Harper’s ‘dis­sat­is­fied PS’ more myth than fact: study

PressReader - Tke Channel - Harper’s ‘dis­sat­is­fied PS’ more myth than fact: study
The por­trait of the dis­grun­tled pub­lic ser­vant, beaten down by a poi­sonous work­place cul­ture and years of dis­re­gard un­der Stephen Harper’s Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment is oft-painted and, gen­er­ally speak­ing, pretty in­ac­cu­rate, ac­cord­ing to an ar­ti­cle pub­lished Dec. 17 in an aca­demic jour­nal for hu­man re­source and pub­lic sec­tor ex­ec­u­tives.While job sat­is­fac­tion among fed­eral bu­reau­crats de­creased slightly dur­ing Harper’s time as prime min­is­ter, it re­mained “quite high” over­all, writes Jocelyn McGran­dle, the ar­ti­cle’s au­thor and a PhD can­di­date at Concordia Univer­sity. McGran­dle based her find­ings on data from the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s 2008, 2011 and 2014 Pub­lic Ser­vice Em­ployee Sur­veys.“Over the past five years in the Cana­dian po­lit­i­cal land­scape, there have been numer­ous calls for re­ju­ve­nat­ing the fed­eral pub­lic ser­vice due to toxic work cul­tures and a gen­eral dis­re­spect for pub­lic ser­vants,” McGran­dle wrote in Pub­lic Per­son­nel Man­age­ment.“Much of this was di­rected at the Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment un­der Stephen Harper.”So strong was this out­rage that the Pub­lic Ser­vice Al­liance of Canada rolled out an anti-Harper cam­paign prior to the 2015 fed­eral elec­tion, McGran­dle pointed out. Then-Lib­eral leader Justin Trudeau also penned a let­ter to pub­lic ser­vants promis­ing a new era of trust and re­spect for the bu­reau­cracy, if elected.And let’s not for­get “Harper­man,” the 2015 protest song crafted by En­vi­ron­ment Canada sci­en­tist Tony Turner that called for Harper’s oust­ing and led to Turner’s sus­pen­sion from his job.“2015 was such an in­ter­est­ing elec­tion with the pub­lic ser­vice very clearly com­ing out, not in favour of a par­tic­u­lar party, but cer­tainly against one party,” said McGran­dle in an in­ter­view when asked to ex­plain her de­sire to re­search this par­tic­u­lar topic. “That was sort of my puz­zle: Is the pub­lic ser­vice that dis­sat­is­fied?“Or is this a bit of po­lit­i­cal pos­tur­ing?”Hav­ing an­a­lyzed the data, she’s in­clined to be­lieve the lat­ter.“Much of the lack of sat­is­fac­tion seems to be mostly po­lit­i­cal rhetoric,” McGran­dle con­cludes in her ar­ti­cle. While over­all job sat­is­fac­tion — ranked by sur­vey re­spon­dents in the pub­lic ser­vice on a five-point scale — de­clined from an av­er­age of 4.14 to 4.05 be­tween 2008 and 2014, “sat­is­fac­tion, even at its low­est point in 2014, still re­mains rel­a­tively high.”The sig­nif­i­cance of this find­ing goes be­yond de­bunk­ing a pop­u­lar po­lit­i­cal mythol­ogy, McGran­dle says. It also un­der­scores the im­por­tance of sur­veys like the tri­en­nial PSE sur­vey, which the gov­ern­ment com­mit­ted to con­duct­ing more fre­quently start­ing in 2018.“These em­ployee sur­veys ... can be used to mea­sure how pub­lic ser­vants ac­tu­ally feel, not how they are told they should feel dur­ing the course of an elec­tion.”Paul Wil­son, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor in Car­leton Univer­sity’s po­lit­i­cal man­age­ment pro­gram, says he’s not sur­prised by the re­sult of McGran­dle’s re­search. Not only does it align with some of the find­ings of his own work on a re­lated sub­ject — he co-au­thored a book chap­ter that looked at the re­la­tion­ship be­tween po­lit­i­cal staffers and pub­lic ser­vants un­der Harper — but it re­flects what he wit­nessed first­hand as di­rec­tor of pol­icy in the prime min­is­ter’s of­fice from 2009 to 2011.While cer­tain per­son­al­i­ties and de­part­ments in the pub­lic ser­vice may have clashed with Harper’s gov­ern­ment — it’s hard to for­get the af­fec­tion­ate mob­bing of newly elected Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau by for­eign af­fairs of­fi­cials — Wil­son said re­la­tions be­tween both par­ties were “gen­er­ally good.”He’s read­ily ad­mits he’s far from an un­bi­ased ob­server but of­fered his ac­count of a re­la­tion­ship about which many have spec­u­lated but few ex­pe­ri­enced di­rectly.“One crit­i­cism I heard about prime min­is­ter Harper was that he didn’t lis­ten to the pub­lic ser­vice.”In fact, said Wil­son, Harper read ev­ery sin­gle memo that came his way, cover to cover.“He wanted ad­vice from the pub­lic ser­vice, he care­fully con­sid­ered the ad­vice from the pub­lic ser­vice, and then he made a de­ci­sion on things — and some­times he agreed, and some­times he didn’t.“I think that was a sig­nif­i­cant thing for the pub­lic ser­vice, to know that they could al­ways get in­for­ma­tion to the prime min­is­ter and that he would al­ways take it se­ri­ously.”Wil­son also noted that di­rect in­ter­ac­tions be­tween the low- and mid-level bu­reau­crats who make up the ma­jor­ity of the pub­lic ser­vice and their po­lit­i­cal lead­ers are lim­ited.“Most pub­lic ser­vants don’t in­ter­act with the po­lit­i­cal types — they don’t meet the min­is­ter, they don’t meet the po­lit­i­cal staff … so most peo­ple know the po­lit­i­cal side through what they read in the me­dia and things fil­ter­ing down from peo­ple who are en­gag­ing di­rectly.”The ex­tent to which po­lit­i­callead­er­ship ac­tu­ally has an im­pact on job sat­is­fac­tion among pub­lic ser­vants was not a re­la­tion­ship McGran­dle was able to in­ves­ti­gate di­rectly in her re­search for the ar­ti­cle, as it wasn’t raised in the Pub­lic Ser­vice Em­ployee Sur­vey.“I think there’s cer­tainly an ar­gu­ment for look­ing at that,” she said. “How sat­is­fied are pub­lic ser­vice em­ploy­ees; does it re­ally have to do with who is in power? And maybe their own po­lit­i­cal lean­ings, or just how that party or leader hap­pens to treat the pub­lic ser­vice?”Fur­ther, McGran­dle wasn’t able to mea­sure pre-Harper job sat­is­fac­tion as the ques­tion she used to mea­sure the vari­able wasn’t asked on the 2005 PSES. Nor has she had a chance to look at the re­sults of the 2017 PSES, the first con­ducted un­der the cur­rent Lib­eral gov­ern­ment.“Maybe we saw a de­crease or an in­crease un­der Justin Trudeau, I have no idea.”In her ar­ti­cle, McGran­dle did iden­tify a num­ber of vari­ables most likely to have the largest im­pact on lev­els of job sat­is­fac­tion among Cana­dian fed­eral pub­lic ser­vants, from a list of per­sonal char­ac­ter­is­tics (age, gen­der, level of ed­u­ca­tion, vis­i­ble-mi­nor­itysta­tus), job char­ac­ter­is­tics ( job fit with skills, in­ter­ests, lev­els of train­ing and op­por­tu­ni­ties for pro­mo­tion), and or­ga­ni­za­tional char­ac­ter­is­tics (sat­is­fac­tion with su­pe­ri­ors and pos­i­tive re­la­tion­ships with co-work­ers).Ex­plor­ing this area is im­por­tant for pol­icy-mak­ers, she rea­soned, given the po­ten­tial link be­tween im­proved job sat­is­fac­tion, in­creases in or­ga­ni­za­tional per­for­mance, and low­ered costs that can re­sult from ab­sen­teeism and em­ployee turnover.Wil­son also pointed out that sat­is­fied bu­reau­crats are an im­por­tant re­cruit­ment tool.“We want to be able to re­cruit ex­cel­lent peo­ple into the pub­lic ser­vice, and if peo­ple feel that it’s a dead end, or that they aren’t lis­tened to, then who’s go­ing to want to work there?”McGran­dle found that the strong­est de­ter­mi­nant of job sat­is­fac­tion was job fit with the re­spon­dents’ in­ter­ests. The sec­ond strong­est de­ter­mi­nant was the re­spon­dents’ view of their re­la­tion­ship with their su­per­vi­sor, fol­lowed by their re­la­tion­ships with co-work­ers and job fit with their skills.

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