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In focus: Productivity through people - EY - Australia

In focusProductivity through people

A recent EY national survey has revealed that poor people management has the highest influence on productivity.

A recent EY national survey has revealed that one minute in every five of workers’ time across both the public and private sectors is wasted, despite the fact that a majority of workers consider themselves to be highly motivated. Poor people management, the survey findings show, has the highest influence on productivity.

The EY Australian Productivity Pulse™ - the first of its kind – asked employees across the country to assess the biggest barriers hindering productivity, and opportunities to improve performance. While debates about solutions to Australia’s low productivity abound, this survey starts at the ground level, examining individual productivity as the first step toward organisational productivity, and beyond.

Survey highlights

The survey’s findings centre around four key themes:

  • People management issues — Developing and utilising the full talents and capabilities of human capital
  • Organisation structure, design and operating model — Removing  wasteful, bureaucratic and non-value work and outputs
  • Technology — Being more ambitious and effective in process automation and technological change
  • Innovation - Being deliberate and audacious with an innovation agenda

Driving better people management

The survey found that public and private sector employees had similar perceptions of their own productivity – with public sector employees considering that 79% of their time spent in the previous week was productive, against 77% across all sectors.

Despite their own high levels of motivation, public sector employees were less forgiving of how their skills were being put to use. Only 57% (62% across all sectors) considered their skills were being strongly utilised in their role, leaving a staggering 43% of people who considered their skills could potentially be used more productively in other areas.

What’s more, only 69% of public sector respondents thought their skills aligned with the requirements of their current role, and 74% were clear on what was expected of them (lowest across all sectors). Disturbingly, public sector employees also felt their work was the least valued of the total survey sample, and only 50% (lowest across all sectors) had confidence in their organisation’s leadership.

That said, the survey findings suggests that the public sector is the envy of other sectors in terms of employee retention, with 27% (the lowest of all sectors) of those surveyed planning to leave their employer in the coming year.

Surprising as this may seem, given the clear dissatisfaction around people management measures, this figure can be explained by the fact that 87% of public sector respondents cite employment security as a driving factor in their choice of employer.

These findings provide a new perspective in the ongoing debate about how to improve productivity within the public sector.

While cost-cutting and headcount reductions can seem like a quick fix to this ever-present problem, public sector employees’ perceptions seem to be that the key lies in an increased focus on people management. Of course, such a shift would require a significant commitment over the long-term.

The Australian Public Service (APS), for one, has already initiated work in this direction. In its recent report Ahead of the Game: Blueprint for the reform of Australian Government Administration, the APS highlighted the need to “reinvigorate strategic leadership”’; “strengthen workforce planning and development”; “ensure agency agility, capability and effectiveness”, and “improve agency efficiency”.

The EY Australian Productivity Pulse survey findings suggest that the APS’s recommendations may not only be on the money for the Federal public sector, but for the State public sectors too.

Organisational red tape reduction still a big issue

Another considerable inhibitor to organisational productivity – as cited by 20% of respondents across all industries - was bureaucracy and red-tape. At 36%, this figure was highest for public sector respondents.

We know that red tape and bureaucracy exist in organisations to manage risk, assign accountability and ensure quality. We know that the public sector is more risk averse – it often has to be.

However, finding ways to streamline processes and reduce obstacles to productive outputs is an area of focus which should remain under the spotlight.

Technology represents untapped productive potential for public and private sectors alike

Technology is a great enabler of productivity and there have been a number of cited examples of public sector IT programmes not delivering on their promises.  However, the public sector workers’ views of how successful their organisation has been in introducing technology were in line with broader industry-wide averages. 

Furthermore, assessed “technology wastage” levels in the public sector were again in line with broader Australian workers views.  But the levels are low overall – only about 48% of workers think their organisations have a good track record in technology implementation and 36% consider that technology has increased their productivity over the past 12 months.

Finally, when it comes to innovation, public sector employees ranked their sector the lowest in terms of “willingness to take risks and try new things” – only some 30% of respondents.

Room for improvement

So, while public sector employees are seemingly as motivated to do a good job as Australian employees in any other sector, there is a significant scope to lift individual employee productivity through organisational change. Increasing clarity of roles, providing better leadership and reducing internal red tape would all, according to public sector employees, make a big difference.

The EY Australian Productivity Pulse™, suggests that there may be a high degree of commonality of issues between Federal and State based public sectors. There may, therefore, be scope for greater collaboration between Federal and State Governments as a means to finding workable solutions and perhaps the private sector can also provide some guidance.


To receive the full copy of The EY Australian Productivity Pulse™, please contact Kate Brinkley on

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    Uschi Schreiber
    Asia-Pacific Leader
    Government & Public Sector
    Tel: +61 2 8295 6706
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