Best employers: Public sector jobs aren’t all they’re cracked up to be

Pay, benefits and pension may be handcuffing public servants to their careers


Great pay, gold-plated pensions and ironclad job security, aren’t, it turns out, as hot as they sound. Canada’s public servants are more dissatisfied, on a long list of criteria—among them, motivation, recognition, career opportunities and leadership—than all other employment sectors, including the private sector, not-for-profit organizations and publicly traded companies, according to Aon-Hewitt. “It doesn’t surprise me,” says David Eaves, a Vancouver public policy expert and consultant on issues concerning the civil service. “You can be making good money, but if you feel you are making good money filling a hole you had to dig—that can actually be really frustrating.”

Only 40 per cent of public servants, for example, agree with the statement: “The way we manage performance here enables me to contribute as much as possible to our organization’s success,” compared to 58 per cent for private sector workers; and just 46 per cent believe “work processes in place allow me to be as productive as possible,” compared to 59 per cent for the not-for-profit sector. It’s a networked world now, says Eaves, but public servants are stuck in a rigid, hierarchal structure, requiring three levels of approvals for a single meeting. And when it comes to resources, he adds, the tools many use for sharing information in the private sector—Google Docs, Twitter, SurveyMonkey—are blocked. “You have an entire generation of public servants who are now more effective at accomplishing jobs in their personal life than in their professional life.”

Eaves believes that pay, benefits and pension end up handcuffing public servants to careers where they lack impact and recognition. “If you were the mail person in a law firm or newspaper and you had a killer idea,” says Eaves, it takes one to five days to share that idea with the managing partner, or editor. “But for a policy analyst to get his killer idea to the deputy minister or the minister,” he says, it takes “months to never.”

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Best employers: Public sector jobs aren’t all they’re cracked up to be

  1. As a cdn. c.a. dealing with various gov’t departments on a regular basis,i.e, public works(export permits), I am not aware of any “killer ideas” they may have. They struggle to perform their basic job in a timely efficient manner, and very few could succeed in the private sector.

    • You haven’t dealt with the many (majority) of capable and intelligent employees then. Or, maybe you’re one of the people who just can’t understand it or accept it when you don’t get your way, when public works people insist on following rules of fairness and open-ness, etc. I see I all the time when some senior private sector manager tries to push around an average civil servant like an abused junior staff. We deal with this constantly and try to stay calm, put up ‘the wall’ and go about doing the work of the government as well as possible. 

      We are extremely wary of speaking openly with private individuals and companies because the same people who one day will be your “friend” will the next day contact the press or the minister’s office to have you crucified. So you would not be privy to any initiative or new proposals.Meanwhile, the article is dead on with so many points. The risk-aversion is awful – no one wants to be on any kind of a list. Since the conservatives have been running things it’s gotten much, much worse. Senior execs are fearful to the point that there’s a report for everything, and many things have to go through multiple layers of approval.Bright and capable people just get worn down after a while. I’ve been working for the feds for 25 years, have seen it all, do my job as well as possible but go home more or less defeated many days. I pour my energies into my community and outside activities and that helps.

  2. I’m a young go-getter type of person with a lot of experience in the private sector, and I thought I was bringing that to the table when I got involved in what seemed to be a fun job in the public sector a few years ago… but now I’m sad to agree with this article, I feel well-paid to fill holes all day and I’m about as motivated as a dead skunk waiting to be scooped out of the way…  The perks are definitely keeping me where I am (a responsible person with 3 kids wouldn’t dump them so easily, not in today’s world) but at the end of the day, I’m more satisfied with the dishes that I cleaned than the boring repetitive stuff I do all day long.

  3. Here’s another example of outdated rules: There’s no way to do any kind of e-discussion in our office. IT rules prevent any kind of send-to-all emailings, there’s no bulletin board and no discussions system. In other words if I want to send out an email to all staff telling them we are having cake for the boss’s birthday, it has to go through an approval process with the communications people first, and then depending on how wide an audience might need to be translated, and finally the IT people need to release it. For cake.

    You can see how people just sort of give up after a while.

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