Public service values and ethics

Enhancing and maintaining public trust in the institutions of government is a fundamental element of the work of the Public Service of Canada. As a manager, you have a key role in ensuring all of your responsibilities - whether for people, money or programs - are carried out in such a way that the values of the public service are upheld and that all employees maintain high ethical standards in their actions and decisions.

To guide public servants in upholding the organization's values and foster public confidence, the Treasury Board adopted the Values and Ethics Code for the Public Service (the Code) in September 2003. It is a condition of employment in the Public Service. It contains a statement of public service values and ethics, developed following extensive consultation with public servants, that highlights four fundamental families of values: democratic, professional, ethical and people values. The Code also contains conflict of interest and post employment measures, and provides avenues of resolution if there are perceived breaches to the Code or in cases of disagreement about its interpretation. Deputy Heads are accountable for ensuring the Code is implemented in their organizations, and for decisions made under the Code. As a manager, you will need to familiarize yourself with this and other related, important policies such as the Policy on the Internal Disclosure of Information Concerning Wrongdoing in the Workplace (IDP) and the Policy on the Prevention and Resolution of Harassment in the Workplace, as part of your own responsibilities to provide sound ethical advice and guidance to employees.

Managers, whose responsibility it is to exemplify public service values, must strive to create and maintain a work environment that encourages dialogue on organizational values and on the ethical dilemmas unique to their operations. As part of their planning, managers are encouraged to assess employees' level of awareness and understanding of the Code and related policies as well as the extent to which staff feel the Code is upheld and their degree of comfort in raising concerns or ethical dilemmas within the organization. Managers should also contact the Senior Official responsible for the Code within their department/agency to familiarize themselves with the organizational plan of action on values and ethics or for help determining appropriate initiatives for their own work units.

Questions to consider

  • Are all employees aware of the existence of the Code and other related policies? Do they know that the Code is a condition of employment? How do you know whether they know? What assessment instruments or procedures are in place?
  • What do you or your organization have in place to ensure new employees are aware of the Code and its significance to them as public servants? Is the Code integrated into all orientation materials, procedures and events for new employees?
  • Do employees perceive that the organization's values are practiced and standards are applied fairly to everyone? How do you know? Do you have mechanisms or procedures to obtain staff feedback on organizational performance against public service values and ethics?
  • Do you have sound advisory and recourse mechanisms in place, where employees can receive advice on ethical dilemmas, or where they can make disclosures about such things as wrongdoing or harassment in the workplace?
  • Are employees comfortable raising ethical dilemmas or making disclosures within your organization? Do they know what mechanisms exist and whom to approach within the organization when they are faced with an ethical dilemma? Are they comfortable coming to you? How do you know? What measures are in place to assess staff awareness and comfort?
  • What initiatives could be undertaken within your branch and/or the organization to assess awareness of public service values and ethics and perceptions of values and ethics in the workplace?
  • Does your organization supplement the Values and Ethics Code for the Public Service with its own customized code or guidelines, reflecting the specific challenges and dilemmas of your workplace? If not, why not?
  • What measures could be taken to increase familiarity and understanding of the Code and related policies among employees? What orientation, learning and other tools are in place?
  • What do you personally do as a manager to strengthen public service values and ethics as a reality of practice and behaviour in your organization? How do you measure progress?
  • Does your organization set targets and measure progress for workplace wellbeing, including such things as employee satisfaction and commitment?
  • As a manager, are you familiar with the Code, including its objectives, and ready to help others to better understand and apply its principles in their daily work? Are you confident that your behaviour and conduct would be seen by your colleagues and employees as embodying public service values and ethics? How do you know? What assessment procedures or techniques do you use?
  • Are you aware of the information sources and tools that exist to help you in these responsibilities?
  • Do you have a branch action plan that fits in with the organizational plan? Does your plan include a series of goal levels, planned follow-up and mechanisms to measure actual results in values and ethics, including from the point of view of stakeholders and employees?


  1. Work with the Senior Official for the Code in your department/agency to further integration initiatives including employee surveys, branch meetings, retreats, etc.

  2. Undertake dialogue with management and other colleagues to compare experiences and brainstorm ideas for initiatives with potential long term positive effects

  3. Consult the website of the Office of Public Service Values and Ethics and other related information sources for self-help tools

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