Spare a Public Service Story?

APEX, or the Association of Professional Executives of the Public Service of Canada (phew! that was a mouthful) has asked me to speak at their 2007 Annual Symposium, which has been themed – Public Service Matters: Says Who? They’ve entitle my talk “Does the Public Service Matter to Generation Y?”

My work from last year has lead me to conclude that while it remains unclear if the Public Service has a hard time attracting recruits, it definitely has a hard time retaining people. For example, when the public service sent out a survey to new hires to assess job satisfaction, almost 10% of respondents had already departed. More importantly, there is clearly a generational divide… new hires under 30 say they are more likely to leave than those over 30 (37% vs 22%).One piece I intend to talk about is how Gen Yers do care about public service, they just don’t necessarily want to be part of the public service. A decision made easier given all the options they now have to directly engage on issues they care about.I’d love to hear from other Gen Yers out there both in and outside of the public service. If you are so inclined please send me your story about why you love working in the public service, or why you left/dislike it. Please feel free to post it, or if you’d prefer to, you can email me directly.[tags]APEX, Government, Bureaucracy[/tags]

8 thoughts on “Spare a Public Service Story?

  1. Brian Critz

    in the service of analytical rigor, it would be nice to know what the economy-wide or private sector intention-to-leave rates are for under-30 vs. over-30. My bet is that 20somethings in every profession leave their jobs much much more than those in their 30s. or to compare the gen-y attitudes vs gen x or boomer rates when those generations were in their 20s.

    One of my personal pet peeves is people making generalizations about a generation group based on their behavior that is perfectly reasonable for their life stage at that time (for instance, boomers were self-obsessed when they were 20 in 1969; Xers were out of work when they were 20 during the recession of 1991).

    Reply
  2. David Eaves Post author

    Hi Brian – completely agree with you…
    I’ve been trying to find that data myself.

    Gen Y’s behaviour is perfectly reasonable given their life choices – but understand that boomers and their parents weren’t as self-actualizing when they were in their 20s… most were married with kids.

    The problem is that the public service was designed in the 1950’s when people were less footloose. Your average 20 year male as married and had a child (can you believe that!) and so were incented and acting how a 35 year old is likely to act today.

    Part of the challenge is that the federal public service:

    1) it no longer appeals to many people in their 20s (too risk averse, doesn’t provide externally interesting skills, too inflexible/hierarchical, its employees are too removed from the impact of their work)

    2) doesn’t know how to let go of people in a constructive manner (encourage people to seek experiences elsewhere in the hopes they may one day come back)

    3) doesn’t manage people well (this is a function of its hierarchical structure and the fact that it hasn’t moved from seeing a world of labour over-supply to a world of labour under-supply)

    4) it hires people mid-career in a punitive way, failing to recognize the value of external experience.

    Reply
  3. Brian Critz

    in the service of analytical rigor, it would be nice to know what the economy-wide or private sector intention-to-leave rates are for under-30 vs. over-30. My bet is that 20somethings in every profession leave their jobs much much more than those in their 30s. or to compare the gen-y attitudes vs gen x or boomer rates when those generations were in their 20s.One of my personal pet peeves is people making generalizations about a generation group based on their behavior that is perfectly reasonable for their life stage at that time (for instance, boomers were self-obsessed when they were 20 in 1969; Xers were out of work when they were 20 during the recession of 1991).

    Reply
  4. David Eaves

    Hi Brian – completely agree with you… I’ve been trying to find that data myself. Gen Y’s behaviour is perfectly reasonable given their life choices – but understand that boomers and their parents weren’t as self-actualizing when they were in their 20s… most were married with kids.The problem is that the public service was designed in the 1950’s when people were less footloose. Your average 20 year male as married and had a child (can you believe that!) and so were incented and acting how a 35 year old is likely to act today.Part of the challenge is that the federal public service:1) it no longer appeals to many people in their 20s (too risk averse, doesn’t provide externally interesting skills, too inflexible/hierarchical, its employees are too removed from the impact of their work)2) doesn’t know how to let go of people in a constructive manner (encourage people to seek experiences elsewhere in the hopes they may one day come back)3) doesn’t manage people well (this is a function of its hierarchical structure and the fact that it hasn’t moved from seeing a world of labour over-supply to a world of labour under-supply)4) it hires people mid-career in a punitive way, failing to recognize the value of external experience.

    Reply
  5. Amiel Blajchman

    I would also add to your thoughts that the public service’s “merit-based” promotion system rewards test-taking and interview abilities rather than in-job performance. When trying to get a promotion, even internally, one must compete for the job. While on one hand a very laudable goal, there is too little encouragement of managers to recognize effort and initiative of employees and reward them through promotions (a fairly common occurrence in the private sector!).

    Without a public service that rewards exceptional effort, exceptional employees will move to organizations that recognize that effort.

    Reply
  6. Amiel Blajchman

    I would also add to your thoughts that the public service’s “merit-based” promotion system rewards test-taking and interview abilities rather than in-job performance. When trying to get a promotion, even internally, one must compete for the job. While on one hand a very laudable goal, there is too little encouragement of managers to recognize effort and initiative of employees and reward them through promotions (a fairly common occurrence in the private sector!).Without a public service that rewards exceptional effort, exceptional employees will move to organizations that recognize that effort.

    Reply
  7. ALo

    Another comment that will underscore the paucity of facts in this entire discussion or my ignorance of the facts if someone has laid them out somewhere: I’m not even clear if a)people are leaving, b) if so, who the leavers actually are and c) if it’s even really a problem. I cringe at the idea of doing anything to “tranform” a situation that we (or maybe it’s just I!) don’t even have a clear fact base about.

    A few questions I’d love to see answers on if anyone has them (I’m sure the data are available – I’ve never really looked):

    1. How many people are actually leaving? For example, the 2005 public service survey indicates that the #1 reason people leave the public service is retirement. This may suggest people aren’t really leaving in the “droves” that we think they are.

    2. Even if lots of people are leaving, what is the profile of these people? Is it even across the board, or only in small group of public servants (i.e., the white collar professionals that seem to be what people are actually talking about are only about 15% of the total public service I think). I think implicit in a lot of these transformation efforts, driven by this 15%, is that it’s the 15% that need the attention.

    3. Even if people are leaving, is this statistically more or less than you see in other organizations? My hypothesis would be less.

    4. Even if it is more, is this necessarily bad? In listening to the discussions on this topic, I always sense their twinged with a panic-filled “how do we get people to STAAAY??” Personally, I’d rather have a public service that brings people in at various stages of their careers, with various backgrounds and experiences then a public service full of people who joined and stayed forever.

    If some 25 year-old comes to Ottawa, works for a few years, then decides to go do something else, I say, “great! Spread your wings!” However, the Gov needs to figure out a way to stay connected and relevant to those people so it can call them to service again in another capacity.

    I have always believed that organizations like Canada25, by building a network of people who care about public policy and are passionate about building their country, but may or may not work in the Public Service, is a great organization to do this with. Unfortunately, we have struggled to find people in the federal government who felt the same way.

    ———-

    As an aside, I would also encourage anyone in government who is on one of these task forces to renew the public service to read some of the management literature on talent attraction and retention (which they may very well be doing – I don’t know because I’m not involved personally). Below is a link to a post by a guy whose blog I enjoy, Bob Sutton. I think his point #2 raises some things to think about.

    http://discussionleader.hbsp.com/sutton/2007/04/the_war_for_talent_is_back.html

    Reply
  8. ALo

    Another comment that will underscore the paucity of facts in this entire discussion or my ignorance of the facts if someone has laid them out somewhere: I’m not even clear if a)people are leaving, b) if so, who the leavers actually are and c) if it’s even really a problem. I cringe at the idea of doing anything to “tranform” a situation that we (or maybe it’s just I!) don’t even have a clear fact base about. A few questions I’d love to see answers on if anyone has them (I’m sure the data are available – I’ve never really looked):1. How many people are actually leaving? For example, the 2005 public service survey indicates that the #1 reason people leave the public service is retirement. This may suggest people aren’t really leaving in the “droves” that we think they are.2. Even if lots of people are leaving, what is the profile of these people? Is it even across the board, or only in small group of public servants (i.e., the white collar professionals that seem to be what people are actually talking about are only about 15% of the total public service I think). I think implicit in a lot of these transformation efforts, driven by this 15%, is that it’s the 15% that need the attention. 3. Even if people are leaving, is this statistically more or less than you see in other organizations? My hypothesis would be less.4. Even if it is more, is this necessarily bad? In listening to the discussions on this topic, I always sense their twinged with a panic-filled “how do we get people to STAAAY??” Personally, I’d rather have a public service that brings people in at various stages of their careers, with various backgrounds and experiences then a public service full of people who joined and stayed forever.If some 25 year-old comes to Ottawa, works for a few years, then decides to go do something else, I say, “great! Spread your wings!” However, the Gov needs to figure out a way to stay connected and relevant to those people so it can call them to service again in another capacity.I have always believed that organizations like Canada25, by building a network of people who care about public policy and are passionate about building their country, but may or may not work in the Public Service, is a great organization to do this with. Unfortunately, we have struggled to find people in the federal government who felt the same way.———-As an aside, I would also encourage anyone in government who is on one of these task forces to renew the public service to read some of the management literature on talent attraction and retention (which they may very well be doing – I don’t know because I’m not involved personally). Below is a link to a post by a guy whose blog I enjoy, Bob Sutton. I think his point #2 raises some things to think about.http://discussionleader.hbsp.com/sutton/2007/04

    Reply

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