What would make public servants more motivated? – Canadian Government Executive

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February 27, 2013

What would make public servants more motivated?

According to the results of the 2011 federal Public Service Employee Survey, which we looked at in more detail here, Canadian public servants have recurrent grievances at work. According to responders, communication and innovations are key issues, and the competency of management leaves something to be desired.

So, what would make public servants happier at work?

The U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) recently released a report (Jan 2013) on this topic based on similar surveys taken by American federal employees. It is called Federal Employee Engagement: The Motivating Potential of Job Characteristics and Rewards, and the pdf is available here.

According to the report, motivation can be linked to the following job characteristics: skill variety, task identity, task significance, autonomy, and feedback. What this means is that employees enjoy being able to use a variety of skills to complete a single task, and to know why the task is significant. Employees also enjoy being able to make independent decisions while receiving job performance feedback.

This report finds that among American federal employees “task identity” was the most lacking. In other words, employees were not able to finish projects to the end, and they disliked this. According to the report, “It appears that many federal employees perceive their jobs as being one part of a larger job rather than entailing a complete set of tasks that comprise a single start-to-finish function.” In part, this stems from the systems in place in government departments; no one can finish everything alone.

The report also addressed what agencies can do to improve job satisfaction. It suggests giving employees more responsibility and independence and allowing for job rotation. These suggestions are supposed to motivate employees by giving them more varied work and the chance to learn new skill sets. Potentially, it will also make employees feel more engaged with their coworkers, and give everyone a personal sense of accomplishment when a group task is completed.

This report uses American data, but given the similarities in job dissatisfaction this side of the border, these suggestions for improving public service workplaces could be adopted here in Canada. Managers interested in improving public service wellbeing can focus on making sure that employees have the freedom to finish their own work. It’s more rewarding to feel independent. Or, if this isn’t possible, help employees to feel engaged with the rest of the team. Shared responsibilities mean shared successes, and a stronger team to boot.

What do you think? What motivates you to work harder? Tell us in the comments!

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