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2011 Public Service Employee Survey
Focus on Innovation

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The 2011 Public Service Employee Survey (PSES) See footnote 1 provided federal public servants an opportunity to express their views on various aspects of their work and work environment, including innovation. The results of the survey suggest that there is room for improvement in this area. In his Nineteenth Annual Report to the Prime Minister on the Public Service of Canada, the Clerk of the Privy Council encourages all public servants to challenge themselves to be innovative: “Doing new things in new ways comes about only by trying.” See footnote 2

This report analyzes the results of the PSES as they pertain to employees’ perceptions of innovation and sheds light on the factors that are linked to those perceptions and that might need attention in order for the public service to become more innovative. Although these relationships cannot be interpreted as ones of cause and effect, the information about them can help managers and human resources leaders better target efforts to foster innovation in the public service.

The PSES contained three questions related to innovation that were used for the purpose of this analysis:

  • Q12: In my department or agency, I have the opportunities I need to implement ideas on how to improve my work.
    • 61% of employees agreed that they have the opportunities they need to implement ideas on how to improve their work; 22% of employees disagreed, while 17% neither agreed nor disagreed.
  • Q15: I have opportunities to provide input into decisions that affect my work.
    • 68% of employees agreed that they have opportunities to provide input into decisions that affect their work. One in five (20%) disagreed, while 13% neither agreed nor disagreed.
  • Q16: I am encouraged to be innovative or to take initiative in my work. See footnote 3
    • Only 56% indicated that they are “always / almost always” or “often” encouraged to be innovative or to take initiative in their work. Conversely, 18% indicated that they are “rarely” or “never / almost never” encouraged to be innovative or to take initiative, and 26% answered that they are “sometimes” encouraged to do so.

Key Demographic Observations

Occupation

Employees in managerial positions, such as supervisors and employees in the Executive occupational category See footnote 4 are more likely than other employees to have positive perceptions of opportunities and encouragement for innovation in their workplace. A larger proportion of supervisors than non‑supervisors agreed that they have opportunities to implement ideas on how to improve their work (70% vs. 59%, Q12), that they have opportunities to provide input into decisions that affect their work (79% vs. 64%, Q15) and that they are encouraged to be innovative or to take initiative in their work (66% vs. 53%, Q16). Results for employees in the Executive category were also more positive than those for employees in other occupational categories, particularly those in the Operational category. Figure 1 shows the results for Q12, Q15 and Q16 by occupational category.

Figure 1: 2011 Public Service Employee Survey - Employee Perceptions Relating to Innovation by Occupational Category

Figure 1: 2011 Public Service Employee Survey - Employee Perceptions Relating to Innovation by Occupational Category – Text versions

Number of Supervisors in Past Three Years

Survey results suggest that how employees perceive innovation in the workplace is associated with how many supervisors they have had in the past three years (Q77). See footnote 5 Employees who had only one supervisor in the last three years tended to provide the most positive answers to Q12, Q15 and Q16, whereas employees who had three or more supervisors provided the least positive answers. For instance, 64% of employees who reported having only one supervisor in the last three years indicated that they are encouraged to be innovative or to take initiative in their work (Q16), compared with 58% of employees who had two supervisors, and 45% of employees who had three or more.

Age and Tenure

Survey results suggest that employees’ perception of innovation is also associated with age and tenure. Younger employees are more likely than older employees to perceive that they have opportunities for innovation in the workplace and to feel encouraged to be innovative or to take initiative. For instance, employees under the age of 25 were more likely to agree that they have opportunities to implement ideas on how to improve their work (Q12) and that they are encouraged to be innovative and to take initiative in their work (Q16). Not surprisingly, years of service is also linked to perceptions of innovation, with employees with less than three years of service tending to provide more positive answers to Q12 and Q16. Only minor differences emerged on the basis of age and years of service with regard to opportunities to provide input into decisions that affect employees’ work (Q15).

Employment Equity Groups

Persons with disabilities tended to express less positive opinions relating to innovation in their workplace than did other employees. In particular, they were less likely than other employees to agree that…

  • In their organization, they have the opportunities they need to implement ideas on how to improve their work (52% vs. 62%, Q12).
  • They have opportunities to provide input into decisions that affect their work (58% vs. 68%, Q15).
  • They are encouraged to be innovative or to take initiative in their work (47% vs. 56%, Q16).

Members of visible minorities also tended to express less positive opinions than did other employees. Members of visible minorities were less likely than other employees to agree that…

  • They have the opportunities they need to implement ideas on how to improve their work (58% vs. 62%, Q12).
  • They have opportunities to provide input into decisions that affect their work (65% vs. 68%, Q15).
  • They are encouraged to be innovative or to take initiative in their work (52% vs. 56%, Q16).

In contrast, results were slightly more positive for women than for men. Larger proportions of women than men agreed that they have the opportunities they need to implement ideas on how to improve their work (63% vs. 59%, Q12) and that they are encouraged to be innovative or to take initiative in their work (58% vs. 54%, Q16).

Only minor differences emerged between Aboriginal employees and non-Aboriginal employees in the area of perception of innovation.

Link Between Organizational Issues and Innovation in the Workplace

Organizational issues such as workload (Q17), changing priorities (Q18a), lack of stability (Q18b), too many approval stages (Q18c), unreasonable deadlines (Q18d), having to do the same or more with fewer resources (Q18e) and high staff turnover (Q18f) seem to be associated with a less positive perception of support for innovation and initiative in their work. For example, employees who indicated that the quality of their work “always / almost always” or “often” suffers from lack of stability in their organization (Q18b) were less likely than employees whose work was “never / almost never” or rarely affected by it to feel that…

  • In their organization, they have opportunities to implement ideas on how to improve their work (42% vs. 77%, Q12).
  • They have opportunities to provide input into decisions that affect their work (51% vs. 81%, Q15).
  • They are encouraged to be innovative or to take initiative in their work (40% vs. 70%, Q16).

Factors Associated With Positive Perceptions of Innovation

Encouragement and Support

Employees who receive encouragement to innovate are more likely than those who do not to say that they have opportunities for innovation in their workplace. In fact, employees who agreed that they are encouraged to be innovative or to take initiative in their work (Q16) were more than four times as likely as those who disagreed to indicate that they have opportunities to implement ideas on how to improve their work (84% vs. 14%, Q12) and to provide input into decisions that affect their work (90% vs. 19%, Q15).

The survey results show that supporting employees in providing a high level of service (Q28) and in developing their career (Q22) may also foster innovation in the workplace. Employees who indicated that they have support at work to provide a high level of service (Q28) were more inclined than those who did not to indicate that…

  • In their organization, they have opportunities to implement ideas on how to improve their work (74% vs. 19%, Q12).
  • They have opportunities to provide input into decisions that affect their work (79% vs. 28%, Q15).
  • They are encouraged to be innovative or to take initiative in their work (67% vs. 18%, Q16).

Good Leadership

Results show that employees whose supervisor exhibits good management practices such as providing useful feedback on their job performance (Q30), keeping promises (Q31), informing them about issues affecting their work (Q32), assessing their work against identified goals and objectives (Q34), and respecting the provisions of their collective agreements (Q64) tend to perceive that they have greater encouragement and opportunities for innovation in their workplace than those whose supervisor does not. For instance, employees who agreed that they can count on their immediate supervisor to keep his or her promises (Q31) were more likely than employees who disagreed to indicate that…

  • They have the opportunities they need to implement ideas on how to improve their work (72% vs. 25%, Q12).
  • They have opportunities to provide input into decisions that affect their work (78% vs. 31%, Q15).
  • They are encouraged to be innovative or to take initiative in their work (67% vs. 20%, Q16).

Employees’ opinions of senior management also seem to be related to innovation in the workplace. Employees who said that they have confidence in senior management (Q44), that senior management in their organization makes effective and timely decisions (Q45), that information flows effectively from senior management to staff (Q47), and that they believe senior management will try to resolve concerns raised in the survey (Q46) tended to have positive perceptions of encouragement and opportunities to innovate. For example, employees who expressed confidence in senior management (Q44) were more likely than employees who did not to say that…

  • They have the opportunities they need to implement ideas on how to improve their work (81% vs. 32%, Q12).
  • They have opportunities to provide input into decisions that affect their work (85% vs. 41%, Q15).
  • They are encouraged to be innovative or to take initiative in their work (74% vs. 30%, Q16).

Clear Vision and Goals

Employees who feel that their organization does a good job of communicating its vision, mission and goals (Q37), who know how their work contributes to the achievement of their organization’s goals (Q10) and who believe that their organization reviews and evaluates the progress toward meeting its goals and objectives (Q38) are more likely to believe that they receive encouragement and opportunities for innovation.

Employees who know how their work contributes to the achievement of their organization’s goals (Q10) were about four times as likely as those who do not to feel that they have opportunities to implement ideas on how to improve their work (71% vs. 16%, Q12) and that they are encouraged to be innovative or to take initiative in their work (64% vs. 16%, Q16). They were also much more likely to indicate that they have opportunities to provide input into decisions that affect their work (76% vs. 25%, Q15).

Strong Values and Ethics

The results show that strong values and ethics in the organization is strongly associated with perceptions of encouragement and opportunities for innovation. Employees who believe that senior managers in their organization lead by example in ethical behaviour (Q42) are much more inclined than those who do not to feel that…

  • They have the opportunities they need to implement ideas on how to improve their work (78% vs. 32%, Q12).
  • They have opportunities to provide input into decisions that affect their work (83% vs. 40%, Q15).
  • They are encouraged to be innovative or to take initiative in their work (72% vs. 29%, Q16).

The gaps in perception are even larger when comparing employees who believe that their organization treats them with respect with those who do not. Employees who agreed that their organization treats them with respect (Q49) were much more likely than those who disagreed to indicate that…

  • They have the opportunities they need to implement ideas on how to improve their work (73% vs. 19%, Q12).
  • They have opportunities to provide input into decisions that affect their work (78% vs. 26%, Q15).
  • They are encouraged to be innovative or to take initiative in their work (66% vs. 18%, Q16).

Link Between Encouragement to Innovate and Recognition

Employees who said that they are encouraged to be innovative or to take initiative in their work (Q16) were more than four times as likely as employees who said they are not to feel that they receive meaningful recognition for work well done (79% vs. 17%, Q9). Similarly, employees who indicated that they have the opportunities they need to implement ideas on how to improve their work (Q12) and those who felt that they have opportunities to provide input into decisions that affect their work (Q15) were more likely than employees who did not to indicate that they receive meaningful recognition for work well done.

Link Between Innovation and Employee Engagement

Employee satisfaction and commitment are key components of employee engagement. Employees who believe that they have encouragement and opportunities to innovate and to take initiative tend to report higher levels of job satisfaction, pride in their work and commitment to their organization. For example, employees who said they are encouraged to be innovative or to take initiative in their work (Q16) were much more likely than employees who said they are not encouraged to say that…

  • They like their jobs (93% vs. 56%, Q7).
  • They get a sense of satisfaction from their work (90% vs. 44%, Q8).
  • They are proud of the work that they do (96% vs. 71%, Q14).
  • They would recommend their organization as a great place to work (81% vs. 28%, Q51).
  • They are satisfied with their organization (82% vs. 28%, Q52).
  • They would prefer to remain with their organization, even if a comparable job was available elsewhere in the federal public service (73% vs. 28%, Q53).

Summary

The PSES results for 2011 suggest that various demographic and organizational factors are linked to perceptions of innovation in the workplace. Employees in the Executive category, those who are under the age of 25 and those who have less than three years of service are likely to feel a greater sense of encouragement and opportunities for innovation. This is also the case for employees who had fewer supervisors within the last three years. On the other hand, persons with disabilities, members of visible minorities and employees in the Operational category are less inclined to believe that they have such encouragement or opportunities.

Organizational issues such as lack of stability, having to do the same or more with fewer resources, and high turnover are associated with less positive perceptions of innovation. Conversely, encouragement, support, good leadership, clear organizational vision and goals, and strong values and ethics are associated with more positive perceptions by employees of the encouragement and opportunities they receive to innovate.

Innovation undoubtedly benefits organizations by streamlining processes and doing business more efficiently. The results of the 2011 PSES appear to indicate that innovation also benefits employees in that encouraging it seems to foster employee satisfaction and commitment. Reaping the full potential of employee innovation requires removing the barriers that thwart it. Innovative ways and ideas are unlikely to flourish in an overly risk-averse culture. The trend toward a more risk-tolerant public service has begun, and “public servants are already devising creative ways to do a better job and get better results.” See footnote 6 It is the role of leaders to drive this change of culture and to lead by example with innovative ideas and behaviours.

Appendix

Occupational Categories and Groups

Category Groups
Executive EX, EC(CRA), DM
Scientific and Professional AC, AG, AR, AU, BI, CH, DE, DS, EC, ED, EN, ES, FO, HR, LA, LS, MA, MD, MT, ND, NU, OP, PC, PH, PS, RCO, SE, SG, SI, SW, UT, VM
Administrative and Foreign Service AS, CO, CS, FI, FS, HR(CRA), IS, OM, PE, PG, PL, PM, TR, WP
Technical AI, AO, DD, EG, EL, EU, GT, PI, PY, RO, SO, TI
Administrative Support AD, CM, CR, DA, ST
Operational CX, FB, FR, GL, GS, HP, HS, LI, PR, SC, SR
Other AB, CIASC, CIPTC, CISPC, FT, GA, IM, IN, MDMDG, MG, MG(CRA), MG(NRC), NB, OC, RE, RL, SP, STDNT, TC, TO, UNI

Note

There is currently no official or accepted definition of the occupational categories. The categories are based on the classification presented in the 2009–10 annual report to Parliament on employment equity in the public service, and tailored, notably to include occupational groups specific to certain separate agencies. We therefore advise caution when interpreting the results.

Return to footnote reference 1. View additional information on the 2011 Public Service Employee Survey.

Return to footnote reference 2. Nineteenth Annual Report to the Prime Minister on the Public Service of Canada, Wayne G. Wouters, Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, for the year ending March 31, 2012, p.10.

Return to footnote reference 3. Most questions used a five-point response scale. Unless stated otherwise, the percentages presented in this report reflect the two most positive response categories combined (e.g., “Strongly agree” and “Somewhat agree”) or the two most negative response categories combined (e.g., “Strongly disagree” and “Somewhat disagree”). The “Don’t know” and “Not applicable” responses are excluded.

Return to footnote reference 4. Please refer to the Appendix for a list of occupational groups within each occupational category.

Return to footnote reference 5. Employees were asked how many supervisors they had had in their current job in the last three years. If employees had been in their current job for less than three years, they were asked to report on the number of supervisors since they started their current job.

Return to footnote reference 6. Nineteenth Annual Report to the Prime Minister on the Public Service of Canada, p.10.

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