Summary of the Evaluation of the Public Service Employee Survey

Internal Audit and Evaluation Bureau, Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat

Survey description

  • The Public Service Employee Survey (PSES) has been conducted every three years since 1999. It collects public service employees’ opinions on their engagement, leadership, workforce and workplace.
  • In 2014, 182,165 public service employees in 93 departments and agencies completed the survey.
  • To deliver the 2014 PSES, the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat spent $2.3 million in salaries and services, of which $1.2 million was paid to Statistics Canada, which administered the survey.

Evaluation scope and methodology

  • The evaluation examined the PSES from its inception in 1999 to 2014 but focused on the 2014 PSES, in particular, program design, activities, outputs and immediate outcomes.
  • Performance, relevance, and alternative approaches to design and delivery were examined.
  • The evaluation was based on multiple sources of evidence:
    • a review of PSES foundational documents
    • a trend analysis of PSES results
    • an examination of public service employee surveys in Canada’s provinces and territories, and in the US, the UK and Australia
    • interviews with deputy heads, Secretariat executives and other stakeholders
    • a survey of primary users (PSES departmental champions and heads of human resources)

Evaluation constraints and limitations

  • Employee perspectives are not represented in the evaluation other than those of union representatives.
  • Non-participating departments and agencies were represented by one interviewee from a small agency.
  • Jurisdictions were reluctant to release expenditures.
  • Changes to response scales limited the trend analysis that could be performed on PSES historical results.

Program outcomes

  • Improvements lead to a high-performing and engaged public service that delivers on government priorities now and in the future.

Performance measures

  • Extent to which PSES results inform decisions about people management

Evaluation findings

Need for program remains – Yes

  • The PSES fulfills a critical need to regularly assess employees’ engagement and their views on key aspects of their jobs and their workplace.

Program aligns with government priorities and Secretariat roles and responsibilities – Yes

  • Ministerial mandate letters support public service effectiveness, productivity and well-being. Budget 2016 supports evidence-based improvements through the use of employee surveys.

Performance: Immediate and intermediate outcomes being met; some changes needed to achieve long-term outcome

  • The PSES offers valuable insight into employees’ opinions on their engagement, workforce, workplace and leadership, and it helps identify concerns in these areas.
  • Actions taken to address identified concerns are evident.
  • Government-wide results show some positive change over time, but they show negative and little to no change in several areas.
  • The PSES is effectively designed and administered, and there have been continuous efforts to improve it. There are, however, four significant concerns:
    • the frequency of the PSES’s iterations
    • the time lag between fieldwork and the release of results
    • limitations in the analysis of PSES data
    • adequacy of government-wide support to address identified issues


  • The Secretariat should develop a strategy to proactively address government-wide issues highlighted in the PSES results. Such a strategy should include the Secretariat:
    • playing a stronger leadership role in government-wide initiatives for change while respecting individual deputy head accountabilities
    • bringing greater consequences to departments and agencies regarding their PSES performance, depending on their level of improvement
    • taking specific actions to address those issues that could benefit from government-wide intervention.
  • The Secretariat should develop a plan to enhance the PSES program that addresses the following:
    • providing timelier insights to departments and agencies on employee engagement, the workplace, the workforce and leadership issues
    • facilitating ongoing consultation with organizations and continual improvement of survey tools and products
    • enabling a wider range of analysis, including collecting additional targeted data
    • ensuring that the PSES represents the state of the art in survey methodology and remains pertinent to key user and stakeholder groups

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