4 Creating positive workplace cultures

Values underpin the sector’s culture

A positive workplace culture is one in which customer service, initiative, individual responsibility and achieving results are strongly valued. This sentiment is captured by the government sector core values of integrity, trust, service and accountability. Employees’ perceptions of how well their agencies uphold these values improved slightly from 2017 to 2018 (see Table 4.1). This increase suggests stated values and actual values have become better aligned across the sector, but there is room for improvement in areas such as individual accountability.

Table 4.1 Employee perceptions of adherence to public sector values, 2018 vs 2017

Value Question 2018 (% positive) Change from 2017 (pp)
Integrity I feel that senior managers model the values of my organisation 50.1 1.6
Trust People in my workgroup treat each other with respect 74.7 0.4
My manager listens to what I have to say 75.6 1.1
I feel that senior managers keep employees informed about what’s going on 47.4 2.4
I feel that senior managers listen to employees 43.4 2.6
My workgroup strives to achieve customer/client satisfaction 86.2 0.9
Senior managers communicate the importance of customers/clients in achieving our business objectives 61.7 1.2
Accountability My manager encourages people in my workgroup to keep improving the work they do 73.6 1.6
I believe senior managers provide clear direction for the future of the organisation 49.5 1.7
My organisation focuses on improving the work we do 69.4 0.9
People in my organisation take responsibility for their own actions 48.5 1.8

Source: People Matter Employee Survey (2017, 2018)

Positive workplace cultures built on sound values and principles help to increase employee engagement and reduce unproductive workplace behaviour such as incidents of workplace bullying.6 These two issues, as indicators of a healthy culture, are discussed below.

Employee engagement is steady

When the first People Matter survey was conducted in 2012, around 16% of the sector or 60,799 employees responded. Subsequent efforts to promote the value of the survey to employees and agencies, and to show employees that their opinions are taken seriously, resulted in a response rate of over 50% for the first time, in 2018 (see Table 4.2). Perhaps most impressive is the 24.2% increase in the number of responses from employees in frontline roles that occurred between 2017 and 2018. Survey participation among frontline employees tends to be lower than among non-frontline employees due to differing work circumstances.

Table 4.2 Employee engagement and People Matter Survey participation,

2012 2014 2016 2017 2018
Employee engagement 61.3 64.8 65.0 64.6 65.3
Number of People Matter survey responses 60,779 73,550 127,191 140,063 170,832
People Matter survey response rate (%) 16.0 19.4 35.8 42.0 50.7

Source: People Matter Employee Survey

Despite the survey having its largest reach ever, employee engagement remained steady from 2017 to 2018. However, there was a small but perceptible increase in the number of high-range engagement scores – that is, scores of 75 or more (see Figure 4.1). On the other hand, there was very little change at the lowest reaches of the engagement scale – for scores of 25 and below – with almost one in five employees indicating that they are not engaged with their organisation.


Source: People Matter Employee Survey (2017, 2018)

The slight but positive shift in employee engagement is also evident when looking at agency averages (see Figure 4.2). More than 50% of agencies improved on their 2017 engagement scores, though there were some significant downward movements in some agencies.


Source: People Matter Employee Survey (2017, 2018)

Note: Each column represents an agency.

Employee engagement is measured using five questions that help assess feelings of pride, attachment, motivation and inspiration, and an employee’s willingness to recommend their organisation as a great place to work. Engagement scores are influenced by factors including access to development opportunities, supportive management, and access to flexible work arrangements. As demonstrated in Figure 4.3, agency engagement scores are also closely related to their scores on the Senior Leadership and Performance Management KPIs, suggesting that compelling leadership and sound workforce management practices can help employees better connect with their organisations.


Source: People Matter Employee Survey (2018)

Note: Each data point represents an agency, and the dotted line is the trendline.

Targeted initiatives can help increase positive, productive workplace behaviour

Bullying has harmful impacts on individuals, their colleagues and their families, and results in significant costs to organisations and the broader community.7 The Public Service Commissioner saw the high incidence of bullying revealed by the 2012 People Matter survey as a call to action. Almost one-third (29.2%) of survey respondents reported they had experienced at least one instance of bullying in the 12 months leading up to the 2012 survey. This rate dropped to a low of 17.8% in 2017 after concerted efforts across the public sector. However, the downward trends in rates of self-reported experienced and witnessed bullying have stalled, with the figures sitting at 17.8% and 33.2%, respectively, in 2018 (see Figure 4.4).8 Working with the sector to encourage positive and productive workplace behaviour, and therefore decrease bullying, will remain a key focus of the PSC over the coming years.


Source: People Matter Employee Survey (2012–2018)

A definition of ‘bullying’

In the 2018 People Matter survey, bullying was defined as

“repeated and unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or a group of workers that creates a risk to health and safety. Bullying can be: intentional or unintentional; overt or covert; active or passive. Bullying behaviours include actions such as shouting and non-action such as not passing on information necessary for doing a job. Bullying should not be confused with legitimate feedback (including negative comments) given to staff on their work performance or work-related behaviour; or other legitimate management decisions and actions undertaken in a reasonable and respectful way.”

This definition aligns with the definition used by Safe Work Australia and has been used in the People Matter survey since 2014.

As a single group, fellow workers overtook managers and senior managers as the most common perpetrators of bullying incidents reported by People Matter survey respondents in 2017 (see Table 4.3). The relative share of bullying incidents attributed to this group increased further between 2017 and 2018, while the relative share of incidents attributed to the other two groups decreased. However, managers and senior managers collectively are the most common perpetrators of bullying. As such, sector leaders need to do more to ensure the messages of the PSC’s 2017 Respect. Reflect. Reset. campaign and other similar initiatives are known throughout their organisations and understood to apply to all workplace relationships.

Table 4.3 Top three sources of the most serious self-reported bullying incidents, 2016–2018

Reported Source 2016 (% of incidents) 2017 (% of incidents) 2018 (% of incidents)
A senior manager 22.5 21.6 21.3
Immediate manager/supervisor 25.5 24.4 23.1
A fellow worker at your level 24.7 26.8 27.2

Source: People Matter Employee Survey (2016–2018)

Results from the 2018 People Matter survey suggest, however, that anti-bullying campaigns may need to be supplemented with more targeted, local practices and processes to further drive down rates of bullying across the sector. These targeted strategies should consider the demographic and work characteristics associated with a higher risk of being bullied. For instance, women and people from other specific demographic groups are still over-represented in the cohort of surveyed employees reporting at least one experience of bullying. In 2018, the rate of experienced bullying was 18.7% for women compared to 14.3% for men.

Regarding other demographic differences (see Table 4.4), employees with a diagnosed mental health condition experienced bullying at a much higher rate than the broader workforce in 2018, at 34.3%, as did employees with disability, at 29.6%. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees were one of the few diversity groups to experience an increase in bullying from 2017 to 2018. The rate increased by 2.3 percentage points, bringing it to a very high 25.8% and resulting in a reversal of the improvement that had occurred for this group between the two preceding years. Research shows that group-based differences of this nature may be due to, among other things, conscious and unconscious biases on the part of the perpetrators and differing valid perceptions of what constitutes bullying on the part of those experiencing it.9

Table 4.4 Rates of self-reported experienced bullying for select groups

Group Survey respondents (%)
Males 14.3
Females 18.7
People who speak a language other than English at home 14.2
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people 25.8
People with disability 29.6
People with a diagnosed mental health condition 34.3
People identifying as LGBTI+ 22.8
Veterans 22.0
Public Sector 17.8

Source: People Matter Employee Survey (2018)

Work and workplace characteristics also warrant attention in a discussion of bullying because they appear to affect the prevalence of bullying. For example, in 2018, employees in frontline roles were 1.4 times more likely to experience an incident of bullying than employees in non-frontline roles (the rates for these two groups were 20.3% and 14.6%, respectively). While frontline workers are exposed to an additional potential source of bullying – the public they serve directly – most of the incidents were attributed to fellow workers, managers and senior managers. There are other factors, in addition to direct contact with the public, that are having an impact on the prevalence of bullying.

Heightened stress might be one such factor, with the added pressures faced by frontline workers making it more difficult to regulate emotions compared with their peers in non-frontline roles.10 The difference in stress experienced by the two groups is evident in the 2018 People Matter survey results. When asked if they could keep their work stress at an acceptable level, 65.8% of non-frontline workers agreed they could, whereas only 54.5% of frontline workers could. Stress is just one of the organisational and cultural factors identified by the PSC as being related to bullying. Others include senior leadership support, role clarity and performance management. Information on these indicators, and the related data, can be found on the PSC’s Workforce Dashboard, which all public sector agencies can access. The PSC is investigating innovative methods to help sector leaders understand what is driving unproductive workplace behaviour and its impacts on individuals and organisations.

Improving the customer experience is a continuous journey

The NSW public sector has a diverse customer base. Some agencies serve hospital patients, some serve students, and others serve the employees of other public sector agencies, such as by helping managers with recruitment, providing technology or in framing policy. The sector provides services for individuals and businesses alike, but ultimately, the people of NSW should be, and are, at the centre of everything the sector does.

The Customer survey assesses satisfaction with NSW Government service delivery. It considers the expectations and satisfaction of individuals and businesses who interact with the Government to obtain services, as well as their comparisons of NSW Government services to other service industries. The primary finding of the 2018 survey is that customer satisfaction has been maintained across 2017 and 2018, following a positive uplift in 2016. The gap between perceptions of the NSW public sector overall and the airline industry – which is traditionally the highest performer in terms of customer satisfaction – also has decreased. This represents the positive momentum in improving satisfaction with government services.

A large percentage of respondents (86.2%) to the 2018 People Matter survey said their workgroup strives to achieve customer (or client) satisfaction, although employees tend to rate the performance of their teams quite positively on many areas of performance. Fewer employees (61.7%) are positive about senior managers’ ability to communicate the importance of customers and clients to business objectives. However, it is worth noting that this question scored the highest – by a substantial amount – of all the questions relating to senior managers. This suggests that messaging around the importance of the customer is permeating through agencies.

HealthShare NSW is improving the experiences of patients and Health cluster agencies

HealthShare NSW is a shared services organisation with more than 6,500 employees. It supports the delivery of NSW Health’s patient care through its linen service, payroll and financial services, procurement, food and patient support, and patient transport services.

Its efforts to ensure its customers are at the centre of everything it does has resulted in year-on-year improvements in its customer satisfaction results – from 4.9 out of 10 in 2015 to 6.2 out of 10 in 2018. To help its workforce connect with customers and better understand their needs and expectations, HealthShare NSW has:

  • emphasised the importance of customers in its organisational strategy
  • selected several key performance indicators – customer satisfaction, customer engagement and net promoter score – and consistently measured performance against these metrics. It does this using surveys, some of which are administered immediately after a customer interaction
  • collaborated with customers and service lines to develop personas, customer journey maps and empathy maps that reflect customers’ behaviours, needs and concerns. These tools have been well received by employees, helping them to shape and direct customer conversations and better anticipate the needs of those they serve
  • rolled out an agency-wide communications and recognition program that focuses on customer experiences and the importance of the workforce in delivering outcomes. It sends monthly newsletters to all employees, and the Chief Executive recognises exceptional customer service with handwritten thank you cards.

HealthShare NSW worked to identify and define its customer base, even though this was not easy because of its diverse service lines. But by defining its base, it was able to streamline many of its initiatives, such as creating customer journey maps and personas. Its high-level tools are designed to be easily adapted to the specific needs of different parts of the business while being detailed enough to derive insights and outline individual actions that may be needed.

The organisation’s journey to improve the experiences of patients and healthcare agencies is ongoing. Over the coming months, it is aiming to expand the scope of its data analysis to combine qualitative and quantitative data at specific points along customer journeys. It also wants to continue to map key customer journeys to ensure seamless end-to-end services, and incorporate digital tools and channels into business practices.

Results for its key performance indicators are expected to improve even more as the workforce becomes increasingly customer-oriented and engaged with serving health workers and the broader community.

Agencies cannot be complacent when it comes to customer experience because the public’s expectations continue to change. Customers will increasingly demand personalised services that meet their unique needs while being delivered en masse.11 Today’s customers already expect that they should be listened to with empathy and that anything they need to know, do or expect is easy to understand. These expectations will provide opportunities to transform and improve the way the public sector interacts with individuals and businesses across NSW.

The sector is focused on delivering enduring outcomes

Past editions of this report explored the topic of productivity, specifically the challenge of measuring productivity in delivering public value. A highly productive public sector produces a large amount of goods and services (outputs) while using small amounts of labour, capital, technology and other resources (inputs). In line with this view, public sectors around the world – NSW’s included – have traditionally measured inputs and, to a lesser extent, outputs with lesser consideration of the impacts, or outcomes, of programs and initiatives.

However, this is starting to change. Agencies are making efforts to identify and quantify outcomes, track progress towards them, and evaluate the success of programs and initiatives. A new focus on outcomes is evident in NSW Treasury’s move from program budgeting to outcome budgeting. While the former puts activities and initiatives at the centre of the budget process, the latter puts citizens at the centre. Led by Treasury, clusters identified 46 State Outcomes that the NSW Government wants to achieve for its citizens, and developed KPIs for each outcome. Cluster budgets are tied to the outcomes and indicators. This approach helps ensure that agencies and service providers coordinate and collaborate with each other to make optimal use of resources, and that services are targeted towards the needs of NSW communities. It also encourages the public sector to strive to deliver more tangible, meaningful and enduring results to the public.

Delivering on the Premier’s Priorities

The Premier’s Priorities were introduced in 2015 as a way of focusing on key issues affecting the citizens of NSW. Since then, agencies across the state have made great progress towards delivering on the 12 Priorities. A key ingredient in achieving the Priorities is the use of Deliverology, a method of managing implementation that originated in the UK.

The NSW Premier’s Implementation Unit (PIU) works with agencies to help them deliver on the Priorities through:

  • a focus on performance – ensuring accountability by routinely reviewing progress, data collection, monitoring and problem solving
  • data-informed decision making – gathering and analysing data and evidence to identify opportunities and focus implementation efforts
  • fieldwork – engaging with frontline staff members to understand what works and gain insights on what will make a difference
  • a small number of targeted actions and high-impact interventions.

One of the Premier’s Priorities is ‘Protecting our kids’. Each year, Family and Community Services (FACS) works with more than 10,000 at-risk children to help them reach their case plan goals and live in safer, more stable homes. The Priority aims to decrease the percentage of children and young people re-reported at risk of significant harm by 15% by 2020 (from a baseline of 40.4% in 2015).

FACS, supported by the PIU, has made significant progress towards this target. As at June 2018, the rate was 36.2%, meaning that more than 500 children across NSW were in safer, more stable homes than a year earlier. While there is always more to do to ensure children and young people are safe from harm, this is a very meaningful and tangible improvement in the lives of vulnerable individuals and their families.



This has been achieved through FACS implementing six key statewide interventions, developed through data analysis and working with frontline child protection workers. These interventions include intensive training, coaching and support in key practice tools, rolling out practice guidelines for closing cases, and weekly group supervision to support reflective practice and continuous improvement among caseworkers.


6 Attridge (2009); Spence-Laschinger, Wong, Cummings and Grau (2014)
7 Safe Work Australia (2017); Vega and Comer (2005)
8 While the downward trends in the rates of self-reported experienced and witnessed bullying likely reflect true decreases in bullying across the sector since the inaugural People Matter Survey, they may also be partly due to an increase in the survey response rate over the years (from 16.0% in 2012 to 50.7% in 2018). Specifically, the higher the response rate, the more representative the survey sample, and the more likely the rates of reported bullying reflect the true extent of bullying across the sector.
9 Fevre, Robinson, Lewis and Jones (2013); Harder, Wagner and Rash (2016)
10 Hauge, Skogtad and Einarsen (2007); Xerri, Farr-Wharton, Brunetto and Lambries (2016)
11 CSIRO (2016)