Australia: Performance management in the APS

Clayton Utz Insights

Key Points:

The starting point for APS performance management is clear, transparent and easy to use policies.

On 1 July 2015, new performance management directions come into force that mean APS employees must take greater responsibility for their own performance. APS agencies also need to ensure that their policies and practices focus on addressing unsatisfactory performance and recognising high achievers.

The focus of the new directions is to ensure that all APS employees are performing effectively, as required by the APS Employment Principles.

The directions implement some significant changes to achieve this objective, including:

  • requiring all APS employees to have a performance agreement in place that maps performance expectations to the agency's corporate plan and the APSC Work Level Standards;
  • requiring supervisors to provide timely and honest feedback on a regular basis, and to deal promptly with underperformance;
  • requiring employees to participate constructively in performance management and unsatisfactory performance processes.

The need for change to how performance is managed in the APS has long been known. Numerous studies by the APSC have highlighted the serious challenge that APS agencies face with effectively managing their employees' performance.

Key issues identified in those studies include employees' and supervisors' uncertainty about expectations, employees not being given timely and effective feedback, and the absence of formal documentation recording measurable performance indicators in some agencies.

Another significant issue that has faced agencies is employees' refusal to participate constructively in performance management and unsatisfactory performance processes. Employees may have a number of reasons for refusing to participate – employees who have been in their position for a long time often resist change; other employees know that if they push back, their supervisor may let the issue go. Some employees may be genuinely concerned about being performance managed, particularly if they have never been told before that there is an issue with performance.

It should be no surprise that ineffective performance has an impact on an agency's performance against its corporate plan, but also comes at a cost to the taxpayer. An audit by the ANAO in 2005 highlighted the significant cost to agencies in paying performance based salary increases off the back of ineffective and poorly implemented performance management systems.

A number of challenges will face agencies as they implement the new performance management framework.

Setting clear expectations

The new directions require agencies to set clear and transparent expectations for employees about performance management. A good starting point is to consider the agency's key deliverables, and what behaviours employees at each level are expected to demonstrate in assisting the agency to meet those deliverables.

Critical to this process is setting clear and measurable performance expectations upfront. It is far too easy to say that the public sector is a different creature, and that it is too hard to set quantifiable outcomes. Agencies must resist the temptation to take the easy path, and ensure that each employee has a performance agreement that clearly maps measurable outcomes to the key deliverables and their work level standards.

Providing supervisors with the tools to manage performance

Supervisors are critical to the success of performance management systems, so they must be given the tools to effectively manage their employees, and to deal with instances of unsatisfactory performance.

The starting point is clear, transparent and easy to use policies. These should clearly set out performance expectations, and be backed up by procedures and training that provide supervisors with the tools they need to manage performance issues, including unsatisfactory performance.

On the other side, supervisors have the responsibility to provide regular, honest and timely feedback to employees about their performance. Unsatisfactory performance must not be allowed to pass by, nor must employees rewarded with salary increments or promotions if they cannot demonstrate effective performance.

Dealing with difficult employees

Picture this. You are a supervisor of an APS-level employee. The employee is underperforming and you implement a performance improvement process. Despite being provided with regular feedback and the employee being given additional support, they don't improve their performance. The employee's response at the end of the process is "you're bullying me"

Sound familiar? You're not alone. Already this year, a number of APS agencies have faced applications to the Fair Work Commission for orders to stop bullying by employees being performance managed. The prospect of being named as a respondent to such an application is daunting for many supervisors, as is the possibility of a Code of Conduct investigation.

The prospect of a bullying claim should not be an excuse to avoid difficult conversations, or to discipline employees who are underperforming. After all, employees have an obligation to ensure they are performing effectively and cannot be permitted to frustrate the process.

Key to this is ensuring that supervisors have the confidence to manage difficult employees and the support of their human resources departments in doing so. Agencies must also be prepared to discipline employees who refuse to participate constructively and to follow through with procedures when an employee has unsatisfactory performance.

The message to both APS agencies and their employees going forward is clear – poor performance is not to be tolerated.

Clayton Utz communications are intended to provide commentary and general information. They should not be relied upon as legal advice. Formal legal advice should be sought in particular transactions or on matters of interest arising from this bulletin. Persons listed may not be admitted in all states and territories.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Some comments from our readers…
“The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable”
“I often find critical information not available elsewhere”
“As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”

Mondaq Advice Centre (MACs)
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.