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There are so many public servants working for Defence that it is important to know how to work with them.

‘Department of Defence analysis, produced last year and seen by The Mandarin, raises concerns that cultural differences between navy, army, air force and Defence public service can be a structural source of workplace bullying, mistreatment of women and other unacceptable behaviour.’[1]
A Defence APS employee reduced to tears by an ADF supervisor who did not understand the response had the good sense to ask the APS employee why they were crying. The APS employee said, ‘Why are you always shouting at us?’ The ADF supervisor was not aware that they were shouting and considered that they were not shouting but rather providing direction.

At some point in an ADF member’s career, indeed maybe as early as the recruitment process, you are likely to engage with a Defence civilian – an employee of the Australian Public Service (APS) who works for the Department of Defence. On the whole, the Defence civilian workforce does not wear a uniform or any outward signs of their ‘rank’ or level within the organisation.[2] Across the range of Defence workplaces, there can either be no APS staff through to a predominant APS workforce. Generally, in the regions there will be a lower number of APS staff whereas in the capital city environment there can be many. To be clear though, Defence and the Navy, Army and Air Force could not function without APS staff, who can have particular skills sets and expertise that do not reside within the Services.[3] Defence APS employees total approximately 16,000[4] staff across Australia.

This paper will examine some of the cultural differences between uniformed military personnel and APS staff. It can be read in conjunction with papers that address the three Service cultures in a joint environment and the culture of contractors in the Defence workplace.[5] The main objective of this paper is to offer advice to ADF members who may be unfamiliar with working in an environment that includes APS employees. Differences in career development, discipline, performance appraisal, and communication will be covered. Comments made are not intended to be the ‘final word’ on any issue, but merely to raise concerns that ADF members may wish to consider. Furthermore, this paper is not a comprehensive guide to all aspects of APS employment within Defence; authoritative advice should be sought through official resources such as the Defence People Group website[6].

Career Development

People apply to join Defence as a public servant through a variety of avenues including advertised vacancies and the graduate recruitment scheme, and direct transfers from other Commonwealth and State Government departments and agencies.  They can join at different levels and do not necessarily have to commence at the lowest level. An individual’s motivation to join the Australian Public Service can vary, however it is generally accepted, at lower levels at least, that Public Service employment brings a high degree of job security and favourable working conditions (leave, work flexibility, superannuation contribution) compared with jobs in the private sector.

A public servant’s motivation to join Defence can also vary. Reasons can range from a desire to work in a large and relatively well-financed Commonwealth Department that provides good opportunities for career advancement, to wishing to work in a Department with an important role in Australia’s national security. Providing ‘public service’ in Defence is a different experience from working in other Commonwealth departments. Whereas other departments focus on operationalising government policy and programs, Defence is more focused on supporting the Australian Defence Force. In this sense, the department, like the ADF itself, is experienced more as an extension of the ADF rather than a traditional public sector work place. The large number of ex-ADF members who take up APS jobs in Defence only further enhances this sense of belonging to the ADF rather than a government department.

It is widely accepted that different APS cultures exist between agencies within the Commonwealth Public Service. APS employees who come to Defence from other government departments can find the experience quite foreign and may even dislike it. Indeed, some of the highest performing public servants will choose other departments over Defence for this reason. While Defence APS employees are encouraged to familiarise themselves with ADF culture and learn about the different ranks, there are no mandatory requirements to do so.

While all recruitment processes have elements in common, the major differences between ADF recruitment and APS recruitment is that the APS can recruit directly to any rank/level; people do not have to work their way up in the organisation to achieve a higher level. There are also differences in terms of medical and/or physical requirements between the public service and the military, with the military having understandably more demanding entry requirements in these areas.

Once recruited, APS employees generally spend their first six months in the department on probation. This means their employment can be terminated if their performance is judged unsatisfactory. Supervisor reports during the first six months are an essential and a critical element of this probationary period. APS levels start at APS1 and progress through to APS6[7]. There are then two Executive levels, EL1 and EL2, and then a number of levels, or bands, at the Senior Executive Service (SES) level. There are more APS6 employees than at any other level (~4,959 and the majority are women).[8] An APS employee does not necessarily need to perform the duties at all APS levels to progress to higher levels, but the usual progression follows this course. For example, it is not uncommon for an APS 4 level member to successfully apply for and ‘win’ an APS 6 positions in competition with other applicants[9].

Perhaps the largest difference between APS employees and ADF members is the approach to the individual’s career development. In the Navy, Army and Air Force most members, particularly in their early years of service, are subjected to a heavily structured series of training courses and skills development activities. APS employees are generally expected to be already skilled and often, initially, get no more than an induction brief to their workplace.[10] APS employees are generally responsible for seeking their own career development opportunities, either through applying for positions at a higher level or undertaking professional development courses. Many such courses are offered through Defence with varying levels of employer support. Generally speaking, however, an APS employees’ main avenue for advancement within (or outside) of Defence is through applying for more senior positions and gaining experience in acting in more senior positions. This avenue of self-directed advancement creates a level of mobility in the Defence APS workforce akin to that experience as a result of ADF posting turbulence.

In the past, there has been the view that Defence APS staff are more stable and less mobile than ADF members, who are posted on a regular basis. There is no available evidence to prove this assumption, but it may be a reasonable rule of thumb. It is therefore assumed that because of their greater longevity in a role, APS staff provide more continuity and retain corporate knowledge compared to ADF members. Where corporate knowledge is highly important, there is great value in having people with this deep knowledge. However, it can be problematic if workplaces and processes change rapidly. This can be a particular issue for ADF supervisors, who are familiar with change on a regular basis, leading a change process in an integrated workplace where ensconced APS staff are employed.

ADF members considering leaving their service can apply for APS positions that are open to the public ie, not internal filling or internal transfers. Occasionally, animosity can arise if APS employees believe an ex-ADF member is selected for an APS job without the same degree of scrutiny applied to a civilian applicant, or the APS position offered is at a higher equivalent level than the member held in the ADF. Processes have been applied to APS selection models to ensure all applicants are selected on merit.

There are discernible differences in the number of APS employees and the levels at which they work between the Canberra environment and regional Australia. In general, in the regions there are relatively fewer APS staff and they are generally employed at a lower level than in Canberra (or the state capitals). There is likely more mobility and opportunity for advancement in the Canberra environment within the APS given the greater number of positions available.  ADF members are therefore more likely to work with APS in the Canberra environment more so than in the regions.[11]  Having said that, there is a strong view in the Defence APS workforce that to be competitive for selection to the Senior Executive Service one must gain experience outside of Defence, for example, in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet or the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. There is also the view that to gain employment within the Defence SES, an APS employee needs to have at least one mentor/sponsor already employed within the Defence SES.

Unlike ADF members, APS employees are permitted to join a relevant trade union. The most common union acting for Defence public servants is the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU). Union members can have union fees automatically debited from their fortnightly pay. Technical/trade APS employees and scientists with the Defence Science & Technology Group may be members of different professional bodies or unions more applicable to their trade/profession.

For the notional guidance of both the ADF workforce and the APS workforce, the Defence People Group has published the following table of APS and ADF role equivalences[12]. Note should be taken of Note 2 below the table. There are obvious differences in training, expertise, responsibility and skills between APS employees and ADF members (just as there are significant differences within each rank group in the ADF).

Table 1. APS and ADF role equivalences[12]Notes:1. This table shows role equivalences only. It is not a statement of equivalent ranks and classifications, or pay equivalences.
2. This table cannot be used to compare competency standards for employment category or work value purposes.
APS classificationArmy rankRAN rankRAAF rank
APS 1Private
Lance Corporal
Able Seaman
Leading Aircraftman
APS 2CorporalLeading SeamanCorporal
APS 3Sergeant
Staff Sergeant
Petty OfficerSergeant
APS 4Warrant Officer, Class 2
Officer Cadet
Warrant Officer, Class 1
2nd Lieutenant
Chief Petty Officer
Warrant Officer
Acting Sub-Lieutenant
Flight Sergeant
Officer Cadet
Warrant Officer
Pilot Officer
Flying Officer
APS 5CaptainLieutenantFlight Lieutenant
APS 6MajorLieutenant CommanderSquadron Leader
EL 1Lieutenant ColonelCommanderWing Commander
EL 2ColonelCaptainGroup Captain
SES Band 1BrigadierCommodoreAir Commodore
SES Band 2Major GeneralRear AdmiralAir Vice-Marshal
SES Band 3Lieutenant GeneralVice AdmiralAir Marshal
SecretaryGeneralAdmiralAir Chief Marshal

In terms of remuneration, APS employees are generally paid less than their equivalent military ranks in the above table. For example, the pay range for an APS 1 is $47,808 - $53,667 whereas the pay range for a Private to Lance Corporal is $66,855 – 110,088 (as at 11 Nov 2021 and depending on skill level). It is not until Executive Level 2 that military and APS salaries overlap to a degree.[13] ADF members are often also in receipt of various allowances that increase their overall remuneration package. APS employees are usually aware that ADF members get paid more than they do and mostly accept this in recognition of the more difficult conditions Service personnel experience – even when they may be doing the same kind of work. Most would see the requirement for military personnel to be posted at their Service’s will, a large disincentive to ADF service.

ADF members need to exercise caution in making assumptions about APS employees in the workplace. To assume employment level, length of service with the department, or knowledge of the ADF carries the risk of misunderstanding and possible embarrassment for both the ADF member and the APS employee. To avoid misunderstandings, ADF members should respectfully ask for relevant information from their APS colleagues in the workplace. Where significant misunderstanding already exists, supervisors can put in place education or training activities that can create greater understanding between the two groups.


APS employees are subject to a Code of Conduct that requires their adherence. This code does not have the same legislative and disciplinary implications that are contained in the Defence Force Discipline Act. While some APS employees may have had minimal exposure to uniformed members prior to their employment in Defence, others may be ex-military personnel who are more aware of the differences between military service and public service employment. While their military background can be a great advantage in terms of the experience they bring to their position, the cultural challenges associated with changing streams can be greater than expected. This may create leadership challenges for military supervisors and team members.

Defence APS employees are expected to comply with Defence values, although they are also required to comply with APS Values legislated in the Public Service Act 1999.[14] They are also required to adhere to APS Employment Principles[15]. Failure to adhere to the APS Values can lead to dismissal from the APS. There are significant differences between ADF members and APS employees in terms of sanctions for non-conformance and required adherence to values and codes of conduct.

One of the most visually obvious differences between APS employees and ADF members is dress. While ADF members in most workplaces wear uniform, APS employees wear civilian attire. The standard of civilian dress can range from very casual to business attire and some workplaces expect a stricter dress code for APS employees. However, there is no defined policy on Defence APS dress standards in the workplace. Business casual appears to be the unofficial expectation for both men and women APS employees. ADF members need to be aware of these differences and ADF supervisors need to learn the subtleties of requesting specific dress standards and explaining why they are important in the workplace.

Performance Appraisal

The Defence APS performance framework is known as the Performance Feedback Assessment and Development Scheme (PFADS). All Defence APS employees and their supervisors, both APS and Australian Defence Force (ADF), are required to participate in PFADS.[16] The PFADS process is, in some ways, similar to the ADF Performance Appraisal Process. ADF supervisors of APS employees need to become familiar with the PFADS process to ensure they do not disadvantage their APS staff. Of particular importance to APS employees, and where the PFADS system differs from the ADF performance appraisal system, is the salary progression or bonus aspect of the system. An annual increase in salary or lump-sum payment is made to APS employees who are rated as Fully Effective or greater. The financial aspect of the PFADS system encourages APS employees to actively engage in their professional development, but is not mandatory to do so and some APS employees opt out of the process.

APS employees under Executive Level 1 must record their attendance at work on an approved attendance form, often referred to as a Flex Sheet. When completed, this form must be retained for seven years. Work outside normal working hours of 7.5 hours per day is considered overtime and attracts time in lieu (‘flex’ hours) for the hours worked, plus, on occasion, a meal allowance. Approval to work overtime must be gained prior to commencing the overtime. The treatment of absences for the workplace is different for APS employees. ADF supervisors of APS employees should seek advice from Defence People Group resources. An APS employee’s standard working week is 37.5 hours (75 hours a fortnight). APS employees have greater flexibility in their work hours than most ADF personnel, such as start times, finishing times and accruing leave credits. If they have accrued hours greater than 7.5 hrs per day on their attendance sheet, they can take a day’s ‘flex leave’ or add flex leave onto their annual leave. APS employees are required, however, to negotiate their pattern of work with their supervisor’s agreement. To an ADF member, who can be subjected to DFDA sanctions if they are late to report for duty, flexibility regarding work start times can appear to be a lack of discipline in adhering to work hours[17]. This is one of the reasons APS employees are not envious of the conditions of service of ADF members, particularly when they are paid more than APS employees.

Performance management can occur when an APS employee is not performing to the level expected or stipulated in their performance agreement. There are well-documented processes on the DPG website to inform an ADF supervisor how to manage such a situation. ADF supervisors of APS employees would be well advised to become familiar with these procedures should the need arise.

There may be situations where ADF members find themselves reporting to APS employees and having their performance appraisal report raised by them. Most senior APS supervisors will be familiar with ADF reporting requirements.

ADF members need to be aware that their APS colleagues are subject to a performance appraisal system that does not necessarily link to promotion opportunities but is linked to remuneration outcomes. Hours worked and starting and finishing times management is also different, but where problems eventuate with APS employee performance, there are processes available to ‘performance manage’, ie, directly monitor an individual APS employee.


APS employees can find ADF members are very direct in their workplace communications, whether verbal or written (refer opening anecdote). The ADF highly values clear and succinct communication and will correct written work that is too wordy and become impatient with people who speak too much. Indeed, getting a sentence down to the shortest number of words possible is an ideal in the ADF. To APS employees unaccustomed to working with the ADF, this very direct style of communication can seem abrupt and even rude. On the other hand, ADF members may find written communications from APS employees are verbose, ambiguous and vague, and they can be prone to not reading them thoroughly. What is said by a Defence APS employee and how it is said will be different from ADF communications style. While both these themes are generalisations, the point is, some compromise on both sides is valuable in improving communication in a department like Defence

Defence APS employees are not required to devote much time and effort to learning about the ADF, so ADF members need to bear this possible lack of knowledge in mind. A junior Defence APS employee calling a more senior ADF member by their first name does not imply insubordination, but if the ADF leader would prefer to be referred to by their rank (eg, CMDR Bloggs) they should inform the staff member of this preference.

As stated in the second quote at the beginning of this paper, there have been instances where direct verbal communication by an ADF supervisor has been interpreted as bullying by an APS employee. Clear direction to perform a task is not an example of bullying. Even though it may not be what someone is used to, objective and constructive feedback, counselling or advice about work-related behaviour and performance is not workplace bullying.[18] Bullying involves behaviour that is humiliating, threatening or demeaning to the victim and is designed to reduce their confidence, reputation and self-image.

The volume (sound) of the spoken word is also something that can differ between ADF members and APS employees. ADF members are mostly rewarded for clear, intelligible verbal communication that can be easily heard. ADF members are trained to project their voices, particularly in situations where they are giving commands to other ADF personnel. In mixed APS/ADF work environments, ADF members need to be aware of their communication style and volume when communicating with APS employees – and remember to use an ‘indoor’ voice when in an office environment (particularly in open plan offices).

Finally, ADF members need to be aware that many Defence APS employees will not be familiar with the multitude of military acronyms that ADF members use on a regular basis[19]. Even the same acronym can mean different things in different environments! So, apart from common acronyms like CO and HQ, use the full term until Defence APS employees gain an understanding. You may find many ADF members are also very grateful for the additional clarity.


Through the lenses of career development, approach to discipline, performance appraisal systems and communication styles there are clear differences in ADF and Defence APS workplace cultures. When not fully understood, these differences can create problems in the workplace for peers and supervisors of both persuasions. However, knowledge is power, and developing an understanding of the ‘other’ culture will stand the individual in good stead to thrive in an integrated workplace.

This paper has attempted to highlight and explain some of the most apparent differences between ADF members and APS employees to assist both to understand the other. This is important, as most ADF members will, at some time in their career work with or for APS employees. In order for there to be harmonious relationships between the two groups, understanding their different cultures is necessary.

This paper highlights most obvious differences between the APS and the ADF in career development, discipline, performance appraisal and communication styles. While there are numerous other differences in specific workplaces, these elements cover the differences that might cause friction between these two groups. It must also be reiterated that the paper is not a definitive statement about APS employees but merely a guide for ADF personnel working with APS personnel for the first time. For more definitive advice, readers are encouraged to seek out more formal personnel channels via the Defence Protected Network home page. A clearer understanding of ADF and APS cultural differences will enhance teamwork and ultimately improve Defence capability.


1 Dennett, Harley 14 Jan 2016, Keep ex-Defence out of public service, mandarins plead, at Keep ex-Defence out of public service, mandarins plead ( accessed 16 Nov 2021.

2 An APS Defence corporate uniform was available for civilians to purchase a number of years ago, however few appear to have taken up the offer. The uniform did not indicate level or status within the APS.

3 Such skill sets can include Public Policy, Public Sector Finance, Scientific and some Technological expertise.

4 accessed 9 Nov 2021. There are more APS employees than there are members of the RAN or RAAF (based on 2021 Defence Annual Report figures)

5 Brown, C. How to Survive a Posting to a joint Unit: Three Service Cultural Approaches to leadership and Discipline, The Forge, and Working with Contractors: Culture clash or Positive Partnership, The Forge, accessed 23 Feb 2022.

6 Pages - PeopleConnect http://drnet/People/Pages/PeopleConnect.aspx accessed 23 Aug 2022 on Defence Protected Network

7 In reality most APS in Defence will be APS4 or higher.

8 APS by gender and Classification worksheet, available on Defence People Group intranet – 9 Nov 2021

9 Graduate recruits to the Defence APS have accelerated career advancement over traditional entry employees.

10 Graduate APS recruits are on a more structured development program including work rotations through different work areas in Defence.

11 The Canberra environment also takes the lead on strategic integration of the APS and ADF workforce through One Defence initiatives leading to “an adaptive strategy-led organisation, including tighter alignment of strategic and force structure analysis, policy development, acquisition, research and development and industry policy.” accessed 28 Mar 2023 on Defence Protected Network

13 APS EL 2 salary ranges from $123,159 - $197,916 and for a COL the range is from $160,650 - $214,091 as at 11 Nov 2021.

14 The APS Values are: Impartial, Committed to Service, Accountable, Respectful, and Ethical.

15 The Employment Principles set out that the APS is a career?based public service that:

  1. makes fair employment decisions with a fair system of review;
  2. recognises that the usual basis for engagement is as an ongoing APS employee;
  3. makes decisions relating to engagement and promotion that are based on merit;
  4. requires effective performance from each employee;
  5. provides flexible, safe and rewarding workplaces where communication, consultation, cooperation and input from employees on matters that affect their workplaces are valued;
  6. provides workplaces that are free from discrimination, patronage and favouritism; and
  7. recognises the diversity of the Australian community and fosters diversity in the workplace.

at Pages - Defence and APS Values accessed 23 Feb 2022 on Defence Protected Network.

17 In agencies other than Defence, APS staff tend to start later and finish later.

18 Pages - Bullying & Harassment accessed 22 Feb 2022 on Defence Protected Network.

19 Barno, David. and Benshal, Nora. (2016) The Military is from Mars, Civilians are from Venus: Avoiding planetary collisions in the conference room. March 22 2016. War on the Rocks accessed 20 Aug 2022

Cite Article
(Brown, 2023)
Brown, C. 2023. 'Working With Civvies – the Integrated Workplace'. Available at: (Accessed: 21 February 2024).
(Brown, 2023)
Brown, C. 2023. 'Working With Civvies – the Integrated Workplace'. Available at: (Accessed: 21 February 2024).
Callum Brown, "Working With Civvies – the Integrated Workplace", The Forge, Published: March 29, 2023, (accessed February 21, 2024).


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