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A fine pair

Note that this page is under review. It has not yet been updated to reflect changes to the Public Service Act 1999 and Public Service Regulations 1999, or contained in the Australian Public Service Commissioner's Directions 2013, that came into effect on 1 July 2013. Agencies may continue to use the guidance for reference, but should be aware that it may not reflect current legislative requirements.

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The file should be used in conjunction with the following text. It does not include captioning.

(Simon Carter and Chris Madden are interviewed separately about workplace issues)

Simon Carter – EL1 Technical Development (North): I am a technical manger in the organisation, I suppose considered a bit of an expert in the area in which I work and you know I enjoy the work that I do. I think I've worked hard I think to get to the position I am in within the organisation now. But I do think that you have to be respectful of others in the workplace. We work in an environment that is driven by deadlines and driven by outcomes, and sometimes that can make some managers just a bit pushy when it comes to other people.

Chris Maddon – EL1 technical Development (South): I am pretty straight forward in the way I communicate and I let people know what I think and I expect them to let me know what they think as well. I've got the technical skills and I think my work shows that, I get the job done. Sure sometimes language gets a bit strong round here, but that's just the way things are, it relieves a lot of tension and gets people back on the job faster than if we just sort of messed around with these kind of indirect kind of messages. It's the kind of language you'll here in the street, it's the kind of language you will here on TV and I think that once it's out there lets just move on. I don't mean anything by it, I don't mean to insult anyone, but I think these people, people like Simon, their just a bit too soft.

Simon Carter – EL1 Technical Development (North): I speak up when I think some managers have taken things a bit too far. I think I have too it's my responsibility to do so and you know, quite honestly some of the things that Chris says (pause), they really aren't appropriate in the workplace. It bugs me and I have told him so when I think he has taken things a bit too far. But it is really hard you know, to know what to do.

Brett Robinson – EL2 Director, Technical Development: Both Chris and Simon are valuable members of my team. Their technical knowledge is very good and they're both very good supervisors in their own way. But they've got very different styles of communicating and very different styles of working. Quite frankly they tend to wind each other up though and if they are in the same room, you can cut the atmosphere with a knife. I've had a quite word to both of them a few times and I have tried a few different things but neither of them actually thinks that there is anything wrong with their behaviour. It is starting to affect the rest of the team.

Chris: I have always been a pretty plain speaker, pretty direct. I like people to be direct as well, you know if their going to use strong language let em use it, I can take it on board. If they think I am wrong, I'll take it on board. It is very important in this line of work, it's very risky work, that you have got to speak up and speak your mind. There is no point to beating around the bush. You know the APS, I think it should, it encourages diversity and it should accept diversity in the way people manage things and the way people get things done. Sure I am probably a little bit strong in my views and the way I go about things, but you have got to accept that as well.

Simon: Look, don't get me wrong I am not saying that, you know, different management styles are wrong, it is just the way that Chris talks to me and to other staff, he's pushy, he's aggressive and frankly he is down right rude. He pushes my buttons anyway and sometimes I just bite back. Umm he doesn't do anything to sort of encourage a culture which supports people with different perspectives and different backgrounds he just, he just encourages a blokey culture.

Brett: I recognise that we need diversity in the workplace, but as a manager I need everyone to be working together, so that we can achieve our results. We've got some important deadlines coming up and the only way we are going to meet those as a team is if Chris and Simon but aside their issues and start working together rather than bickering and fighting. But how do I get them to but those issues or differences aside for the good of the work?

Simon: I mean, Chris's staff they don't complain. I mean the ones that don't like it they just leave. One of them works for me now and you know frankly she is glad that she has now moved over to my team and you know we talk about the situation at our team meetings but, but to be honest I am sick of it, I am sick of his behaviour. It's disrespectful and I am going to lodge a complaint, you know someone has got to do something it's just ridiculous.

Reflecting on the exercise : A fine pair

Individual values (private ethics), attitudes and behaviours can impact on working relationships and in turn influence the achievement of business outcomes for a workgroup. The Australian Public Service (APS) encourages cooperative and productive workplace relationships founded on a clear understanding of roles and responsibilities.

Under the APS Values agencies have an obligation to provide a safe, harassment free, flexible and rewarding workplace. In turn, APS employees have an obligation to treat everyone with respect and courtesy, without harassment, contribute effectively to corporate management and obey lawful and reasonable directions.

This obligation extends to valuing differences between individuals and being mindful of the impact our actions may have on others. Different working styles form part of a diverse workplace that encourages the participation of a range of backgrounds, skills, talents and perspectives. A commitment to diversity does not, however, mean that any behaviour will be tolerated.

Where possible, when dealing with complaints about workplace behaviour, managers should assist the parties to resolve their differences and agree on ways of working together. Outcomes could be as simple as a clearer understanding of both parties' concerns, an agreement about future behaviour, improved work practices or an apology. If this approach is unsuccessful then a resolution may need to be pursued through more formal channels. It is important to remember that all complaints must be acted on promptly.

People's perceptions can differ about behaviour that is disrespectful or harassing. While differing work styles or behaviours must be respected it is important to recognise when this gives way to bullying behaviour. It is not acceptable to use offensive, belittling or threatening behaviour towards an individual or group of employees. If a harassment or bullying complaint has been made, managers have a responsibility to deal with the matter seriously and sensitively.

Relevant Values and elements of the Code of Conduct

  • The APS provides a workplace that is free from discrimination and recognises and utilises the diversity of the Australian community it serves (s10(1)(c) of the Public Service Act)
  • The APS establishes workplace relations that value communication, consultation, cooperation, and input from employees that affect their workplace (s10(1)(i) of the Public Service Act)
  • The APS provides a fair flexible, safe and rewarding workplace (s10(1)(j) of the Public Service Act)
  • The APS has the highest ethical standards (s10(1)(d) of the Public Service Act).
  • An APS employee must behave honestly and with integrity in the course of APS employment (s13(1) of the Public Service Act).
  • An APS employee must act with care and diligence in the course of employment (s13(2) of the Public Service Act).
  • An APS employees must, when acting in the course of APS employment, treat everyone with respect and courtesy, and without harassment (13(3) of the Public Service Act).
  • An APS employee must comply with any lawful and reasonable direction given by someone in the employee's agency who has authority to give that direction (13(5) of the Public Service Act).
  • An APS employee must at all times behave in a way that upholds the APS Values and the integrity and good reputation of the APS (13(11) of the Public Service Act).

Key issues

Simon's dislike for his colleagues' management style

Should Simon be more accepting of Chris's management style? What options does Simon have to resolve the issue? What help is available to Simon? Was Simon's discussion of the matter at a team meeting an acceptable approach?

Chris's management style

Is Chris being respectful of his colleagues? Should he be more compromising and change his management style to work more effectively with Simon? Could his behaviour be a breach of the Code of Conduct? How do you think Chris's team regard his management style?

Brett's role and responsibilities

Could Brett have done more to defuse or manage the emerging issues between Simon and Chris? What could he have done to prevent the problem? What assistance was available to him? What actions can Brett now take to manage the situation? What is the likely effect of the issue on the work teams and their outputs? What is Brett's role in the situation?


  • As a manager ensure that your standards of expected behaviour are clear and understood by all. Use induction processes, team meetings and performance agreements to reinforce those behaviours.
  • Consider developing with the team an agreed set of team behaviours that reflect and embed the APS Value and Code of Conduct.
  • Consider agreeing with the team an acceptable process for providing regular ongoing feedback to each other.
  • Discuss your agency's harassment and bullying guidelines and check that staff are aware of them and know how they apply.
  • Arrange for a presentation from the human resource area or an outside expert on appropriate behaviour and respecting diversity at a team meeting.
  • Consider mediation between the parties to agree upon a way forward
  • If a complaint is made act on it promptly (consult agency policies and guidelines and/or your agency's human resource area).
  • Discuss the matter with the agency Harassment Contact Officer. They can provide information to employees, managers and supervisors about what is harassing and bullying behaviour and discuss methods or processes to resolve issues or complaints.
  • Discuss appropriate standards of behaviour with your manager. Report unacceptable behaviour.

Useful references

Last reviewed: 
7 September 2018