Public Eye: Australian Public Service's worst workplaces revealed in 2021 APS Employee Census by Public Eye
By Harley Dennett
On the hunt for a new workplace, one that better matches your expectations?
The 2021 APS Employee Census has published by-agency summaries for a few years now, and they are well worth a read.
But who has time to read nearly 100 reports to find those red flag and magical lands of unicorns to figure out the best and worst APS workplaces, so I’ve done it for you. Allow me to present The Canberra Times’ tongue-in-cheek awards for APS workplaces of note.
The Disneyland Award:
Is it even possible to be unhappy at the Australian Taxation Office? 84 per cent of ATO employees would recommend the agency as a good place to work. It’s a huge lead over almost everyone else except the next award recipient.
The Irony Award: One in five Australian Bureau of Statistics employees did not complete their internal census. Go hang your heads in shame while you enjoy that great workplace culture: 83 per cent would recommend it to others and 92 per cent say it has great non-monetary benefits.
The Hiding Under the Blanket Award: The Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission only uploaded its results after being prompted by The Canberra Times. Less than half of its employees are likely to stay and just 59 per cent feeling they are compensated fairly. Only 27 per cent feel confident in the changes the agency is going through.
The Goody Two-Shoes award: The National Capital Authority had a 100 per cent response rate. I think we need the ABS to explain if the NCA’s response rate is a statistical anomaly related to the Canberra Bubble, or if it’s just born out of a fierce desire to let people know it exists.
The Spud Award: There’s no hiding the morale drop at Defence just as Peter Dutton became their new minister. Every engagement measure fell from last year, except their consistently strong belief in Defence’s purpose. Just 50 per cent feel inspired by their managers and SES, and less than one-third feel confident the department can manage change.
The Cry for Help Award: Home Affairs had one of the lowest engagement scores, at 66 per cent, and job satisfaction fell by 5 per cent in one year. Just 46 per cent would recommend their employer to others (almost one-third lower than the APS average), and only 43 per cent feel they are fairly compensated, but job security was a positive.
The New Letterhead Pending Award: With an acronym that just rolls of the tongue, and having one of the most confused ministerial reporting arrangements in government, personal attachment to DITRDC is amongst the lowest in the APS, at just 47 per cent. The Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications appears to be having an identity crisis. A paltry 27 per cent say the agency is managing change well, which is unfortunate given there’s a good chance it’ll get MOGed again next year.
The Self-PlagiarismAward: For an agency that has done so much in the past year and seen so much change, it’s astonishing how little shift in attitudes was seen at Services Australia. Did they copy and paste their response to last year’s census? There were no major shifts in any field; it’s still as middle-of-the-road as you get the APS. The only thing they seem to complain about is a lack of flexibility in their working arrangements. Now you have the tools when faced with the choice of staying where you are or apply for a role in another public service organisation. But if you are considering a permanent move based on these awards alone, it’s caveat emptor. Are you thinking of moving APS organisations? What characteristics are you’re looking for in your next opportunity? Get in touch and let us know what matters most to you
A casual ABS Census collector was allegedly dismissed after making a politically charged social media post. How can employers protect themselves in a similar situation?
The exact nature of the now-deleted post is unclear, but the ABS claims the employee breached the organisation’s requirement for employees to remain apolitical, which was communicated to the employee via email in August this year, a month or so into her contract.
The employee has accused the ABS of breaching her general protections, in particular an employee’s right to express political opinion without repercussions from an employer.
The Australian Public Services (APS) code of conduct acknowledges the right for employees to express their personal and political opinionon social media. However, such expressions must not be at the expense of the APS’s image as trusted and impartial public servants.
The code goes on to state that “an APS employee must at all times behave in a way that upholds the APS Values and Employment Principles and the integrity and good reputation of the employee’s agency and the APS”.
This leaves some room for interpretation, as the definition of something that could damage an organisation’s integrity or reputation could differ from person to person, which is why situations like this are usually treated on a case by case basis.
HRM asked Samantha Edwards, Principal Consultant at Worklogic, what employers in the public and private sector can learn from this case.
Personal and professional image
This case is particularly interesting because the employee posted her political opinion on LinkedIn – a site mostly used to build an individual’s professional profile.
“[LinkedIn] is so connected to your current workplace, so people could almost see it as you posting on behalf of your employer,” says Edwards.
“As an employee of the APS, there is a high risk that anything political posted on LinkedIn could potentially be seen as damaging the reputation of the APS.”
The contents of the employee’s post have not been made public, but, according to Workplace Express (gated content), the ABS considers factors such as, seniority, the relationship between the topic of the post and the employee’s role, and how extreme the expression of their view is when determining if it has caused reputational damage.
“If it was just a post saying, ‘I’m voting for ‘X’ on Saturday,’ a Census collector who probably doesn’t have much seniority could probably get away with that on social media without breaching the APS code of conduct,” says Edwards. “But I think the specifics of what she posted, and the fact that she chose LinkedIn, are critical components of why she was dismissed, as of course was the fact that she was a public servant.”
Since LinkedIn is so closely related to an employee’s professional identity, some employers have explicit expectations or guidance on LinkedIn within their social media policies which might prohibit employees from posting about certain topics, says Edwards.
Deciding if you need a policy dealing with employees’ use of LinkedIn would likely come down to how necessary or prevalent the platform is to your industry and whether any such guidance or restriction would be seen as reasonable.
According to Edwards, an organisational policy dealing with employees’ LinkedIn use might cover the following:
- Restrictions on posting about clients or confidential information.
- Whether it is a requirement that employees have a LinkedIn profile. This is often applied to employees in client-facing roles as a way to build the individual’s profile with clients or customers.
- Whether it is a requirement that an employee’s LinkedIn profile be up-to-date.
- What values the employee promotes through their posts (i.e. political or religious views).
- The tone of the content they post and how it aligns with the organisation’s posts.
- Whether they can post personal content on LinkedIn.
However, just because a LinkedIn profile is more closely linked to an employee’s place of work, that doesn’t mean employees should get free reign to disclose company information or act in ways that could damage its reputation on other social media platforms.
“There have been some notable instances in other industries where employees have behaved poorly in their work uniforms, even showing their name badges, and posted it on TikTok,” says Edwards. “When the poster’s place of work is very easily identifiable, and the employee’s actions damage the reputation of the organisation, then the employer has a right to investigate and take action if needed.”
Managing social media expectations
While most organisations have a social media policy, where some employers go wrong is not ensuring all employees are aware of what such policies state.
To combat this, Edwards suggests your social media policy – and all code of conduct policies – should be kept somewhere accessible, such as on a company-wide digital portal. Simply getting employees to cite and sign such policies during the onboarding process might not be enough.
“I also think offering face-to-face reminders, where relevant, is really important,” she says. “Not in an overbearing sense, but in the sense of continuing the dialogue around what is and isn’t acceptable and setting expectations.”
Another hazard for employers is deciding how much to monitor employee’s social media posting activity. In the case above, the employee’s post was allegedly reported to the ABS by a member of the public.
Should employers be monitoring social media to catch problem posts before a potential client or customer sees it?
“I don’t think that’s feasible for most organisations, even just from a resourcing perspective you don’t have time to check employee posts every day,” says Edwards.
“There may be situations where it would be appropriate for an organisation to take a proactive approach by regularly monitoring an employees’ social media use as a risk management strategy, but they are probably few and far between”.
If you do spot something worrying, Edwards says to be sure to follow due process.
“People do get hacked and sometimes names get mixed up,” she says. “If you get a report that someone is misbehaving online then do your own investigation and don’t jump to any conclusions.”
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