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Public Servants on the Public Service of Canada: Summary of the Results of the 2008 Public Service Employee Survey

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May 2009

1. Introduction

In his Sixteenth Annual Report to the Prime Minister on the Public Service of Canada, the Clerk of the Privy Council notes that “renewal is not just another human resources initiative. It is, above all, about the business of government. It is about enabling public sector institutions to do a better job for Canadians.”

In striving for public service excellence to achieve the results that make a difference in the lives of Canadians, continuing efforts are being made to renew the public service. Over the past two years, departments and agencies have focussed on improving planning, recruitment, employee development, and the enabling infrastructure that supports effective management in the public service.

The Public Service Employee Survey (PSES) is one of a number of initiatives designed to measure and benchmark the state of people management in the public service. It contributes to renewal and excellence in people management by providing a snapshot of the perspective of employees on the public service in which they work.

This fourth PSES was conducted from November 3 to December 12, 2008. Almost two-thirds of the workforce took the time to complete the survey (approximately 170,000 out of 258,000). [1] For the first time ever, the survey was offered online and included organizations outside the core public administration.

The results of the 2008 PSES will be used by organizations throughout the public service to inform and improve their people management efforts. In addition, the results of the survey are included to assess the current state of the public service and benchmark the future performance of deputy ministers and their departments through the Management Accountability Framework managed by the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat.

This report provides a summary of the public service-wide results of the 2008 PSES. It does this by presenting the results based on the drivers of people management excellence in the public service. Detailed discussion and further analysis of the results will be presented over the coming months. In addition to using the results of the 2008 PSES to further explore issues related to the public service workforce, workplace, and leadership, the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat is analyzing the survey results to identify the drivers of employee engagement as a means for measuring overall excellence in people management. With this information, organizational and public service-wide actions can be taken to address the people management issues that matter most to employees and have the greatest impact on achieving results for Canadians.

2. The people management performance drivers

Figure 1: People Management Drivers and a High-Performing Public Service

Figure 1: People Management Drivers and a High-Performing Public Service

Figure 1: Text version

Overview

People management excellence is at the root of successful results for all organizations. The people management drivers contribute to this objective by identifying the key factors needed to achieve high performance in the federal public service. These drivers reflect the understanding that people management is fundamentally a relationship among managers, human resources professionals, and employees. People management emphasizes creating the support or conditions needed for individuals and teams to excel in achieving organizational objectives.

The drivers highlight what is most important in people management and provide a structured way for everyone—from frontline supervisors to human resources professionals to senior managers and employees—to think about, measure, and improve people management throughout the public service.

Performance excellence is built on three core elements of people management: leadership, the workforce, and the workplace. As illustrated in Figure 1, these drivers are supported by an enabling people-management infrastructure that includes people management capacity, high-quality internal services, and empirical research. Together, these core elements and the enabling infrastructure drive people management results, which drive public service results, which drive results for Canadians.

Results for Canadians

The raison d'être of the public service is to achieve two core outcomes: Canadians' social and economic well-being within a global context and citizens' trust and confidence in the public service. Ultimately, these are the reasons to strive for effective people management. All activities of the Government of Canada ultimately contribute to the country's success in social, economic, and international affairs. Although numerous factors contribute to citizen trust in government, it has been amply demonstrated that there is an important relationship between employees' satisfaction and commitment and citizens' satisfaction with services and their trust and confidence in public institutions.

Public service results

The public service results to which people management contributes are public policy, program and service excellence, and a sustained, productive public service. Policy, programs, and services need to be delivered productively, providing value for money while respecting public service values. Those results are only possible, however, when accompanied by a sustained public service that retains its employees, with the appropriate means to attract the talented people it needs. Sustainability also includes the capacity to foresee and respond to emerging challenges to ensure the workforce is able to produce and perform in the workplace, at the level required and at all times.

People management results

Achieving public service results requires highly engaged employees working within a public service culture of excellence. Engaged employees are those with high levels of satisfaction with their job and organization and a strong commitment to their organization and its success. These are the roots of a highly productive workforce. Beyond formal rules and policies, culture can be understood as “the way things are done and how people are treated around here.” Achieving public service results and results for Canadians depends on a culture that is innovative and results-oriented, that is based on shared public service values, and where there is mutual respect between employees and between employees and managers.

People management outcomes

These people management results are the result of the combined impact of leadership, the workforce, and the workplace. Leadership, at both the supervisory and senior management level, is at the foundation of people management success. Effective leaders plan effectively, provide clear direction, are skilled and knowledgeable, and demonstrate and promote public service values and ethics. In partnership with employees, their actions drive the workforce and workplace.

A high-performing workforce is one that attracts, recruits, and retains talented individuals and maximizes their potential to meet both current and future organizational needs. The desired workplace is one in which leaders provide employees with meaningful, effectively managed work that is conducted in a safe environment and where positive, ethical behaviours are exhibited by co-workers and colleagues.

Enabling people management infrastructure

These outcomes and drivers are supported by an underlying infrastructure that enables success. The first part of the infrastructure is people management capacity. A high-performing organization needs leaders and human resources professionals with the required knowledge and skills to achieve people management excellence. The second part is the need for high-quality, timely, and accessible services to facilitate effective people management. The third part of the enabling infrastructure is knowledge of the state of the public service. This includes the breadth and depth of knowledge about current and future public service employees, their characteristics and skills, which is necessary to effectively plan and manage the workforce and workplace. It also includes the systems and processes that form the internal services functions that enable successful operations and the gathering and interpretation of data to support sound people management.

Figure 2: Components of the People Management Drivers and a High-Performing Public Service

Figure 2: Components of the People Management Drivers and a High-Performing Public Service

Figure 2: Text version

Using the drivers and components

The drivers outline the fundamental elements that underpin effective people management. The design of the 2008 PSES was based on these drivers, and the results of the survey are set out according to the drivers and their components, as shown in Figure 2.

3. Public service-wide results of the PSES

With 78 questions linked to the drivers of effective people management, supported by 28 demographic questions, the triennial PSES provides a comprehensive snapshot of employees' perceptions of the public service at a particular point in time. While responses are always affected by personal and broader contexts of the day, overall the results of the 2008 PSES point to a strong and capable public service with a positive perspective on the workforce and workplace. Chart 1 illustrates this conclusion by showing the combined responses for the 61 questions that used the five-point scale with response options ranging from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree.” [2]

Chart 1: Combined Responses for 61 of the 78 PSES Questions

Chart 1: Combined Responses for 61 of the 78 PSES Questions

Chart 1: Text version

Methodology

In the three previous PSESs, employees were not given the option, “Neither agree nor disagree.” This effectively required employees to choose between agreeing or disagreeing with the question posed. While this approach has served well in the past, it limited the manner in which the data could be analyzed and did not reflect common practice when conducting surveys of this type, therefore limiting the extent to which the results could be compared and benchmarked against other organizations outside the public service. Including this option is also consistent with the broader changes made to the 2008 PSES, particularly in terms of how the data were gathered and the employee population targeted. Because of these changes, caution should be exercised in making direct comparisons between this survey and previous surveys.

The results for 61 of the 78 survey questions are presented in this report using average scores. These scores are calculated by assigning points to each possible answer to each question that was asked on a five-point scale (i.e., the scale ranged from 0 for strongly disagree to 100 for strongly agree). All the points are summed and divided by the total number of respondents to the question to produce the average score as a number ranging from 0 to 100 (see the Appendix for details on the methodology). [3]

Leadership

Table: Leadership

Executive and supervisory leadership plays a critical role in achieving high levels of organizational performance. To a great extent, persons in this capacity set the tone for organizations and control many of the people management levers within the various drivers. The leadership driver, “executive and supervisory leadership,” has been grouped into three categories: planning and direction setting, competence, and values. While responses to questions in these areas tended to be positive overall, employees had higher levels of disagreement and neutral responses than in all other areas of the survey.

Planning and direction setting

As shown in Chart 2, the results of the 2008 PSES suggest there is room to improve how employees perceive their senior managers with respect to the following:

  • essential information flowing from senior management to staff (score of 55);
  • senior management making effective and timely decisions (score of 52); and
  • senior management having made progress toward resolving the issues raised in the 2005 PSES (score of 52), although a significant portion of respondents (28 per cent) did not know if progress had or had not been made.

In contrast, the results are much more positive with respect to the core senior management function of ensuring employees can explain the direction of their department or agency (score of 70).

Employees also have a relatively positive perception of information sharing by their immediate supervisor on issues affecting their work (score of 70).

Chart 2: Employees have mixed views about leadership in their organization

Chart 2: Employees have mixed views about leadership in their organization

Chart 2: Text version

Values

The importance of values is seen across a number of the drivers of people management performance and excellence, particularly in terms of the culture of the organization and in various elements of the workforce and workplace. Values are also a fundamental component of leadership itself, a place where “walking the talk” has particular significance. It is also important that leaders work to create the right organizational environment where employees feel empowered to do the right thing.

Overall, the survey shows that leadership actions associated with values tend to be perceived positively. Employees felt they could disagree with their immediate supervisor on work-related issues without fear of reprisal (score of 76) and could count on their immediate supervisor to keep promises (score of 72). That said, fewer employees believed that senior management would address the concerns raised in the current survey (score of 53). On this last question, responses were divided: 43 per cent of employees believed senior management would take action, 18 per cent neither agreed nor disagreed, and 31 per cent disagreed.

Competence

Employees' confidence in the skills and competence of those who lead them is a means of assessing the quality of leadership and management in the public service.

While 53 per cent of employees said they had confidence in senior management in their organization, 26 per cent of employees did not (resulting in an average score of 59).

Employees had more positive perceptions of their immediate supervisor, however. It is likely that this is partly due to employees' having a clearer understanding of the performance of the people for whom they work directly or with whom they have close contact. This perspective is supported by the fact that employees in small departments and agencies, where there is closer contact with senior management, had more positive views of senior management across all leadership questions.

Workforce

Table: Workforce

An effective workforce is one that attracts, recruits, and retains talented individuals and maximizes their potential to meet both current and future organizational needs. It effectively delivers quality advice to the government of the day and programs and services to Canadians in a timely, fair and professional manner. This requires the right people with the right skills in the right jobs at the right time.

While workforce results were good overall, positive responses were five percentage points lower than the average for the 61 questions shown in Chart 1 (and the negative responses are four percentage points higher).

Talented people attracted and recruited

It is important to get the right people with the right mix of skills, knowledge, and diversity of characteristics in order to achieve organizational performance. In the public service, it is particularly important that the right mix is achieved in an appropriate and fair manner.

Chart 3: A sustainable workforce is partly built on being able to attract the right people

Chart 3: A sustainable workforce is partly built on being able to attract the right people

Chart 3: Text version

The right talent in the right place at the right time

Whether or not the right workforce is in place is, in part, reflected by whether employees think there is a good job fit (i.e., a good match between their interests, their skills, and the job to be done) for them, as well as for those with whom they work. Most employees felt that there was a good fit between their jobs and their interests (score of 76) and their job and their skills (score of 79). They were not as positive, however, about the ability of their work units to hire people who can do the job (score of 66).

These responses are important because failure to offer interesting work that makes good use of employees' skills could result in problems attracting and retaining top talent. Job fit was the number one factor that attracted employees to their current jobs and was the first and fourth most-cited reason affecting their intention to stay in their department or agency.

Values-based staffing

Generally, employees were less positive about the fairness of staffing processes than in other areas of the survey. Employees' perception of the fairness of staffing processes in their work units (score of 63), their sense of fairness of competitive processes (score of 58), and their opportunities to demonstrate their capabilities during competitive processes (score of 60) all point toward an opportunity to improve values-based staffing. On a related point, restrictions in the area of competitions and a lack of information about job opportunities were the first and third most-cited reasons that some employees felt their career progress had been adversely affected in the past two years.

Well-managed employee potential

Once talented people have been selected, it is necessary to maximize their potential to meet both current and future organizational needs. Management of employee potential occurs through employee development, performance management, and career development—it is a shared responsibility between managers and employees.

Employee development

As shown in Chart 4, while respondents are receiving training in their official language of choice, their views on a number of other aspects of employee development are uneven. While results were generally positive on access to job-related training, that positive perception declined for other questions related to employee development, with lowest scores for the extent to which employees felt that their organization supported their career development and that on-the-job coaching was available.

Chart 4: Public servants' views on a number of aspects of employee development are uneven

Chart 4: Public servants' views on a number of aspects of employee development are uneven

Chart 4: Text version

At the same time, lack of access to developmental assignments and learning opportunities were the second and fourth most-cited reasons that some employees thought their career progress had been adversely affected in the last two years (see Chart 6). Opportunities for learning and getting more experience and development are seen as important factors in attracting and retaining employees. The desire to gain experience or greater experience in their department or agency was the third most-cited reason that employees were attracted to their current job.

Performance management

Performance management is very much part of a good working relationship between supervisors and employees—it is built on regular communication, a shared understanding of work objectives and results, and feedback. It is also closely linked to employee development, with the potential to have broader effects on the work unit and fellow team members, particularly when done well or poorly.

Chart 5: Public servants report fairly positive performance management practices but are less satisfied with career opportunities

Chart 5: Public servants report fairly positive performance management practices but are less satisfied with career opportunities

Chart 5: Text version

As shown in Chart 5, the survey found that employees generally agreed that their supervisor assessed their work against identified goals and objectives (score of 73), a key building block to a good performance management relationship. Respondents' views were also positive on receiving feedback from their supervisor on their job performance (score of 68), as well as on receiving recognition when they had done a good job (score of 70). Notwithstanding these results, humility appears to be very much part of the public service culture, with few employees identifying recognition of effort as important in attracting them to their current job (the 14th most-selected reason), or as a reason for either keeping them (the 8th most-selected reason), or driving them away from their department or agency (the 10th most-selected reason).

Career opportunities

The public service offers thousands of different job opportunities for its workforce. Employees, current and future, know this is one of the unique aspects of a public service career.

The 2008 PSES found that, compared with many other aspects of employment measured in the survey, employees were not as satisfied with their career progress and opportunities for promotion. They were somewhat neutral in their satisfaction with their career progression in the public service (score of 56) and their opportunities for promotion inside their department or agency (score of 54). They were slightly more positive in their perceptions of opportunities for promotion outside their department or agency (score of 61). These results are significant, considering that exploring greater career opportunities and accepting a promotion were the first and fourth main reasons employees indicated for intending to leave their department or agency.

Regarding the factors adversely affecting career progress, overall, employees did not see their career progress hampered by discrimination or by the lack of access to language training, work-life balance or education. They expressed concerns, however, about restrictions in the area of competitions and lack of access to developmental assignments. These results are summarized in Chart 6.

Chart 6: To what extent, if at all, have any of the following adversely affected your career progress in the Public Service over the last three years?

Chart 6: To what extent, if at all, have any of the following adversely affected your career progress in the Public Service over the last three years?

Chart 6: Text version

Workplace

Table: Workplace

Workplace excellence fosters high-performing organizations by establishing the right environment and working conditions needed to generate high levels of employee engagement and productivity. This objective is achieved through well-managed work and a fair, supportive, and ethical work environment.

The workplace results are good overall and slightly better than the average of the 61 questions shown in Chart 1 (the workplace average is two percentage points more positive in the “somewhat agree” response option).

Well-managed work

Well-managed work is about employees feeling their work is meaningful, their workload is appropriate, and their work-related stress is reasonable. In addition, the ability for employees to be involved and consulted in decisions that affect their work contributes to a sense that the workplace is well managed, helping to advance organizational excellence.

Chart 7: Looking at the workplace, employees have mixed feelings on whether work is well-managed

Chart 7: Looking at the workplace, employees have mixed feelings on whether work is well-managed

Chart 7: Text version

Meaningful work

It is important that employees perceive their work to be important and to have an impact. It helps generate self-worth and provides a source of internal motivation to do one's best.

As shown in Chart 7, the survey found that employees had a strong sense of how their work contributes to fulfilling the objectives of their organization (score of 78). This is important for a number of reasons, many of which are at the root of an organization's stability. Three in five employees intended to stay in their organization because they enjoy the type of work they are doing, while close to one-third of those who intended to leave their department or agency were looking for more interesting work.

Appropriate workload and stress

A balanced sharing of work among members of a team is a reflection of an organization's performance and productivity.

The 2008 PSES showed a workforce with moderately positive perceptions of their workload and work-related stress but identified changing priorities, too many approval stages, and lack of or turnover in resources as factors affecting the quality of their work. They generally felt their immediate supervisor distributed work fairly (score of 71) and they could complete their assigned workload during their regular working hours (score of 68). Chart 8 probes more deeply into what employees believe may be hindering the quality of their work.

Chart 8: I feel that the quality of my work suffers because of…

Chart 8: I feel that the quality of my work suffers because of…

Chart 8: Text version

In terms of work-life balance, employees showed a high level of satisfaction with their current work arrangements (score of 79), a result that could be linked to the wide range of flexible work arrangements that is often available to employees across the public service.

Empowerment

Empowerment can be linked to important components of the public service culture, particularly in terms of its effect on employees' innovation and ability to achieve results. A little more than two in five employees agreed, and a little more than one in five disagreed, with the statement that they have a say in decisions and actions that affect their work (score of 57).

A fair, supportive, and ethical environment

A fair, supportive, and ethical workplace includes physical conditions and resources, appropriate compensation, positive working relationships and communications, an ethical work environment, and trusted and effective recourse mechanisms.

Physical conditions and resources

Results indicate that employees' perceptions of physical conditions and resources were positive overall, particularly in terms of managerial commitment to health and safety in the workplace (score of 75). In addition to feeling they had the materials and equipment they needed to do their jobs (score of 76), employees had a very positive view of materials and working tools being available in the official language of their choice (score of 90). While this score ranks as the second-highest in the survey, Francophones did not respond as positively to this question as Anglophones (score of 70 versus 92). Finally, employees did rank the geographic location highly as an important factor in choosing their current job (in the top three of attractive factors for 26 per cent of respondents).

Chart 9: In the workplace, public servants are generally satisfied with physical conditions and supporting tools, but fewer feel they can claim overtime compensation

Chart 9: In the workplace, public servants are generally satisfied with physical conditions and supporting tools, but fewer feel they can claim overtime compensation

Chart 9: Text version

Appropriate compensation

Feeling that one is being appropriately compensated for one's efforts at work is very much at the core of the employer-employee relationship. In fact, compensation (salary and benefits) was found to be the fourth most-cited attribute attracting employees to their current job, the fifth most-cited reason affecting their intent to stay in their department or agency, and the sixth most-cited reason why some employees intended to leave their organization. In addition, the survey found that employees were somewhat positive in feeling able to claim overtime compensation for overtime worked (score of 66).

Positive working relationships and communications

Successful workplaces are built on positive working relationships among all employees, regardless of level. Those relationships are often related to the extent of free and open communication among co-workers. Good labour-management relations are also an important part of this equation.

Overall, employees were positive in their views about knowledge of and respect for collective agreements, citing a relatively high degree of familiarity with the provisions of their collective agreement (score of 73). Immediate supervisors were seen as being slightly more respectful of collective agreements (score of 77) than senior managers (score of 71), although both scored well on this point.

Although a significant number of employees did not know about the relationship between their union and senior management (almost 40 per cent), those who did expressed a view that it was not particularly positive. Employees did not perceive the relationship between their union and senior management as a highly productive one (score of 50). Furthermore, perceptions of senior management as being engaged in meaningful consultations with their union on workplace issues was not particularly positive either (score of 57).

In terms of working relationships and communication, employees had positive views on team cooperation (score of 74) and information sharing at working levels (score of 67). Satisfaction with the way informal complaints about workplace issues were resolved in the work unit was, however, less positive (score of 59).

Ethical environment and trusted, effective recourse

Any harassment or discrimination in the workplace is an issue that needs to be addressed. The 2008 PSES found that 16 per cent of respondents indicated they had experienced harassment [4] in their job once or twice in the past two years, while 12 per cent indicated they had experienced harassment more than twice. [5] As shown in Chart 10, employees who said they had been harassed most commonly cited individuals with authority over them and co-workers as the two main sources of the harassment.

Chart 10: From whom did you experience harassment on the job?

Chart 10: From whom did you experience harassment on the job?

Chart 10: Text version

With respect to discrimination, [6] 18 per cent of respondents reported experiencing discrimination over the past two years (10 per cent specified once or twice and 8 per cent more than twice). As with harassment, the two main sources of discrimination cited were individuals with authority over the respondents and co-workers (Chart 11). Discrimination was most commonly perceived as based on sex, age, and national or ethnic origin (Chart 12). Nevertheless, the perceived impact of discrimination on career progression was relatively low.

Chart 11: From whom did you experience discrimination on the job?

Chart 11: From whom did you experience discrimination on the job?

Chart 11: Text version

Chart 12: Type of discrimination experienced

Chart 12: Type of discrimination experienced

Chart 12: Text version

Despite the fact that results for harassment and discrimination reflect challenges, employees were positive in their views about the steps being taken by their organization to prevent harassment and discrimination (score of 74). Furthermore, they were generally satisfied with the way their work unit (score of 70) and their department or agency (score of 68) dealt with matters related to harassment and discrimination. While respondents had a relatively positive sense of knowing where to go for help if facing an ethical dilemma or a conflict between values in the workplace (score of 70), their perception of being able to initiate a formal redress process without fear of reprisal was less positive (score of 58). Further analysis is under way to understand the views of those who perceived harassment and discrimination.

Engaged employees

Table: Engaged employees

The more employees are engaged in an organization and the work it does, the better the organization performs. This is because engagement is the base upon which productivity is built—having employees on the job is the first step, but having them put in the maximum effort day in and day out is the result of having that workforce engaged in what they are doing. For this reason, the 2008 PSES probes deeply into engagement by measuring employees' satisfaction with their job and organization, along with their commitment to their department or agency.

Chart 13: Overall, results reveal high levels of employee engagement

Chart 13: Overall, results reveal high levels of employee engagement

Chart 13: Text version

As a higher-level outcome, engagement can be used as a synonym or proxy for overall people management. This is because it is the cumulative effect of leadership, workforce, and workplace efforts that drive engagement.

The 2008 PSES shows that, across the range of direct measures of employee engagement, the results are good (see Chart 13). Employees like their jobs (score of 79) and get a sense of satisfaction from their work (score of 74). They are generally satisfied with their department or agency (score of 68) and would recommend their department or agency as a good place to work (score of 71). Probing more deeply into employees' commitment to their organization, 56 per cent of employees agreed that that they would prefer to stay with their department or agency even if a comparable job were available elsewhere in the federal public service.

The results for employees' satisfaction with their department compares favourably with the results of employee surveys by provincial and territorial governments. In 2007–08, the average score for employees' satisfaction with their department across nine provinces and territories was 63, with a top score of 68 (the same as found in the federal public service).

Public service culture of excellence

Table: Public service culture of excellence

High-performing public service organizations need to be innovative, results-oriented, people-oriented, and public interest-oriented; the 2008 PSES gathered information on all but the last area. As shown in Chart 14, the results for public service culture of excellence had, as a group, the most positive responses in the survey.

Chart 14: Public servants are results-oriented but there is room to improve innovation

Chart 14: Public servants are results-oriented but there is room to improve innovation

Chart 14: Text version

Innovative

Innovation is the ability to think creatively about how to do things. It is at the heart of an efficient and effective workplace, one where productivity is maximized.

When asked about being able to innovate and improve how things are done in their organizations, employees' perceptions were positive. While the opportunity to work on innovative or “leading edge” projects was not a primary factor that attracted employees to their current jobs (ranking 10th out of 15 possible options), employees generally felt encouraged to be innovative or take initiative in their work (score of 64). This was borne out even more in terms of their belief that they would be supported by their immediate supervisor if they were to suggest ways of improving how things are done (score of 76) and that their work units learned from and corrected their mistakes (score of 75).

Results-oriented

Part of having a results-oriented public service involves focussing on excellence in delivering programs and services to Canadians. Employees felt strongly that their work units provided high-quality service to their clients (the score of 82 was one of the highest in the survey).

People-oriented

A people-oriented culture is one that demonstrates respect for and among employees and values their contributions. Responses to questions in this area tended to be very positive.

  • Employees generally felt they were being treated with respect in their organizations (score of 72) and that their work units were or would be accepting of everyone regardless of race, colour, gender, or disability (with a score of 84, this was one of the highest results in the 2008 PSES).

Chart 15: Employees feel quite positive about the "people" side of the Public Service culture

Chart 15: Employees feel quite positive about the "people" side of the Public Service culture

Chart 15: Text version

  • Employees' perceptions were also positive about getting support to balance their work, family, and personal life (score of 73). Over one-quarter of employees identified support for work-life balance as one of the top three attributes that attracted them to their current job. Employees also generally agreed that their career progress had not been affected by conflicts between work and family or personal obligations (score of 75).
  • In general, employees felt the use of official languages was respected in their workplace. Questions related to official languages received the most positive overall results in the 2008 PSES. Employees indicated that they were able to use the official language of their choice when communicating with their immediate supervisor (score of 92), during meetings in their work unit (score of 86), or when preparing written material (score of 85). Francophones were less likely than Anglophones to feel free to use their official language of choice, particularly when preparing written materials, including emails (score of 70 versus 92), and during meetings (score of 74 versus 92). Although not a major issue for employees, regardless of their first official language, fewer Anglophones than Francophones perceived that their career progress had been adversely affected over the past three years by lack of access to language training (7 per cent versus 12 per cent).

A sustained, productive public service

Table: A sustained, productive public service

To get the right people in the right place at the right time, managers must identify what attracts employees to a job, what keeps them there, and what leads them to move on from their organizations. The 2008 PSES provides important insights about the sustainability of the federal public service. As Table 1 shows, a variety of factors attracted employees to their current jobs and affect their intentions to stay or leave. Many employees indicated they were seeking a good fit between their jobs and their skills and training. Specifically, a person's skills and interests were always among the top three reasons for coming to their current position and staying in or leaving their department or agency. Of note, while 44 per cent of employees cited job security as important in choosing a job and staying in it, only 30 per cent on average saw compensation as a key reason to come or go.

Table 1: Employees' Reasons for Choosing, Staying in and Intending to Leave Their Department or Agency

Table 1: Employees' Reasons for Choosing, Staying in and Intending to Leave Their Department or Agency
This table was updated on June 23, 2009

Table 1: Text version

Comparing the intentions of indeterminate employees (who represented 90 per cent of the 2008 PSES respondents) to leave their department or agency in the next two years with their actual movements over the past two years reveals many similarities. While 16 per cent of indeterminate employees said they were intending to leave their department or agency over the next two years, 19 per cent actually left their organizations between 2007 and 2009. The reasons for leaving are shown in Table 2 below.

Table 2: Indeterminate Employees' Intended Versus Actual Reasons for Leaving Their Department or Agency

Reason 2008 PSES: Percentage of Employees Intending to Leave Actual Percentage of Employees Who Left Between 2007 and 2009
To pursue a job in another department or agency 8 6
To retire 6 7
Other reasons 3 6

With respect to indeterminate employees' intentions to retire, according to the 2008 PSES, 6 per cent of employees are planning to retire in the next two years compared with 15 per cent who are eligible to retire without penalty over the same period. When looking at intentions to leave over the next five years (for any reason), 19 per cent of indeterminate employees said they intend to leave. This compares with 25 per cent of employees who are eligible to retire over the same period.

Together, these results paint a picture of a stable workforce with a desire to remain in the public service throughout the course of their working careers.

Chart 16: Do you intend to leave your department or agency in the next two years (all employees)?

Chart 16: Do you intend to leave your department or agency in the next two years (all employees)?

Chart 16: Text version

4. Next steps

The PSES represents an enormous effort on the part of the public service and the feedback from thousands of employees will have an impact on people management public service-wide. The information that has been gathered greatly contributes to understanding the state of people management from the perspective of employees. This report is only the first of a series of analyses of that data. Subsequent reports will probe more deeply into the drivers of successful people management and what the survey found across the public service and the institutions within it. Demographic information will be added to allow for greater precision in interpreting and understanding the results and the consequences for the working lives of employees. This particular report has been prepared to help understand the public service-wide survey findings, but a fuller story will only be possible when the results are disaggregated.

Over the coming months, the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat will undertake additional analysis and share the results with employees, managers, bargaining agents, and other key stakeholders. Those results will also include an in-depth look at what people management levers will have the greatest impact on improving employee engagement and overall performance. In this regard, the PSES 2008 represents a departure from past surveys by virtue of the detailed analysis that is possible as a result of changes in the design of the survey.

As employees and managers look through their departmental results, it will be important to focus efforts to respond to the survey's findings, both departmentally and public service-wide. The survey is the single-largest collective people management effort in the public service and, as such, it represents an opportunity to foster positive workforce and workplace change while advancing organizational improvement. With the changes introduced in the 2008 PSES, the unprecedented rate of participation and the expanded number of participating organizations, this opportunity comes at an ideal time, when employees are focussed on public service renewal and are joining in efforts to ensure the public service remains the vital national institution it is today.

Appendix – Methodology

The Public Service Employee Survey (PSES) was conducted by Statistics Canada on behalf of the Canada Public Service Agency. [7] The survey was fielded from November 3 to December 12, 2008. Approximately 170,000 employees responded to the 2008 PSES, representing 66 per cent of the 258,000 employees invited to participate.

While this is the fourth time the PSES has been conducted, the 2008 PSES represents a break from the past and a benchmark for future employee surveys. Key changes to the survey included the following:

  • Expanding the target population—The 2008 PSES includes employees from participating separate agencies (e.g., Canada Revenue Agency). Students and some Governor-in-Council appointees were also invited to respond to the survey for the first time.
  • Moving to a five-point scale for the majority of questions (67 out of 78)—This scale gave respondents a full range of response options typical of employee perception surveys.
  • Standardizing the response scale on questions related to perceived harassment and discrimination—Previous surveys used a blend of “Yes/No” and “Never / Once or twice / More than twice” response scales for questions on harassment and discrimination in the workplace. The 2008 PSES adopted the “Never/Once or Twice / More than twice” response scale for all the questions on perceptions of harassment and discrimination.

As a consequence of these changes, the survey results better reflect employees' views, permit benchmarking with the employee surveys of other jurisdictions, and enable more sophisticated analysis of the survey findings (e.g., to determine the factors that drive employee engagement in the public service). While these improvements will give a better picture of the public service going forward, they also mean that caution should be exercised in making direct comparisons between the results of the 2008 PSES and previous surveys.

In this report, most of the results of the 2008 PSES are presented as average scores ranging from 0 to 100. Each score is a single number that accounts for the full range of responses to a survey question. To calculate the average score, points are assigned to each answer to each survey question that was asked on a five-point scale. All the points are then summed and divided by the total number of respondents to the question.

Five-Point Survey Scale Points
1 (strongly disagree) 0
2 (somewhat disagree) 25
3 (neither agree nor disagree) 50
4 (somewhat agree) 75
5 (strongly agree) 100

Care should be taken not to confuse the average scores used in this report with the percentages presented in previous PSES reports.


Footnotes

  • [1] Response rates by department and agency are listed on the Secretariat's website.
  • [2] Questions not covered by this diagram used different response scales and dealt with such subjects as factors affecting the quality of employees' work, factors affecting employees' career progress, discrimination and harassment, and the reasons that employees are attracted to their jobs and intend to either stay in or leave their department or agency. Details on responses to these other questions are provided later in the report.
  • [3] Care should be taken not to confuse the average scores used in this report with the percentages presented in previous PSES reports.
  • [4] The 2008 PSES provided employees with the following definition of harassment: “Harassment is any improper conduct by an individual, that is directed at and offensive to another person or persons in the workplace, and that the individual knew or ought reasonably to have known would cause offence or harm. It comprises any objectionable act, comment or display that demeans, belittles, or causes personal humiliation or embarrassment, and any act of intimidation or threat. It includes harassment within the meaning of the Canadian Human Rights Act.”
  • [5] Results from the 2005 and the 2008 surveys should not be directly compared due to a change in the response scales that could have had an important impact on the results for this specific question.
  • [6] The 2008 PSES provided employees with the following definition of discrimination: “Discrimination means to treat someone differently or unfairly because of a personal characteristic or distinction which, whether intentional or not, has an effect which imposes disadvantages not imposed upon others or which withholds or limits access to other members of society. There are eleven prohibited grounds under the Canadian Human Rights Act: race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, mental or physical disability and pardoned conviction.”
  • [7] On March 2, 2009, the functions of the Canada Public Service Agency were combined with those parts of the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat dealing with pensions and benefits, labour relations, and compensation to form the Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer. This new Office is housed within the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat.
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