Public service hiring up, but report finds manager, employee concerns around feds’ new staffing process

As I am in the process of analyzing the impact on visible minority appointments of the 2016 New Appointment Policy (providing more flexibility for non-advertised staffing processes), found this coverage of the PSC annual report of interest:

Although a recent government report shows fairly substantial growth in the federal public service, as well as an increase in the promotion rate within the service for the sixth year in a row, there are concerns among both managers and employees around a new staffing policy—as well as perceptions of fairness around hiring.

The Public Service Commission tabled its 2018-19 annual report on Feb. 6, which found that hiring was up 4.6 per cent across the public service with close to 60,000 hires in the fiscal year. Slightly more than 8,000 of those hires were from the federal student work experience program, with slightly less than 5,400 from the post-secondary co-op/internship program.

But the report also found that according to a “staffing and non-partisanship” survey (SNPS), 87.9 per cent of managers find a new staffing policy framework “burdensome,” that only 53.8 per cent of employees say people hired in their unit can do their job, and only 46.4 per cent of employees viewed staffing as fair.

“We weren’t surprised that the results were a little bit lower than we would want them to be, said Patrick Borbey, president of the Public Service Commission in an interview with The Hill Times.“There was a lot of change in the system and there was still a fair amount of confusion or adjusting to the new reality, both on the part of employees, as well as on the part of managers.”

The New Direction in Staffing (NDS) was introduced in 2016, which the government called“the most significant change to the staffing system we have seen in over 10 years.”

Designed to promote more variety in the hiring processes, “agile approaches” to staffing and policies, allow for more room for managers to apply their own judgment when staffing, as well as “increase focus on outcomes, including the quality of the person hired, and less on process,” the report highlights how the NDS reduces times to staff, makes it easier for candidates to find public service jobs, as well as modernizing recruitment tools like GC Jobs.

“As you can see in the results, managers continue to think that the staffing system is too complicated, too lengthy,” said Mr. Borbey. “However, when it comes to merit, managers had a very different perspective on the issue than employees, because they felt that by and large, the people that they were hiring did meet the requirements of the position.”

“So it’s a bit in the eye of the beholder,” said Mr. Borbey. “Obviously, if you’re an employee who was hoping for a promotion and didn’t get it, then you might question as to whether the process was fair, transparent and led to merit.”

“But one of the things that we’ve we did a little bit more digging on is to make a link between employees’ perception and managers being comfortable in terms of applying the flexibilities of the new regime and communicating both their intentions as well as the results to employees,” said Mr. Borbey. “And we did see a certain correlation—those departments where managers seem to be more comfortable with the change, and perhaps could speak more completely about their intentions and the justifications behind their results, their departments had higher levels of satisfaction on the part of employees.”

Mr. Borbey said he thinks it’s a question of a transition within the system, as well as providing the right tools to mangers to be able to properly plan and communicate their intentions and decisions around staffing.

“The other thing that we wanted to check, is whether there was, in fact, a change in terms of merit being applied in staffing processes,” said Mr. Borbey, which prompted a system-wide compliance audit following the survey.

“The results that we got were extremely high,” said Mr. Borbey. “[There] was a 95 plus per cent compliance rate, and in those cases where there was not compliance with merit, at the end of the day, we’re down to errors of interpretation on the part of managers, particularly when it came to applying preference for Canadian citizens or for veterans.

“And so we felt that that was a pretty good result that indicated that, notwithstanding the perceptions, merit is being preserved across the system.”

Mr. Borbey said the government will be conducting their next round of surveys in the spring, and said they’ve taken steps to modify the survey to better capture more information that will be valuable for future planning.

Stan Lee, vice-president of oversight and investigations with the public service commission, said one of the things they observed in the previous survey, was that there was an association between organizations that had hiring managers who understood NDS and the perception of fairness.”

“So an organization that has hiring managers that understand the new direction in staffing really well generally have employees who have a higher perception of merit in the staffing system,” said Mr. Lee. “We were interested by this, so we added an additional question to employees, as well as to hiring managers, and one of the questions we want to ask hiring managers, is whether they feel comfortable explaining their staffing decisions to their employees.”

“The reason why we’re adding this, is because hiring managers who have a poor understanding of NDS may have difficulties explaining their staffing decision to employees, and employees walk away unsatisfied or dissatisfied with the answers that they’ve been provided,” said Mr. Lee. “We’re going to be asking employees as well whether or not they believe that job opportunities are well communicated in their organization, and whether they feel they are being kept well-informed by their hiring managers regarding staffing decisions.”

Mr. Borbey also noted that the government uses investigations as a way to provide the commission with a sense of how satisfied or unsatisfied people are with the staffing system.

“Notwithstanding the important changes we made to the system a couple of years ago, we haven’t seen a big bump in terms of the number of cases that are referred to us with allegations that either managers or individuals committed fraud or mistakes or other issues related to the staffing system,” said Mr. Borbey. “We’re monitoring those results as well to make sure that again, we make whatever changes we can if we’re seeing any trends from an investigations perspective.”

Perception of staffing fairness highest in Northern regions

According to the SNPS, managers who indicated that the administrative process to staff positions in their organizations is burdensome was highest in both Quebec (excluding the National Capital Region) and in British Columbia, at 92 per cent each.

However, 62 per cent of managers in the National Capital Region (NCR) and in Quebec (excluding the NCR) indicated that the NDS has improved staffing in their organization, with managers in British Columbia coming in at the low end at 43 per cent.

In terms of fairness, employees in Nunavut, the Northwest Territories and the Yukon, 58 per cent of employees surveyed indicated that staffing activities are conducted fairly in their work unit, compared to 37 per cent in Ontario (excluding the NCR)—and 46 per cent public service-wide.

According to the commission’s report, as of March 31, 2019, hiring in all regions outside of the National Capital Region combined increased by 6.2 per cent, and the total population (indeterminate, term, casual and student) was up across all regions except Nunavut.

Despite this growth according to the report, the regional population as a percentage of the workforce has been in decline, from 56 per cent five years ago to 53 per cent in 2018-19.

In 2018–19, 69.1 per cent of all external indeterminate and term hires from advertised processes were of applicants from outside the National Capital Region. This share has been steadily decreasing since 2013–14, when it was 79 per cent.

Source: Public service hiring up, but report finds manager, employee concerns around feds’ new staffing process

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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