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.”

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.