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Global surveys show public service equals high job satisfaction

Public sector employee surveys help government officials determine if staff are satisfied and what weaknesses need to be addressed to improve workplaces.

The APS census regularly taps into employee attitudes on workplace performance, engagement, leadership and personal wellbeing. For instance, 81% of respondents in the service-wide 2021 results said their workgroup had the appropriate skills, capabilities and knowledge to perform well, and 83% believed strongly in their agency’s purpose. The overall wellbeing index score was 68% – down from 70% in 2020 but up from 67% in 2019.

Data from various governments worldwide also reveal a high degree of satisfaction among public sector employees. Here is a summary of public service survey results in three countries – New Zealand, Canada and the United States. How do they compare with the Australian experience?

New Zealand

New Zealand government workers report a high level of work satisfaction. Almost 40,000 public servants from 36 government bodies responded to the New Zealand Public Service Commission’s most recent survey, with 84% saying they were keen to stay working in the public service because they see their work as contributing positively to their communities.

“Public servants are building their capability to engage with Māori and are being supported by their agencies to do so,” the census found. “Nearly one in four public servants said they could have a conversation about a lot of everyday things in a second language.”

New Zealand’s public service also has an increasing number of women leaders. The 2021 census reported the number of women leaders at 53.5% – up from 39.8% in 2010.

Chief executive roles are almost perfectly balanced between genders, with women holding 51% of top jobs. Women held just 30% of executive positions in 2014.

Wages also increased in New Zealand’s government sector, with the average salary rising from $84,500 in 2020 to $87,600 last year.


The 2020 Public Service Employee Survey in Canada polled 87 organisations and 188,786 employees (a response rate of 61%).

Canadian public servants were happy with their roles, with 78% reporting a sense of job satisfaction – up from 76% in 2019. Satisfaction with the department or agency jumped from 71% in 2019 to 75% in 2020.

The bosses received a big tick for how they managed their staff, with 82% of employees saying they were satisfied with their supervision. That was up from 79% in 2019.

Pandemic issues dominated this survey of Canadian public servants. It found that seven in 10 respondents believed their departments were doing enough to support their mental health during the pandemic.

Eighty-four per cent of employees believed their departments were doing a good job letting them know what mental health services and resources were available. A similar number of employees (81%) said they were pleased with their departments’ health and safety measures during the pandemic.

Canadian government departments and agencies got elephant stamps from staff when it came to the presentation, timeliness and relevance of COVID-19 related information. Consistency of messaging from the department and their immediate supervisor was clearly noticed by 81% of respondents with 78% indicating the information was clear and easy to understand.

Many Canadian public servants (68%) said their workplace was psychologically healthy. In 2019, the employee psychological health approval rating was 61%.

United States

The US Department of Treasury’s 2021 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, based on almost 16,000 responses, echoes results in New Zealand and Canada when it comes to job satisfaction.

A series of questions received a positive response from more than 80% of those surveyed.

Employees appeared to be happy with their job flexibility, with 87% of those surveyed satisfied that their supervisor backed them with their work-life balance issues. The same percentage of respondents said their supervisors treated them with respect and knew how their roles related to the agency objectives.

Teamwork was seen as a strength at the Department of Treasury, with 85% of those surveyed saying their colleagues cooperated to fulfil the organisation’s objectives.

Most respondents (84%) noted that their supervisors were committed to having a workplace representative in all community segments.

Eighty-four per cent of respondents said they knew precisely what was expected of them at work and 82% felt their supervisor was doing a good job.

What about staff feeling a sense of personal accomplishment? Just over 73% said they were satisfied with the work they do.

This doesn’t mean that there were all happy campers, however. When they were asked how poor performers were managed, only 46% thought that people were being dealt with appropriately if they were underperforming.

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