

Fostering strong leadership

Responsiveness and agility is increasingly important during times of fiscal constraint. Western Australia's public sector faces ongoing challenges in designing better policy and programs, while ensuring public value. The state's population continues to expand, fuelling increasing demand for government services and infrastructure in both urban and regional WA.

Leadership development has become more critical to ensure entities effectively achieve government priorities. Managers are responsible for the ongoing administration and management of the workforce and other resources. However, as leaders, they also inspire staff to be high performing, productive and innovative.

Mr Richard Sellers, Director General of the Department of Mines and Petroleum, is one such leader who has made a strong contribution during a period of considerable growth in the resources industry, as highlighted in the following case study.

Leadership excellence – Department of Mines and Petroleum

Richard Sellers

In 2014, the Institute of Public Administration Australia WA awarded their 'Patron's Award' to Mr Richard Sellers, as an individual leader who has made a significant contribution to the state.

Mr Sellers was appointed as the Director General of the Department of Mines and Petroleum (DMP) in June 2009. In this role, Mr Sellers oversees DMP which acts as WA's lead agency in attracting private investment in resource exploration and development, and most importantly, is a progressive and robust regulator for the minerals and petroleum sector. As a leader, Mr Sellers is a visionary who makes considered and complex decisions. His insistence on consultation and transparency in decision making, together with his willingness to implement innovative business methods, have been key factors of his stewardship of DMP during the busiest growth period of WA's resources industry.

In judging the category, the co-chair of the judging panel, Public Sector Commissioner, Mr Mal Wauchope, remarked that 'Mr Sellers has made an outstanding contribution to the public sector, establishing a positive legacy for the future of the organisation and the state'. Ms Sue McCarrey, also co-chair of the judging panel, stated 'His vision and the projects undertaken underpin that DMP is an organisation of best practice. He has achieved clear improvements across the agency including increased service efficiencies, transparency and benchmarking'.

Congratulations are extended to Mr Sellers for achieving a cultural shift in the organisation through strong leadership.

The Public Service Medal is awarded twice a year by the Governor-General and recognises outstanding service by government employees in the areas of leadership, service excellence, innovation and improvements to productivity. The following showcases the WA recipients on this year's Australia Day and Queen's Birthday honours lists.

WA Public Service Medals awarded in 2014

Australia Day, 26 January

Ms Elisabeth Harris PSM

Elisabeth Harris

For outstanding public service as Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Challenger Institute of Technology.

Ms Harris is the first female CEO of the Challenger Institute of Technology. Under her leadership, Challenger has adapted rapidly to the changing demands of the economic environment, built partnerships with over 500 industry and community organisations, and developed commercial training partnerships internationally in 13 countries. A great believer in continuous learning, Ms Harris has driven a learning culture focus within the organisation, significantly growing the collective capability of her 1000 strong workforce. Ms Harris has more recently developed a comprehensive Corporate Social Responsibility program—Challenger Cares, enabling staff and students within Challenger to work on projects in Cambodia, India and locally. Ms Harris was a 'Telstra business woman of the year' award winner in 2009 and led Challenger Institute to be awarded the Large Training Provider of the Year Award in the 2012 Australian Training Awards.

Mr William Preston PSM

For outstanding public service to the Department of State Development, WA.

Mr Preston has worked for the Departments of State Development (DSD) and Mines and Petroleum (DMP), and their predecessor departments, since 1982. His extensive knowledge of commodity markets has been particularly valuable to their business, and his excellent analytical skills and professional advice have assisted the understanding and resolution of complex matters and disputes. Mr Preston has a particularly strong understanding of the WA iron ore sector, the iron ore market, and its relationship to the Chinese steel industry. This has been highly valued in building the business relationship between China and the WA Government over the last 10 years. Mr Preston is involved in an advisory role on mineral commodity sectors, general project development advice and undertakes training in major project facilitation processes. His work has empowered staff to excel in delivering DSD's major projects.

Mr Ian Smith PSM

Ian Smith

For outstanding public service to the provision of health services in WA over many years, particularly in rural and remote regions.

Mr Smith has served WA Health with distinction over many years, most significantly in improving health services and the welfare of people living in rural and remote regions in WA. For the majority of his career, Mr Smith has worked in the WA Country Health Service (WACHS) holding senior management roles, including the Pilbara, Kimberley, South West and Great Southern in rural WA. In 2010, Mr Smith was appointed as CEO of WACHS, and during 2013, was appointed CEO of the South Metropolitan Health Service until he retired in 2014. Mr Smith is a practical and hardworking leader who has led multiple capital infrastructure projects, including Albany Hospital, and has championed the implementation of the Southern Inland Health Initiative by the Departments of Health and Regional Development.

Queen's Birthday, 6 June

Mr Ian Cowie PSM

Ian Cowie

For outstanding public service, particularly to the City of Gosnells.

Mr Cowie is currently the CEO of the City of Gosnells, a position he has held since 2009. The City has a budget of over $100 million and employs over 600 people. Mr Cowie has used his vast experience of legislative requirements and practical knowledge of the local government sector to make the City a very effective organisation, and has led numerous ventures to improve the City's sustainability and deliver outcomes through his commitment to the future needs of the community. Mr Cowie has been proactive in diversifying revenue sources and commercialising the approach taken by the City. Under his guidance, the City has become an expert in land development and has completed a number of sub-divisional developments, which have generated significant revenues.

Ms Melissa Vernon PSM

Melissa Vernon

For outstanding public service in improving the access and quality of health services for people living in rural and remote areas of WA.

Ms Vernon has worked at WACHS for over 25 years, and has served in various senior leadership roles during her distinguished career. In her current position as Executive Director, Primary Health and Engagement, Ms Vernon is responsible for primary health care, telehealth and community and consumer engagement in health in rural WA. She has been instrumental in achieving improved partnerships with primary care organisations as well as primary health and telehealth service access. A significant achievement by Ms Vernon was the introduction of District Health Advisory Councils in 2004. These councils are comprised of local community and consumer members and provide invaluable local insight and advice to WACHS on local health service improvement and planning.

Mr Zbigniew (Ziggy) Wilk PSM

Ziggy Wilk

For outstanding public service to regional WA and excellence in operations at a senior level in the energy industry.

Mr Wilk has held various senior management roles at Horizon Power since its inception in 2006. Since 2013, he has been the General Manager of the North West Interconnected System Business which extends across the Pilbara. The work of Mr Wilk has been instrumental in shaping Horizon Power to provide quality, safe and reliable power to more than 100 000 residents and 9000 businesses, including major industry, across regional WA. Mr Wilk began his association with the electricity industry in 1984 as an engineer and eventually became Manager of the Pilbara Power Division of Western Power. In his six years in this position, he was instrumental in the development of a regional power model and driving the formation of Horizon Power. The blueprint for Horizon Power was based on the Pilbara Power business model that Mr Wilk managed.

The senior leadership group

The WA public sector employed 509 senior executive service (SES) leaders (including CEOs and other senior executives) at 30 June 2014, compared to 510 last year.1 These officers form the key executive leadership group.

As described in section 42 of the Public Sector Management Act 1994 (PSM Act), the SES is capable of providing high level policy advice and undertaking managerial responsibilities, as well as promoting the efficiency of the public sector and individual entities.

In WA, the SES made up 0.4 per cent of the public sector workforce in June 2014, which was similar or lower than available senior executive statistics for other jurisdictions, as shown in Figure 1.1.

Figure 1.1 Senior executives as a proportion of the public sector workforce (percentage) across jurisdictions, 2013 and 2014

Figure 1.1 Senior executives as a proportion of the public sector workforce (percentage)
across jurisdictions, 2013 and 2014

WA = 0.4, Qld = 0.1 (lowest), NSW = 0.7, Tas = 0.8, Vic = 0.8, ACT = 1.0, SA = 1.3, APS = 1.8, NZ = 2.2 (highest)

Click on the image to enlarge

Sources: Employee perception survey (EPS) and other inter-jurisdictional publications (see Appendix B)

In 2014, SES employees in WA were:

  • aged between 32 and 70 years (average age was 53)
  • more likely to be male, although representation has decreased somewhat over the last decade (70 per cent in 2014, compared to 77 per cent a decade ago)
  • generally experienced in working for the public sector, with an average length of service of nine years.

Senior leadership effectiveness

One element of effective leadership is considered to be 'walking the talk' in the workplace. Employees look to their leaders for guidance and leading by example is fundamental to gaining trust and inspiring productivity. This and other capabilities can be measured by seeking feedback from staff.

Generally, respondents to the Commission's 2014 Employee perception survey (EPS) reported their entity is well managed (65 per cent) and communication between senior managers and employees is effective (65 per cent).

In a new EPS question this year, 60 per cent agreed senior leaders in their entity provide effective leadership. This was higher than the available comparisons from the Australian Public Service, Queensland, Tasmania and Northern Territory, as shown in Figure 1.2.

Employee perceptions of leadership effectiveness (percentage) across jurisdictions, 2011, 2013 and 2014

Employee perceptions of leadership effectiveness (percentage) across jurisdictions, 2011, 2013 and 2014

WA = 60 (highest), NT = 57, APS = 46, Qld = 45, Tas = 38 (lowest)

Click on the image to enlarge

Sources: EPS and other inter-jurisdictional publications (see Appendix B)

Employees look to leaders as a source of information and guidance, particularly during times of change. Increasing the visibility of senior leaders and the frequency and amount of communication may help to improve employee perceptions of organisational management.

Leading change, setting direction and devolving decision making

Over the last 12 months, there were a number of machinery of government changes that directly affected several thousand public sector employees, through abolishment, establishment and renaming of some entities.

More broadly, significant changes prompted by government policy have occurred, such as over 1000 voluntary redundancies across the sector during 2013/14 and amendments to the PSM Act, which will introduce the ability to invoke involuntary severance where surplus employees are unable to be redeployed elsewhere in the sector.

A new voluntary redundancy scheme targeting a further 1500 employees and an additional one per cent efficiency dividend have recently been announced, among further savings measures introduced for 2014/15, in response to the impact of falling iron ore prices on the WA Government budget.

In February 2014, in a spotlight series conducted by the Commission, chief executives reflected on the machinery of government changes that had occurred over the preceding year. Participants identified key elements of successful change management, such as demonstrating decisive leadership, being able to develop and communicate a clear vision and purpose for the organisation, and maintaining relationships with staff.

From left: Commonwealth Public Service Commissioner Stephen Sedgwick, Western Australian Public Sector Commissioner Mal Wauchope, and New South Wales Public Service Commissioner Graeme Head at 'The Shape of Things to Come: The Public Service Commissioners' Perspective session' facilitated by Deborah Kennedy at the Western Australia Institute of Public Administration Australia 2014 International Conference.

This year, EPS respondents were asked for the first time their views on change management in the workplace. A little over half (55 per cent) agreed change is well managed in their entity, suggesting there may be opportunities to improve the quality of communication and relationship management where changes are occurring. However, where comparable data was available, the level of agreement in the WA public sector (55 per cent) was similar to, or higher than, that in other jurisdictions, as shown in Figure 1.3.

Figure 1.3 Employee perceptions of change management (percentage) across jurisdictions, 2011 to 2014

Figure 1.3 Employee perceptions of change management (percentage) across jurisdictions, 2011 to 2014

WA = 55 (equal highest), Vic = 55 (equal highest), NT = 48, NSW = 44, Qld = 32 (equal lowest), APS = 32 (equal lowest)

Click on the image to enlarge

Sources: EPS and other inter-jurisdictional publications (see Appendix B)

As well as managing change, key leadership capabilities include setting and communicating direction and effectively devolving decision making. These capabilities appear to be well developed in the public sector this year with reference to the following EPS questions:

  • 91 per cent of respondents indicated they understand how their work contributes to their entity's objectives
  • 81 per cent reported they have the appropriate authority (i.e. the necessary delegations, autonomy and level of responsibility) to do their job effectively
  • 64 per cent felt their input is sought and considered about decisions that affect them.

A change in executive leadership may drive cultural and organisational change. At the Department of Corrective Services, the Commissioner, Mr James McMahon DSC DSM, has provided new leadership and direction for the organisation, with a focus on cultural change, as highlighted in the following case study.

Driving change through inspirational leadership at the Department of Corrective Services

James McMahon

Mr James McMahon DSC DSM became the Commissioner of the Department of Corrective Services (DCS) in October 2013. Mr McMahon is a former Commander of Australia's elite Special Air Service Regiment, and has significant business acumen as a result of working as the Chief Operating Officer for the consulting firm, Azure Capital, and establishing Chauvel Group, among other endeavours. Mr McMahon has been tasked with spearheading cultural change in the WA corrections environment. He has established an Office of Reform within DCS to ensure that an overarching narrative frames the corrections reform agenda, takes account of competing priorities, and enables fresh insights to shape service delivery.

Mr McMahon stated, 'The corrections reform agenda is focused on creative and dynamic solutions that ensure the safety of the community, the security of facilities, the safety of staff, and the rehabilitation of prisoners, offenders and detainees'. Some of the key achievements of the reform program so far include:

  • the creation of a Youth Justice Board to plan, develop and implement innovative solutions to youth offending in the community
  • the creation of a Prison Team, within WA Police's Serious and Organised Crime Division, to ensure a more coordinated approach to disrupting criminal activity within the prison environment
  • personal visits to community centres and facilities across WA to gain insights from prison officers, youth custodial officers, community corrections officers and youth justice officers
  • the establishment of a Knowledge Management Directorate responsible for transforming data, statistical information and research findings into intelligence
  • the establishment of an operations centre to coordinate prisoner movements, classifications and mitigate risks in a 24/7 working environment
  • the formulation and release of a vision, mission and values for all officers to guide how officers work with each other and develop a shared understanding of the purpose of activities.

Mr McMahon commented, 'These measures are focused on the future and contribute to greater organisational integrity and accountability. It is about evolutionary change— an incremental, decentralised change—that over time produces a broad and lasting cultural shift'.

Developing public sector leaders

The State of the sector 2012 noted that entities reported ongoing challenges in recruiting and retaining high quality leaders. Entities were attempting to meet this challenge by identifying and developing leadership capability.

Around 8000 public sector employees, representing 7.2 per cent of the sector's workforce, had a managerial role2 at June 2014 (compared with 12 per cent in the wider WA workforce3) – this includes employees from immediate supervisors to CEOs. The proportion of the public sector workforce with a managerial role (7.2 per cent) is similar to 11 years ago (7.8 per cent). The effectiveness and development of this cohort within the workforce is important because lower level managers often move into the roles of senior leaders when they retire or leave the sector.

Eighty-six per cent of entities reported through a new question in the Commission's 2014 Public sector entity survey (PSES) that leadership development programs were made available to their staff during 2013/14. In a new EPS question this year, the majority (60 per cent) of respondents felt they had adequate opportunities to develop leadership skills, although one-quarter disagreed.

Over a number of years, many public sector employees have participated in the Commission's key development programs, delivered in partnership with the Australian and New Zealand School of Government, Australian Institute of Management WA-University of WA Business School, Murdoch University and Curtin University.

As part of its commitment to building skills and expertise to support a capable, futurefocused and sustainable public sector, the Commission launched the Centre for Public Sector Excellence (the Centre) in October this year. A CEO advisory board was established by the Commissioner to provide support and guide the development of this initiative. The board's membership is diverse and brings together skills and perspectives from a range of service delivery areas and jurisdictions, including Commonwealth and local governments.

In collaboration with the advisory board, three new leadership initiatives were developed. 'Leadership excellence' for executive leaders, 'Leadership essentials' for emerging leaders, and 'Management essentials' for future leaders will be offered by the Centre in the year ahead. Recognising their wealth of expertise, public sector senior leaders will facilitate the programs.

This approach will promote performance development beyond the training room and reduce the reliance on external providers. The Centre is currently developing 'Embedding 70:20:10', a publication to help entities understand the 70:20:10 learning framework4 and introduce it to their workforce. By making better use of workplace, social and structured learning, this framework has been shown to be more effective and efficient than traditional off-the-job learning approaches.

Succession management

As highlighted in previous 'State of the sector' reports, entities are facing potential workforce challenges associated with the ageing population. In June 2014, 25.5 per cent of public sector employees were aged 55 and over (compared to 24.7 per cent in 2013). As the average retirement age during the past year was 63 years, a substantial proportion of the workforce may retire in the next five to 10 years, representing a need for corporate knowledge management and transfer.

Through the 2014 PSES, larger entities were asked whether they employ succession management initiatives to help meet this challenge within their entity. Of these entities:

  • 64 per cent have identified critical roles or people
  • 63 per cent have identified and documented the capabilities required for critical roles
  • 42 per cent have identified potential successors and assessed them against the required capabilities
  • 42 per cent have put in place targeted capability development strategies for potential successors.

Only seven per cent had no strategies in place, indicating most entities are preparing to meet the challenges of an ageing workforce.

Developing regional leaders

Around one-quarter of the public sector workforce is located outside the Perth metropolitan area. In order to better understand the regional employment profile and the unique challenges faced by regional leaders, the Commission undertook a regional leadership study in 2013.

From left: Malinda Nixon and David Barton from the CinéfestOZ film festival with South West Development Commission Chief Executive Officer Don Punch.

The study identified that, although regional and metropolitan leaders require similar capabilities, there are nuances which make regional leadership unique and increasingly complex, such as:

  • being the face of their entity within the community and often carrying greater responsibility for decisions made
  • increased occupational safety and health considerations caused by geographical isolation, such as travel fatigue
  • needing to interpret policy to fit their regional context
  • managing the cultural considerations relevant to their region.

The study, which included significant consultation with leaders at the local level, culminated in the publication of Leading for the regions – A resource for agencies, which identifies a number of ways to efficiently build leadership capability. The approach is grounded by the 70:20:10 blended learning model and provides options such as exchange visits, secondments, job shadowing, professional development assistance, networking, stretch assignments and work-based projects.

Good practice must be recognised and leaders, regardless of location, are encouraged to drive their own development, share knowledge and build lasting networks. The Commission, through the Centre, is working with the SES to tap into current mechanisms that will enable the sector to share knowledge and information to build and sustain regional leaders.

Supporting women in leadership

Improving the representation of women in management positions continues to present a challenge for public sector employment. This is not an issue confined to the public sector; in 2012, only 9.7 per cent of executive management positions in Australia's top 200 companies were held by women.5 However, the representation of women in senior public sector positions is increasing. The proportion of women in the SES has substantially increased from 22.6 per cent in 2004 to 30.1 per cent in 2014.

Research undertaken by the Commission has revealed that having significant numbers of women in senior roles encourages and sustains other women. The Commission continues to encourage entities to diversify at the senior leadership level in order to add value to effective service delivery. In the coming year, the Commission will focus on opportunities for women to progress their careers in the public sector.

Western Australia's first female Governor Her Excellency the Honourable Kerry Sanderson AO

Kerry Sanderson

On 20 October 2014, Mrs Kerry Sanderson AO was sworn in as WA's thirty-second Governor, the first female appointed to the role. The Australian businesswoman, and former public servant, said she was pleased to have been given the opportunity and is looking forward to engaging with people across the state.

When asked how she felt about being the first female appointed to the role, Her Excellency said she did not distinguish between men and women: 'I think both do very good jobs in different ways'. Her Excellency admitted she might be considered a role model, but would continue to work as usual.

The Hon. Colin Barnett MLA, Premier of WA, congratulated Her Excellency on her new role and commended her previous work. 'Mrs Sanderson has had a distinguished career in the public sector and is widely respected throughout the community for her business acumen, her commitment to science and learning, and her active involvement in the work of several charities.' Prior to her appointment, Her Excellency was the independent chairman of the State Emergency Management Committee and has held several non-executive director positions in the commercial sector. Her Excellency was also WA's former Agent General in London, Deputy Director General of Transport for WA, and Director of the WA Treasury's Economic and Financial Policy Division. Her Excellency served as the Chief Executive Officer of the Fremantle Port Authority for 17 years where, under her leadership, trade through Fremantle Ports grew substantially.

Her Excellency has also held positions on numerous boards and associations, including Gold Corp, the Board of the Australian Trade Commission (Austrade), the Council of Curtin University, the Board of Agricultural Research WA, the Rio Tinto WA Future Fund, the Fremantle Hospital Medical Research Foundation, Australian Logistics Council and the President of Ports Australia.

In 2004, Her Excellency was named an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) in the 'Queen's Birthday Honours list' for service to the development and management of the port and maritime industries in Australia, and to public sector governance in the areas of finance and transport. In 2005, Her Excellency was the inaugural inductee to the 'Lloyd's List Shipping and Transport Hall of Fame' and was awarded an honorary degree—Doctor of Letters from UWA—for distinguished service through her work providing improved financial management business efficiencies. Her Excellency was also awarded the '1996 Telstra Western Australian Business Woman of the Year'.

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Driving employee engagement

Employee engagement is a broad concept that generally encompasses an employee's satisfaction with, and loyalty and commitment to, their workplace. The level of employee engagement may be related to:

  • individual productivity and organisational performance
  • service quality
  • customer and client satisfaction
  • absenteeism
  • innovative capacity
  • employee retention.

Given the drive for improved efficiency, entities may benefit considerably from increasing their focus on employee engagement, with the staff salary bill representing a large proportion (around 39 per cent) of the WA general government sector operating expenses in 2014.6

Employee engagement may also impact on the rate of presenteeism, or staff attending work when they are not able to be fully productive. Presenteeism is more likely when there is workplace uncertainty, such as during organisational restructures and redundancy schemes, and due to the economic climate. Presenting staff may affect the health and productivity of other staff.

The cost of presenteeism to the Australian economy has been estimated at almost $26 billion in the 2005/06 financial year.7 It is therefore important that the public sector minimise any such impact through fostering a healthy workplace culture.

Job satisfaction

Generally, public sector employees continue to be satisfied with their jobs. Job satisfaction has increased somewhat over time. In 2010, when this EPS question was first asked, 70 per cent of respondents were satisfied with their job.

Where comparable data was available, WA respondents to the 2014 EPS were most satisfied with their job, as shown in Figure 1.4.

Figure 1.4 Job satisfaction (percentage) across jurisdictions, 2013 and 2014

Figure 1.4 Job satisfaction (percentage) across jurisdictions, 2013 and 2014

WA = 84 (highest), NSW = 78, Vic = 72, Qld = 67 (lowest)

Click on the image to enlarge

Sources: EPS and other inter-jurisdictional publications (see Appendix B)

Respondents to the 2014 EPS were generally positive about their employer and working in the WA public sector. WA often performed better in this area than other jurisdictions, where comparable data was available:

  • four-fifths were proud to work in the WA public sector
  • three-quarters were satisfied with their entity
  • just over two-thirds (67 per cent) would recommend their entity as a great place to work (compared to 68 per cent in Victoria, 64 per cent in New South Wales and 57 per cent in Queensland)
  • over half (55 per cent) were satisfied with opportunities for career progression in their entity (compared to 54 per cent in New South Wales, 45 per cent in Victoria and 35 per cent in Queensland, as shown in Figure 1.5).

Figure 1.5 Employee satisfaction with career opportunities (percentage) across jurisdictions, 2012 to 2014

Figure 1.5 Employee satisfaction with career opportunities (percentage) across jurisdictions, 2012 to 2014

WA = 55 (highest), NSW = 54, Vic = 45, Qld = 35 (equal lowest), APS = 35 (equal lowest)

Click on the image to enlarge

Sources: EPS and other inter-jurisdictional publications (see Appendix B)

WA also performed well this year in terms of retention indicators related to employee engagement:

  • WA had the same permanent employee separation rate in 2014 (8.1 per cent from the entity8) as New South Wales, which uses a similar metric, in 2013. For most jurisdictions, this metric relates to permanent staff leaving the public sector, as shown in Figure 1.6.
  • In WA, nine per cent of EPS respondents indicated in a new question this year their intention to resign or retire from their entity in the next 12 months, compared to 13 per cent in Queensland and 19 per cent in the Australian Public Service. In Victoria, 24 per cent reported they were actively looking for another job.

Figure 1.6 Employee separation rate (percentage) across jurisdictions, 2013 and 2014

Figure 1.6 Employee separation rate (percentage) across jurisdictions, 2013 and 2014

WA = 8.1, Tas = 4.0 (lowest), APS = 6.3, ACT = 6.8, NSW = 8.1, NT = 9.0, Vic = 10.0, NZ = 10.5, Qld = 11.5 (highest)

Click on the image to enlarge

Sources: EPS and other inter-jurisdictional publications (see Appendix B)

Employee engagement

The United Kingdom (UK) Civil Service regularly measures and benchmarks staff engagement. This year, the Commission initiated measuring employee engagement within the public sector sample completing the EPS.9 The employee engagement score for the WA sample was 66 in 2014; this is similar to, or higher than, scores for other Australian jurisdictions, as shown in Figure 1.7.

Figure 1.7 Employee engagement across jurisdictions, 2013 and 2014

Figure 1.7 Employee engagement across jurisdictions, 2013 and 2014

WA = 66, Vic = 67 (highest), NSW= = 65, APS = 62, Qld = 58 (lowest)

Click on the image to enlarge

Sources: EPS and other inter-jurisdictional publications (see Appendix B)

Key drivers of employee engagement

Identifying the nature of workplace factors impacting on engagement enables the public sector to better understand workforce needs, and appropriately target efforts and resources for improving employee engagement.

The 2014 EPS asked employees to provide their views on a range of employee engagement related questions about their workgroup, immediate supervisor and senior leaders, as well as their experiences around ethical behaviour and support for career development, diversity and wellbeing in the workplace. Analysis of the results identified eight factors as having a statistically significant impact on employee engagement in the public sector sample (see Appendix C for further information).

As shown in Figure 1.8, the three factors with the most effect on employee engagement for the 21 entities surveyed were:

  • 'Senior leadership'
  • 'Job empowerment'
  • 'Ethics and integrity'.

Figure 1.8 indicates that, while 'Senior leadership' had the greatest impact on employee engagement, satisfaction with senior leadership was moderate, representing an opportunity for improvement within the public sector sample. 'Job empowerment' and 'Ethics and integrity' were better performing, representing areas to maintain.

Another factor, 'Merit and employment', while not having a large impact on employee engagement in the sample, was still found to be important. This represents an area for the public sector to monitor in the future, given its lower satisfaction rating for the sample.

These findings, particularly around senior leadership, confirm the importance of managers in helping to create and sustain an engaged public sector and the significance of the Centre's work over the coming years to support the development of highly competent leaders.

Figure 1.8 Performance and impact of employee engagement drivers in a public sector sample, 2014

Figure 1.8 Performance and impact of employee engagement drivers in a public sector sample, 2014

Please contact the Public Sector Commission to request and alternative version of this figure.

Click on the image to enlarge

Source: EPS

Outcomes of employee engagement.

As previously mentioned, employee engagement may impact on staff turnover, customer service and productivity, and performance overall. The 2014 EPS results were analysed to test outcomes of employee engagement in the public sector sample. Employee engagement for those reporting intention to leave in the next 12 months was significantly lower than for respondents with no intention of leaving their agency.

Employee engagement scores were significantly higher for respondents who felt recognised for their work (77, compared to 41 for those who did not) and satisfied with opportunities for career progression in their entity (79, compared to 46). Respondents who reported being subject to workplace bullying during the past 12 months had significantly lower engagement scores (45, compared to 69).

These findings confirm the notion that there could be significant organisational benefits achieved by focusing on employee engagement.

Key chapter findings

In the face of increasing demands on service delivery, and emerging social and fiscal challenges, it is important that the public sector maintains a focus on developing current and future leaders to ensure that challenges can be met now, and into the future. Employees generally reported they have good leaders and communication between senior leaders and employees is effective. Across Australian jurisdictions, WA employees are among the most positive about their leaders.

Almost all entities make leadership development programs available in their entities. The Centre is progressing a range of new initiatives to promote opportunities for women in senior leadership and the development of regional leaders.

Higher engagement has been shown to increase productivity, retention and customer service, and therefore targeting workforce development efforts at the drivers of engagement may provide significant organisational benefits.

Staff reported being more satisfied with, and committed to, their workplace than employees in other jurisdictions. Employee engagement was most strongly driven by 'Senior leadership', 'Job empowerment' and 'Ethics and integrity'.

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1 Source: Human resource minimum obligatory information requirement (HRMOIR) workforce data

2 Managerial roles as per 1220.0 – Australian and New Zealand standard classification of occupations, first edition, 2006. These roles are defined as having responsibility to plan, organise, direct, control and review the day-to-day operations and major functions of organisations either personally or through departmental managers and subordinate executives.

3 Australian Bureau of Statistics 2013, 'E13_aug96 – Employed persons by occupation, state, sex, age', 6291.0.55.003 – Labour force, Australia, detailed, quarterly, May 2013

4 Jennings, C. 2013, 70:20:10 framework explained

5 Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency 2012, 2012 Australian census of women in leadership

6 Department of Treasury 2014, 2013-14 Annual report on state finances, p. 2

7 PricewaterhouseCoopers 2010, Workplace wellness in Australia, p. 4

8 Source: Human resource minimum obligatory information requirement (HRMOIR) workforce data

9 Appendix C provides further information about how this is measured using the employee engagement index.

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Page last updated 21 November 2014