Canadian Public Service Employee Satisfaction and Its Main Drivers

Article excerpt


This paper will analyse the employee satisfaction of federal civil servants and the variables that drive it. The policy importance of this inquiry arises from the possibility that understanding the factors important to civil servant satisfaction could lead to improvements in job performance, employee retention, employee recruitment and, ultimately, provision of services to the public. The complete set of linkages involved in addressing this larger question would obviously require additional analysis and data.

What is presented here, however, is a central part of the factors that influence the civil service and its effectiveness. Furthermore, the negative internal and external perceptions of the civil service (Lynch 2009) underline the importance of analysing these issues. Using the results of the 2005 Public Service Employee Survey (PSES) this paper hopes to uncover which factors have the greatest effect on employee satisfaction in the Canadian public service. It will build on the models created by Heintzman and Marson and use research undertaken by Duxbury, Zussman and Kernaghan to further develop the model for analysing the 2005 PSES data.

The six hypotheses that will be examined in this paper come from the articles discussed in the literature review. Substantial research has been conducted on what steps are necessary to improve the public service, but quantitative analysis appears to be under-represented in previous work though not entirely absent. This paper aims to expand current research by making greater use of statistical techniques, including cross tabulations and regression analysis. Lastly, this paper will offer some reflections on the implications of our findings for renewing the Canadian public service and making it an employer of choice.

Hypotheses and Canadian Uterature review

The 1891-92 Royal Commission on the Civil Service of Canada recommended a merit-based public service in the belief that, "the service will soon become attractive to many persons who now seek other avenues of employment and in general the title of public servant will be an honour to be coveted" (Kernaghan 2001: 2). More than a century later, governments are still taking steps to make public service a more desirable career.

Despite the positive intentions behind strategies to improve the public service as a career, there is a considerable amount of research suggesting that the general population does not have a positive view of the public service (Zussman 1982: 73; Phillips, Little and Goodine 1997; Kernaghan 2001: 4; Malloy 2004: 287; Baird and Cote 2007: 11). Some of this research indicates that public servants accept the fact that the public thinks of them in negative terms.

Many scholars including Kernaghan (2001), Malloy (2004) and Zussman (1982) argue that such negative perceptions are largely unfounded and have been the product of self-interest by journalists, politicians and the general public. Kernaghan quotes Gilbert Scott, a former federal public-service commissioner in saying, "negative perceptions of public servants are essentially a function of social mythology, not of who we are or what we really do" (Kernaghan 2001: 6). Furthermore, Bourgault and Gusella (2001) quote Savoie in saying,

the most advanced economies in the world have or have had a strong public service. Less developed countries have at least one thing in common--they lack a non-partisan, professional public service. One of Canada's biggest assets--and a largely unrecognized asset--is the matchless integrity, the exceptionally high quality and the extraordinary commitment of Canada's public services to the success of the nation (Bourgault and Gusella 2001: 30).

Kernaghan believes that efforts to enhance pride in the public service have been based on the belief in a virtuous cycle whereby an increase in pride will lead to improved performance and then, "improved performance will lead to greater public recognition of the public service; and greater public recognition will increase public servants' pride" (Kernaghan 2001: 7). …