Chapter ThreeChanging workforce culture

While many agencies had run their own longstanding employee surveys, it was not possible to measure and compare employee engagement across the public sector until 2012 when the Employee Survey was introduced to address a perception of low morale and high levels of bullying.

The survey asks employees about their experience of working with their team, managers and the organisation. It gauges their perceptions of their commitment – and that of their peers – to the Government Sector core values. The survey has become a key tool for managers to understand cultural changes and their management from an employee’s perspective. It became an annual survey in 2016 to provide a more timely indication of progress across the sector. This chapter addresses the 2017 employee perceptions of their organisations and work, Government Sector values and bullying, and the trends this data has revealed since the survey’s inception.

Employee engagement is steady and survey participation is rising

Employee engagement is measured as a weighted index of responses to five questions, based on the level of agreement with feelings of pride, attachment, motivation, inspiration and willingness to recommend the organisation as a great place to work. In 2017, the engagement index was the same as in 2016, at 65%, although participation in the survey has increased each year.

Figure 3.1: Engagement index and Employee Survey participation, 2012–17

  2012 2014 2016 2017
Engagement index 61% 65% 65% 65%
Number of employee responses 60,779 73,550 127,191 140,063
Responses as percentage of sector employees 16.0% 19.4% 35.8% 42.0%

Source: People Matter Employee Survey

Closer analysis shows that while the average engagement score hasn’t changed, some agencies have significantly improved their scores, while more agencies went backwards, albeit by a smaller increment.

Figure 3.2: Average change in engagement index scores, by agency, 2016–17

Average change in engagement index scores, by agency, 2016–17

Click to view

Infrastructure NSW -12.0321
Cancer Institute NSW -8.65625
Health Care Complaints Commission -8.34906
State Transit Authority -8.07174
Bureau of Health Information -7.87115
Southern NSW Local Health District -7.81358
Institute of Sport -7.73016
Ombudsman's Office -7.49207
Judicial Commission -6.30482
Independent Commission Against Corruption -5.98537
Public Service Commission -4.84506
Office of the Children's Guardian -4.68701
Library Council of NSW -4.36277
Audit Office -4.25238
Service NSW -3.66865
Destination NSW -3.47835
Office of Local Government -3.14492
Justice Health and Forensic Mental Health Network -3.0972
Agency for Clinical Innovation -3.07338
Crown Solicitor's Office -2.88222
Board of Studies, Teaching and Educational Standards -2.69837
Police Integrity Commission -2.65107
Sydney Cricket & Sports Ground Trust -2.40269
Hunter New England Local Health District -2.29693
Central Coast Local Health District -2.18712
Department of Family and Community Services -2.1721
Environment Protection Authority -2.09917
Schools -2.00856
South Western Sydney Local Health District -1.95141
Office of Environment and Heritage -1.92418
Fire and Rescue NSW -1.81587
Trustees of the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences -1.74851
Sydney Children's Hospital Network -1.71831
Sydney Local Health District -1.67856
Legal Aid Commission -1.46378
Murrumbidgee Local Health District -1.43319
The Treasury -1.07455
Ambulance Service of NSW -1.02332
Northern NSW Local Health District -0.96119
Mid North Coast Local Health District -0.94669
Independent Pricing And Regulatory Tribunal -0.88843
Parliamentary Counsel’s Office -0.85227
Sydney Opera House Trust -0.65974
NSW Trains -0.6503
Far West Local Health District -0.64904
Treasury Corporation -0.57491
Mental Health Commission -0.55556
Sydney Trains -0.51691
Office of the NSW Rural Fire Service -0.4283
Local Land Services -0.31809
NSW Electoral Commission -0.27864
Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions -0.25375
NSW Police Force -0.16797
Roads and Maritime Services -0.14325
Australian Museum Trust -0.13274
Nepean Blue Mountains Local Health District -0.09763
Western Sydney Local Health District 0.102896
Western NSW Local Health District 0.135576
Health Pathology 0.215676
Department of Premier and Cabinet 0.364245
Health Professional Councils Authority 0.508836
Transport for NSW 0.908562
Department of Justice 0.957841
Parliament of NSW 0.967846
South Eastern Sydney Local Health District 1.022083
Department of Finance, Services & Innovation 1.036473
Department of Education 1.044376
HealthShare NSW 1.168049
NSW Crime Commission 1.247086
Department of Industry 1.287188
Northern Sydney Local Health District 1.333701
Office of Sport 1.54993
Water NSW 2.763275
Health Education and Training Institute 3.497877
eHealth NSW 3.680079
Health System Support Group 4.122807
Natural Resources Commission 4.131944
Office of the NSW State Emergency Service 4.339741
Department of Planning & Environment 4.534528
Insurance & Care NSW 4.602951
Ministry of Health 4.991383
Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District 5.004759
Barangaroo Delivery Authority 6.920758
Health Infrastructure NSW 7.421875
Clinical Excellence Commission 7.903226
SAS Trustee Corporation 9.190341
Multicultural NSW 9.21288
Art Gallery of NSW Trust 9.385426
Information and Privacy Commission 12.46528
Essential Energy 13.47364

Source: People Matter Employee Survey
Note: The green line denotes sector average change.

In 2017, employees reported stronger engagement with their work (72%) than with their organisation. Further, 72% of participants reported that they felt motivated to contribute more than what was required. Job satisfaction increased five percentage points to 68% in 2017.

Engagement scores are influenced by a range of factors, including perceptions of career development opportunities, organisational change management skill and continuous improvement. A feeling of personal accomplishment was a strong driver for most clusters’ engagement index, which was particularly true for older employees. These employees reported the largest increase in job satisfaction, indicating that although they may not be as engaged with their organisation as their younger peers, they are generally more positive about their work.

Employee perceptions of working collaboratively and their commitment to customer service were steady between 2016 and 2017. Most employees agreed that their workgroups strived for customer and client satisfaction, and nearly two thirds (60%) agreed their senior managers communicated the importance of clients and customers in achieving business objectives. Team collaboration has improved, but intra-organisational cooperation has not.

Figure 3.3: Employee perceptions of organisational high performance, 2016–17

  Agreement 2017 (%) Agreement 2016 (%)
I understand what is expected of me to do well in my role 90 90
My workgroup works collaboratively to achieve its objectives 78 75
I have received appropriate training and development to do my job well 62 63
My manager encourages people in my workgroup to keep improving the work they do 72 72
I have confidence in the decisions my manager makes 67 67
Senior managers encourage innovation by employees 48 49
Senior managers promote collaboration between my organisation and other organisations we work with 51 52
My organisation focuses on improving the work we do 69 76
My organisation is making the necessary improvements to meet our future challenges 57 62
There is good co-operation between teams across our organisation 47 48
My organisation generally selects capable people to do the job 52 51

Source: People Matter Employee Survey

More employees (34%) agreed in 2017 that their agency would act on the Employee Survey results than did in 2016 (32%). Agencies with a significantly higher score and response rate for this question reported that success had been achieved by executives taking a leading role in exploring results and formulating responses. They encouraged participation using incentives such as inter-divisional competitions, reported the issues identified, promoted planning to address problem areas and monitored progress through pulse surveys.  

Embedded values shape new employees’ transition to the sector

The ethical framework in the GSE Act established the Government Sector’s core values of integrity, trust, service and accountability.1 In 2015, this ethical framework was built on when the Public Service Commissioner directed relevant agency heads to implement the Code of Ethics and Conduct for NSW Government Sector employees. This is the first sector-wide code of ethics and conduct.

The Public Service Commissioner asked agencies for progress reports on the implementation of this code in September 2016, which indicated that its implementation was largely complete.2 Almost all agencies had established measures to manage conflicts of interest, nominated a senior executive to oversee code implementation, and were counselling their employees on the code.

Agencies had made less progress in conducting surveys to gauge employees’ understanding of the code (28% of agencies), providing refresher courses on the code (30%), establishing code evaluation and monitoring measures (36%), and providing e-Learning training (38%).

However, many agencies were planning to address these gaps, with 56% planning refresher courses, 52% surveying employees to gauge their understanding of the code and 48% offering e-Learning training.

The Employee Survey reveals a moderate level of commitment to the core values and ethical conduct, with little change from 2016.

Figure 3.4: Employee perceptions of Government Sector values, 2016–17

  Agreement 2017 (%) Agreement 2016 (%)
My workgroup strives to achieve customer/client satisfaction 85 85
People in my workgroup treat each other with respect 74 72
My manager encourages people in my workgroup to keep improving the work they do 72 72
My manager listens to what I have to say 75 73
I believe senior managers provide clear direction for the future of the organisation 48 47
I feel that senior managers model the values of my organisation 48 48
Senior managers communicate the importance of customers/clients in achieving our business objectives 60 60
I feel that senior managers keep employees informed about what's going on 45 44
I feel that senior managers listen to employees 41 39

Source: People Matter Employee Survey

While most agencies induct new employees on the code, few reported embedding the values in their practices and day-to-day processes (such as business plans and internal controls). The next challenge for agencies will be embedding the values into these practices and processes, further reinforcing the importance of ethical conduct across the sector.

A focus on bullying achieves a steady downward trend

In the 2012 Employee Survey, 29.2% of respondents stated they had experienced at least one instance of bullying in their workplace. In 2017, this had dropped to 17.8%.3

The following definition of bullying was used for the 2017 Employee Survey: ‘repeated and unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or a group of workers that creates a risk to health and safety. Bullying behaviours include actions such as shouting and non-action such as not passing on information necessary to 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.’ The definition is drawn from SafeWork Australia.

Based on the survey results, there has been a consistent downward trend in both witnessing and experiencing bullying since 2012.

Figure 3.5: Reported rates of witnessing and experiencing at least one instance of bullying

Year Witnessed (%) Experienced (%)
2012 48.3 29.2
2014 40.7 22.7
2016 35.5 19.9
2017 33.3 17.8

Source: People Matter Employee Survey

While reported bullying rates are still higher than sector averages for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees and those disclosing a disability, these groups also reported the largest decline in reports between 2016 and 2017.

Figure 3.6: Employees who reported being bullied in the past 12 months (% of demographic group)

  subjected to bullying (%) Change 2016-17 (PP)
Reported sector average 17.8 -2.1
Gender - male 14.4 -2.2
Gender - female 18.5 -2.4
Speak a language other than English at home 15.0 -2.3
Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander 23.5 -4.4
Disability 29.9 -4.0
Mental health issue requiring treatment or support in last 12 months 34.6 -2.4
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex or as gender diverse 22.8 -2.6

Source: People Matter Employee Survey

However, the percentage of employees disclosing a mental health condition who reported experiencing bullying remained high. Overall, all survey respondents who reported experiencing bullying had engagement scores 15.3 percentage points lower than the sector average.

In 2017, for the first time, fellow workers were reported as the largest source of bullying experiences, having increased as a proportion of perpetrators over the past three surveys.

Figure 3.7: Top three sources of bullying for employees reporting experiencing it, 2014–17

Source reported 2014 (%) 2016 (%) 2017 (%)
A senior manager 23.3 22.5 21.6
Your immediate manager/supervisor 28.1 25.5 24.4
A fellow worker at your level 23.1 24.7 26.8

Source: People Matter Employee Survey

While the number of people reporting bullying experiences as a percentage of all Employee Survey respondents is decreasing, analysis shows that agencies with low employee perceptions of how their organisation handles poor performance tended to also have more reports of bullying experiences. Negative trends in key aspects of workforce management practice can indicate an existing or emerging poor work environment across an organisation, and one in which bullying is more likely to occur.

The PSC’s Understand Bullying Dashboard helps agencies to understand this data. Analysis shows that agencies with higher rates of employee-reported bullying typically sit below the sector average in at least five of the leading indicators measured. These indicators include supportive leadership, role clarity, performance management, work ease, workplace morale, development and growth, and employee engagement. Agencies improving their reported rates of bullying also improved in an average of five indicators.

Figure 3.8: Deterioration or improvement in leading organisational indicators of bullying, 2017

  Agencies with deterioration in bullying rate Agencies with improvement in bullying rate
Average improvements in leading indicators  3.0 5.3
Average deterioration in leading indicators 5.0 2.7

Source: People Matter Employee Survey

The Positive and Productive Workplaces Guideline was launched across the sector in 2016 to encourage agencies to reinforce acceptable conduct. This campaign was re launched in 2017 with Respect.Reflect.Reset-branded additional tools to prevent bullying and reduce unreasonable behaviour, to foster respectful and inclusive working teams.


1 Part 2 of the Government Sector Employment Act 2013 (NSW).

2 Implementation of Direction No. 1 of 2015: The Code of Ethics and Conduct for NSW Government Sector employees, September 2016.

3 The 2012 question about experiencing bullying was slightly different to the one that has been used since 2014. However, it is evident that the change in wording has not skewed results, as the difference in number between responses to this question and another unchanged question on witnessing bullying has remained steady between 2012 and 2017.