Understanding engagement

The People Matter survey used five statements to assess employee engagement, to produce an Engagement Index for benchmarking with other Australian states, the Australian Public Service (APS) and the UK Civil Service.

The results show there was an improvement in employee engagement in NSW in 2014 compared with 2012 – 65% versus 61%. The response to an additional engagement statement about job satisfaction was relatively high among public sector employees (78% in 2014 compared with 74% in 2012), indicating employees are now genuinely more engaged.

The Engagement Index score for NSW is just below the 67% recorded for Victoria in 2014 and slightly more positive than that recorded by the APS in 2013. It also compares favourably to recent scores recorded for the Queensland Public Service and the UK Civil Service, each of which registered a score of 58% in 2013 for the same set of questions.

Table 2: Employee engagement comparisons across Australian jurisdictions

Table 2 shows employee engagement comparisons against five engagement statements in the respective employee surveys of NSW 2014, Victoria 2014, Queensland 2013 and the APS 2013. Note: engagement scores in this table are weighted average percentages. I would recommend my organisation as a great place to work: NSW 64, Victoria 68, Queensland 57, APS 63; I am proud to tell others I work for my organisation: NSW 70, Victoria 72, Queensland 63, APS 69; I feel a strong personal attachment to my organisation: NSW 69, Victoria 67, Queensland 61, APS 63; My organisation motivates me to help it achieve its objectives: NSW 60, Victoria 63, Queensland 55, APS 57; My organisation inspires me to do the best in my job: NSW 61, Victoria 64, Queensland 56, APS 57.

Engagement scores in this table are weighted average percentages

Private sector studies report levels of engagement ranging from 24% in a multi‑industry Australian study13 to approximately 80% for some individual companies. As some measures and industries can be quite different to the public sector, they are not directly comparable.

Agency work practices most strongly associated with positive levels of employee engagement include confidence in grievance resolution, senior managers listening to employees, senior managers providing clear direction for the organisation and the organisation's commitment to developing its employees.

What drives engagement?

In addition to the Engagement Index, the People Matter survey identified the types of employee experiences and work practices most strongly associated with engagement (see Table 3). This analysis provides insight for agencies into the work practices and experiences instrumental in enhancing employee engagement.

Table 3: The 10 statements showing the strongest association with employee engagement

Table 3 gives the top 10 statements in ascending order as: 1. I have confidence in the ways my organisation resolves grievances; 2. I feel that senior managers listen to employees ; 3. I believe senior managers provide clear direction for the future of the organisation; 4. My organisation is committed to developing its employees ; 5. My organisation’s involvement in the community helps motivate staff; 6. I feel that senior managers model the values of my organisation; 7. I am confident that I would be protected from reprisal for reporting misconduct or wrongdoing; 8. My organisation is making the necessary improvements to meet our future challenges; 9. My organisation supports better practice so we can provide better service; 10. I am encouraged to be innovative in my work.

Engagement was found to be highest in workplaces where employees believed their organisations were achieving objectives, managing change well, contributing to the community and adhering to the core public sector values.

Notable differences in responses

The People Matter survey found that employees 24 years or younger and 65 years or older were more engaged than others, with an Engagement Index score of 73% and 69% respectively. Engagement was lower for the larger groups aged 35–44 and 45–55 (both 64%). Employees planning to retire before the age of 55 were less engaged than those planning to retire after 60 (58% and 66% respectively).

Mid- and senior-level managers reported a higher level of engagement than front-line managers and employees, while new employees recorded an Engagement Index score of 69%, which was higher than that of longer-term employees, at 62%.

Less engaged employees were also much less likely to continue working in their current organisation and in the NSW public sector generally than those with higher levels of engagement.

A comparison of the People Matter and Agency surveys also reveals that even though larger agencies were more likely to have well‑developed workforce, mobility and talent management plans, this didn't always equate to better employee engagement. Engagement was highest among agencies with 100 to 500 staff members and lowest among those with a staff of 5,000 to 10,000 (see Figure 10).

Figure 10: Employee engagement and planning maturity across agencies of different sizes

Figure 10 shows engagement index scores and maturity levels of workforce, mobility and talent management plans by different sized agencies. Key findings are in the preceding paragraph.

One possible reason is that individuals in smaller agencies feel closer to senior managers and more involved in internal initiatives. It indicates that larger agencies may need to look more closely at local impacts on engagement.

The Public Service Commission acknowledges the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation, the traditional custodians of the land on which our office stands.