Four trends to watch from the Australian Public Service census

By on 01/04/2021 | Updated on 01/04/2021
Parliament House, Canberra. The Australian Public Service Commission published the results of its annual employee census earlier this week. Credit: Michael/Unsplash

The Australian Public Service Commission published the results of its annual employee census earlier this week.  

The survey, conducted in October to November 2020, takes the pulse of professionals in the Australian Public Service (APS), questioning them on issues such as skills, productivity, and wellbeing. This year, the government also asked about the changes wrought by the pandemic.

We’ve taken a look at the summary data, based on just over 108,000 responses, and drawn out four trends that are worth watching out for.

The pandemic boosted productivity…

The survey asked Australian public servants about the impact of the pandemic on their productivity — and the results were broadly positive.

Almost half (49%) of respondents said their productivity had either improved or significantly improved since the start of the crisis in February 2020. Only 10% thought their productivity had declined, with the remainder noticing no change.

Agility in the pandemic response was another trend picked out in the research. Some 80% of those surveyed responded positively to the statement “my agency quickly adapts and responds to changing priorities” with the pandemic crisis cited as an example.

This increased a team level too. Professionals who took the survey (89%) broadly agreed that their “workgroup successfully adapts to news ways of working when required” including situations like the pandemic. Only 8% of respondents were neutral about this and 3% negative.

When it comes to learning lessons from the past year, the picture was more mixed. A significant, albeit lower, proportion (64%) said that their agency was “taking actions to maintain changed ways of working implemented during the COVID-19 crisis”.

…But hit personal wellbeing

While COVID-19 changed productivity and agility, the pandemic’s impact on public servants’ personal lives was less positive.

Almost a third of respondents (32%) said there had been a “negative” or “very negative” change to their general health and wellbeing since the start of the crisis. This is in comparison with only 21% saying the change had been “positive” or “very positive”. The largest group (47%) noticed no change at all.

That said, there were some improvements around wellbeing compared with 2019. Some 72% of professionals said their agency “does a good job of communicating what it can offer me in terms of health and wellbeing”, while 69% said it “does a good job of promoting health and wellbeing”. That is an increases of nine and eight percentage points respectively compared with 2019 figures.

Indeed, 84% of those surveyed believed their immediate supervisor cared about their health and wellbeing.

The government is getting better at talking to itself

On a range of questions about workplace culture, respondents showed there have been improvements with internal comms compared with in 2019 — though the government still has some way to go.

While just 58% of people responded positively to the statement “internal communication within my agency is effective”, this was up nine percentage points compared with the previous year.

Likewise, just over three quarters (78%) of respondents said that “internal communication within my agency is regular”, a five percentage point increase on 2019.

There was also improvement too in perceptions of senior leaders’ communication. While only 56% said that senior leaders in their agency were “effective” at communicating with other employees, this marked a seven percentage point jump compared with 2019.

And 63% of respondents said that senior leaders “clearly articulate the direction and priorities for our agency”, a growth of six percentage points on the previous year.

More of the right skills and tools are in place

Many people who took the survey felt that they had the right skills to do their job too. Some 81% of professionals responded positively to the statement: “my workgroup has the appropriate skills, capabilities and knowledge to perform well”. This was up six percentage points on 2019.

A lower proportion (65%) felt that “my workgroup has the tools and resources we need to perform well”, but even this represented a seven percentage point increase.

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