Focusing on the money is a tried-and-true tactic by politicians to turn public sentiments against striking government workers when the real issues lie deep in a morass of unhealthy workplace conditions and a disregard for employees emotional health that ultimately results in uneven service to you.
The latest example is the current national strike by Public Service Alliance of Canada federal government employees in Canada.
Some may think that Canada’s striking public sector workers are a lucky bunch who have cushy jobs and are now after bigger bucks that taxpayers like you will pay for. After all, as a Canadian like me you likely have experienced frustration at getting a federal government employee to quickly respond to your needs, felt the squeeze of red-tape, and screamed at incomprehensible forms to complete (your choice French or English) for a simple and urgent question.
The latest Angus Reid poll (April 27, 2023, https://angusreid.org/psac-cra-strike-canada-unions-overpaid-underpaid/) shows that 45% of Canadians agree that federal employees “have it much better than those with similar jobs in the private sector.” In addition, the poll shows that 28% of Canadian think that federal government employees are overpaid, while 36% agree that they are fairly compensated.
Federal politicians are relying on a knee-jerk public anger at about 155,000 “non-essential” striking Public Service Alliance of Canada members shutting down services including immigration services, including applications for Permanent Residency, getting a passport, the personal taxation office at today’s tax time, Veteran Affairs Canada, and Indigenous Services Canada.
When I served as an Associate Deputy Minister in the provincial government of B.C., reporting to the Premier and cabinet, the strategy to deal with striking government-paid employees was simple. “Make it about the money.” Politicians know that the public generally feels that government workers are on easy-street with fat pensions, and who do who-know-what during the day. Politicians know that if a union exposed issues such as toxic working conditions that made proper service to the public an impossibility, or even worse, hurt public health and safety, then public sentiments would quickly shift to employee needs who serve public needs.
So let me to peel back some of the hidden facts about Canadian federal government workplaces, all provided by the bi-annual Public Service Employee Survey, an in-depth national poll of federal government employees that is rarely read, generally ignored by politicians, and whose existence is a mystery to Canadians (https://www.canada.ca/en/treasury-board-secretariat/services/innovation/public-service-employee-survey/2020.html). The survey exposes opinions of about 188,000 federal government employees and 87 federal departments.
Here’s what the latest results from November 20, 2020, to January 2021 show. Employees rate the following workplace conditions as more negative than positive in answering the questions about what causes stress at work and what reduces the quality of work:
- Too many approval stages,
- Constantly changing priorities,
- Unreasonable deadlines,
- High staff turnover,
- Lack of stability in my department,
- Overly complicated or unnecessary business processes,
- Unreliable technology, and
- Having to do the same or more work, but with fewer resources.
The above are just a partial list. Some departments are far worse than others. The 2020 public service employees survey shows that 43% of employees at Public Safety Canada, the place that protects you from harm and danger, give a negative rating to “too many approval stages” while only 27% give it a positive rating; 44% of workers at the Canada Border Services Agency feel their work suffers from “constantly changing priorities” while only 25% give it a positive rating; and 56% of employees at Women and Gender Equality Canada agree that their work suffers because of “constantly changing priorities,” while only 15% rate it as positive.
The net negative ratings of federal government workplaces are a long list including Correctional Services Canada (dealing with prisoners), the Public Health Agency of Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada where employees feel emotionally drained after a days work.
So, as you watch the TV news of striking federal government employees, maybe you might consider that if you were in a workplace where at least 28 different departments get failing grades for managing change, have workplaces rated by employees as psychology unhealthy, and can’t succeed at making effective and timely decisions, then maybe you too would reach a boiling point.
It’s not always about the money. Often, it is about the leadership from the top that puts up with toxic workplace conditions that drive employees to the edge.