Survey reveals Australia’s public servants sceptical over government recruitment practices

By on 02/12/2015 | Updated on 25/09/2020
Australian Public Service Commissioner, John Lloyd

The majority of Australia’s public servants believe that appointments are not merit-based, while supervisors are doubtful over the performance management tools available to them, according to the annual public service-wide survey published this week.

The 2015 State of the Service survey, which was published by the Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) on Monday, states that “current recruitment and selection processes tend to be lengthy and convoluted” and that “only 34% of public servants agree their agency applies merit appropriately.”

The APSC, which advises the government on strategic people management and leadership, wrote in the survey report that, in order to secure the most talented candidates, the public service “must be more agile and able to bring in the best people quickly; remove self-imposed red tape; support a cultural shift to focus on business needs; and encourage innovative approaches to getting the right people”, adding that this area will “attract focused attention” in 2016.

The report, which is based on responses by 66% of public servants – 91,000 people – also finds that “only 54% of supervisors agree their agency’s performance management policies provide them with clear guidelines for measuring employee performance,” and just “53% of supervisors agree their performance management policies are transparent and promote fair and equitable processes.”

The document says that “while supervisors may be confident in their ability to manage performance, they are less confident about the policies that govern their actions.” It adds that the results “highlight the need for improved guidance for supervisors,” noting that the APSC is already “developing guidance material for HR practitioners and managers to assist with the day-to-day challenges of performance management.”

It will also be developing an online application as the primary delivery vehicle for this guidance, the report says, adding that “over 3,000 managers have already completed core skills programs that focus on performance and development conversations.”

In addition, the survey revealed that almost half of public servants don’t hold their agency’s senior leadership in high esteem. Only “52% of employees agreed the senior leadership in their agency was of a high quality,” the report says: this figure remained unchanged from the previous year and is slightly better than in 2013, when it was at 46%.

The APSC noted that “only 50% of employees believed their senior leaders were sufficiently visible and just 42% agreed that communication between their senior leaders and other employees was effective.”

While the report says that agencies identified workforce planning, communication and change management as three areas where improved leadership capability is required, it also reveals that public servants are a lot happier with their immediate supervisors than with senior management: 75% believe their immediate supervisor “achieves results”; 72% believe he/she “cultivates relationships”; 69% believe their immediate supervisor “sets direction”; 65% that he/she “motivates people”; and 64% that he/she “develops people.”

The The report, which is based on responses by 66% of public servants – 91,00 people said: “The report shows that the Australian Public Service (APS) continues to be high performing, resilient and effective.

“However, its operating environment is challenging and complex.  Australians increasingly want services that are fast, online, personalised and competitively priced.

“The APS is well positioned to meet these challenges, but it cannot be complacent about its success.”

About Winnie Agbonlahor

Winnie is news editor of Global Government Forum. She previously reported for Civil Service World - the trade magazine for senior UK government officials. Originally from Germany, Winnie first came to the UK in 2006 to study a BA in Journalism & Russian at the University of Sheffield. She is bilingual in English and German, and, after spending an academic year abroad in Russia and reporting for the Moscow Times, Winnie also speaks Russian fluently.

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