Friday, February 10, 2012

Thoughts About and Analysis of the 2011 Public Service Employee Survey

Last week the Treasury Board Secretariat released the results of the 2011 Public Service Employee Survey (PSES). According to the Treasury Board Secretariat website:

The Public Service Employee Survey (PSES) has been conducted every three years since 1999. It provides employees the opportunity to anonymously voice their opinions on their leadership, workforce and work environment. It is conducted by Statistics Canada on behalf of the Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer. The survey results enable managers and employees to discuss the strengths and areas for improvement in people management at all levels of their organization. The results also feed into deputy heads’ performance assessments.

High level observations (directly from the data)

I took a few minutes to read through the results for the Public Service as a whole, here are some things that caught my eye coupled with some of my own thoughts (broken down by subsections, with references to question numbers):

My job world
  • A minority of public servants (14%) are dissatisfied with their (technological) toolset in the workplace (Q1) 
  • Roughly 1/5 of people's interests are not aligned with their jobs; improving this alignment could result in increased productivity and retention (and thereby lower operating costs) (Q4) 
  • Only 3% of civil servants hate their job strongly disagree with the statement, "Overall, I like my job". I find this encouraging; I would have assumed it was much higher (Q7) 
  • Only 58% of public servants feel as though they are receiving meaningful recognition for work well done (Q9) 
  • Only 61% feel as though they have opportunities to implement new ideas on how to improve their work (Q12) 
  • Many public servants feel as though changing priorities and the lack of stability is negatively impacting their work. I doubt this sector will rediscover the stability of yesteryear any time soon, as such I think this a strong indication that we need to onboard more people who are comfortable with uncertainty (Q18a/b)

My organization

  • 1/5 of public servants (strongly or somewhat) disagree with the statement: "Senior managers in my organization lead by example in ethical behaviour" (Q42) 
  • 1/2 of public servants (strongly or somewhat) agree with the statement: "I have confidence in the senior management of my department or agency" (Q44)
  • Only 46% of public servants (strongly or somewhat) agree with the statement: "Essential information flows effectively from senior management to staff". What interests me most about this question is that its inverse is not asked on the survey, by this I mean: "Essential information flows effectively from staff to senior management" (Q47) 
  • Only 63% of public servants would recommend their department as a place to work (Q51)


  • While 48% of public servants are actively looking for another position (Q56) only 8% of them intending to leave their current position in the next two years are looking at opportunities outside the public service (Q55). This seems to suggest that churn, not turnover, is the key retention issue. 
  • Question 58, "In my work unit, there are effective mechanisms in place to deal with poor performers" caught my attention for two reasons. The first is because the question is restricted to Managers only; surely employees have something to say about the issue? Second was because there was apparently insufficient data to report back on. To my knowledge, this is the only place that reported as such.

General Information 

  • Teleworking and job sharing seem to be incredibly underutilized given their popularity (and effectiveness) in the private sector. (Q75c/d)

A quick comparison of selected results

I thought it would be interesting to look at some of the data in greater detail, so I pieced together the following chart:

(click image to enlarge)

The chart shows a sample of the results of 10 departments/agencies for survey question number 51 (Q51). I didn't want to be accused of playing favourites (I originally compared departments/agencies I have worked for) so I selected the first 9 results alphabetically and used the overall results of the Public Service as a baseline. As you can see the chart is a little messy but there are clearly a number of departments or agencies that follow the trend line while others are clearly outliers. In the chart below, I have isolated the outliers and the baseline in order to make the distinctions more clear.

(click image to enlarge)

As you can see, public servants working at the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) are more likely to recommend their agency as a place to work whereas the Canada School of Public Service is less likely (than the Public Service as a whole). Again, I'm not trying to play favourites or point fingers, but I did want to use an example to help illustrate my underlying argument, namely that there are things to learn from comparative analysis. While departmental results are displayed next to the baseline Public Service data (in HTML tables) there is no single downloadable data set with which to work. If this information was released on, comparative analysis would be much easier.

Why comparative analysis is important

Obviously the data is intended to give credit where credit is do as well as turn up the heat on organizations underperforming against the average. However, I am far less interested in back patting, and naming and shaming than I am in allowing public servants to measure different agencies against criteria that may be important to them. If for example the rate at which people are promoted (Q78) is more important than meaningful feedback on work well done (Q9) then use the data from the dataset to determine which agencies they'd rather work for. Or say compare the policy sector of one department to its communications department, or the communication departments of three different agencies.  I suppose that at its core, I'm simply talking about providing public servants with a greater capacity for data-driven and career-focused decision-making.

Furthemore if we allow people to use the data to test hypotheses about organization design against factors like the size of agency, region of operation, or line of work (e.g. regulatory/enforcement) we may find that certain organizational structures or practices work better than others.

So why not release the data in a single unified data set?

It’s worth noting that the analysis is only possible because the government discloses the data publicly; and while I'm not averse to showing the results in HTML tables, I don't see a compelling reason why the data could not have been released as a complete dataset as a part of We already have the data, we have already disclosed the data, re-releasing it as part of the data catalogue would make any future analysis much easier.

I suppose that is precisely why I requested the data be released on via their contact form.

If you have an interest in the data, like I do, I suggest you do the same.

Originally published by Nick Charney at
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Notez bien que nous travaillons commes functionnaires, ceci est entièrement notre propre initiative et ce que nous publions sur ce site ne reflète pas nécessairement le point de vue du gouvernement, de nos organisations ou de nos postes.