Public Sector
November 5, 2012

The impact of work on executive health

In October 2012, the Association of Professional Executives of the Public Service of Canada (APEX) launched its fourth executive work and health survey.  

Promoting the health and well-being of federal public service executives has been a primary strategic objective of APEX for more than 15 years. In October, all executives in the federal public service, including both those in the core public administration and in separate agencies, will be invited to complete APEX’s 4th EX Work and Health Survey. Survey results will provide evidence-based intelligence and unique insights into the health of federal executives and their workplaces.  

The 2012 survey follows three previous surveys on executive work and health in 1997, 2002 and 2007. The 2012 survey results will not only offer an up-to-date snapshot of executive and workplace health, but also permit identification of trends over time. APEX has worked closely with its research partner, Gap-Santé, Institute of Population Health at the University of Ottawa, on plans for the survey. Gap-Santé will be emailing the survey questionnaire to executives, receiving online responses and conducting the statistical analysis. Paper survey questionnaires are also available on request.

Selected findings
The 2007 survey results demonstrated that the physical health of executives had improved with respect to respiratory illness (smoking rates had decreased from 9% in 2002 to 6% in 2007), likely as a result of non-smoking policies. Musculo-skeletal disorders had spiked to 27% in 2007 (from 20% in 2002), probably due to ergonomic issues related to computer and Blackberry use. Cardio-vascular disease was at 20%; 32% reported a sedentary lifestyle. And 20% of executives surveyed reported having been harassed, with 55% of victims reporting that their superiors were the main source of harassment.
 
The average executive worked 52 hours per week, with 75% in the high range for fatigue. Sixty-four percent thought about leaving their organization every month or more frequently. Executives in the core public administration reported stress in higher proportions than their separate agency and private sector counterparts.  

APEX principles
APEX supports the empirically verified proposition that too much demand coupled with too little job control, and too much effort coupled with too little reward, produce stress leading to poor outcomes for both the individual and the organization. The physical and psychological health of individuals is a window into organizational health, performance and productivity. APEX also believes that executive health is a shared responsibility between individual executives and their organizations.

Performance, productivity   
In 2011, APEX members told us that they expect executive health and well-being to be a top challenge over the next one to three years (second only to the workload challenge). Health and well-being – physical, psychological and organizational – are now recognized in both public and private sectors as having potentially significant benefits such as higher performance and retention or costly consequences including loss of productivity and turnover.
 
The Fifth Report of the Prime Minister’s Advisory Committee on the Public Service, the Clerk’s Eighteenth Annual Report to the Prime Minister on the Public Service of Canada, and the Fourteenth Report of the Advisory Committee on Senior Level Compensation and Retention (2011) have all endorsed the importance of health and its relationship to engagement and productivity. Health-linked issues are also a key reason why executives seek the support of the APEX Advisory Service for Executives, a confidential service available free of charge to all federal executives at all levels across the country and abroad.

Survey participation
The federal executive survey response rate in 2007 was 40 percent. APEX is seeking an even higher response for the 2012 survey to ensure robust results and a high confidence level. An increased understanding of executive health at both the individual and organizational levels will serve as a basis for developing better workplace practices and elimination of risk factors.   

Changing the current public service culture to allow more innovation and creativity, more positive and respectful environments and more control and ownership over responsibilities are some effective ways to promote a healthier workplace. Particularly within the deficit reduction environment, there will almost certainly be greater stresses for executives that will need to be acknowledged and addressed. We know for certain that the core public administration can do better, because separate agencies and the private sector both are already doing better vis-à-vis executive health outcomes.  

APEX is looking forward to your participation in the survey. For updates, please refer to the APEX website at www.apex.gc.ca.

If you have questions about the 2012 APEX EX Work and Health Survey or did not receive a survey questionnaire, please contact Stuart Campbell, Visiting Executive (613-943-8916 or stuartc@apex.gc.ca).


Hanny Toxopeus is the CEO  of the Association of Professional Executives of the Public Service of Canada.

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The Government of Canada was the nation’s largest employer with 274,370...