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Perceptions of immediate supervisors

The relationship between a supervisor and their employees acts as a fundamental influence on a workplace’s efficiency and culture. For this reason, it is a focus of examination. When things go wrong, analysts pay particular attention to the health or otherwise of this relationship.

It is therefore encouraging that employee satisfaction with immediate supervisors remains high. This is a key strength of the APS.

Census respondents rated their immediate supervisors most positively on achieving results and demonstrating personal drive and integrity. Supervisors were rated marginally less positively on shaping strategic thinking and communicating with influence.

The Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) has measured employee perceptions of immediate supervisors through the APS employee census since 2012. Employee opinions about immediate supervisors are assessed against the Integrated Leadership System (ILS) competencies and an additional set of leadership competencies. Results against all 10 leadership competencies have remained stable since 2012.

Employee perceptions of immediate supervisors, 2012-16

Learn more about this chart: view data for Figure 1.

Employee perceptions about their immediate supervisor are affected by the type of agency in which they work. Employees in specialist, policy and regulatory agencies tend to be more positive about their immediate supervisors than their colleagues in operational agencies.

An assessment of the range of employee perception data collected through the APS employee census shows consistently less positive results for staff in operational agencies. A likely driver of these lower levels of satisfaction is the type of work undertaken in these agencies.

Operational agencies are those that implement public policy. They typically have a predominantly external client base. These agencies are tasked with ensuring that outcomes of policy decisions are delivered efficiently and effectively, and that the use of government’s resources is optimised. The day-to-day responsibilities of managers in operational agencies can be more diverse than the responsibilities of managers in other agency types.

Employee perceptions of immediate supervisors by agency function, 2016

Learn more about this chart: view data for Figure 2.

Census results indicate that agency size also impacts the perception employees have of immediate supervisors. Employees in micro/extra small/small agencies tend to report more favourable perceptions of their supervisors than their colleagues in extra-large agencies.

Employees in smaller agencies generally have greater visibility of their immediate supervisor and regular opportunities to interact directly with them. This likely provides an opportunity to more closely observe their performance against the leadership competencies.

Immediate supervisors in larger agencies often manage larger teams. In some cases, employees may not work in the same location as their immediate supervisor. This may lead to additional staff management challenges that impact the relationship between an employee and their immediate supervisor.

Employee perceptions of immediate supervisors by agency function, 2016

Learn more about this chart: view data for Figure 3.

Employee satisfaction with immediate supervisors varies noticeably by respondent classification level. This represents a challenge for supervisors in the Senior Executive Service (SES) and Executive Level (EL) levels, to strive for more positive employee perceptions of their leadership behaviours by their APS level employees.

Senior Executive Service (SES) officers report markedly more positive perceptions of their immediate supervisors than employees at lower levels. Nearly 90 percent of SES officers indicated that their immediate supervisor achieves results and exemplifies personal drive and integrity.

Closer to 75 percent of APS and Executive Level (EL) staff reported the same of their immediate supervisor.

Across all 10 leadership competencies, APS level employees reported lower levels of satisfaction with their immediate supervisor than did EL and SES employees.

The challenge for supervisors of APS staff is to be mindful of the need to connect better with their employees. Immediate supervisors can influence these connections by improving their communication with their employees. They can also increase their accessibility and visibility to their employees in order to positively influence their employees’ perceptions.

The higher level of satisfaction with immediate supervisors that is reported by EL and SES employees is not surprising. EL and SES officers generally have more senior direct supervisors who typically have greater experience in leading and managing teams. EL and SES officers are managers themselves. This would likely influence their perception of their own supervisor.

Employee perceptions of immediate supervisors by classification, 2016

Learn more about this chart: view data for Figure 4.

Last reviewed: 
3 July 2018