Global surveys show that public service is synonymous with high job satisfaction

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

The APS Census routinely taps into employee attitudes about job performance, engagement, leadership, and personal well-being. For example, 81% of respondents from 2021 service-wide results said their workgroup had the right skills, abilities, and knowledge to perform well, and 83% strongly believed 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 around the world also reveals a high degree of satisfaction among public sector employees. Here is a summary of the results of the Public Service Survey in three countries – New Zealand, Canada and the United States. How do they compare to the Australian experience?

New Zealand

New Zealand government employees report high levels of job satisfaction. Almost 40,000 civil servants from 36 government agencies responded to the New Zealand Civil Service Commission’s latest survey, with 84% saying they wanted to continue working in the civil service because they consider their work contributes positively to their communities.

“Civil servants are building their capacity to engage with Maori and are supported by their agencies to do so,” the census found. “Nearly one in four public servants said they could have a conversation about many everyday things in a second language.

The New Zealand civil service also has a growing number of female leaders. The 2021 census reported the number of female leaders at 53.5%, up from 39.8% in 2010.

CEO roles are almost perfectly gender balanced, with women occupying 51% of the top positions. Women held only 30% of leadership positions in 2014.

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


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

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

Bosses received high marks for the way they managed their staff, with 82% of employees saying they were satisfied with their supervision. This was up from 79% in 2019.

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

Eighty-four percent of employees believed their departments were doing a good job informing them of available mental health services and resources. A similar number of employees (81%) said they were satisfied with their department’s health and safety measures during the pandemic.

Canadian government departments and agencies have received elephant stamps from staff for presentation, timeliness and relevance of COVID-19 related information. Consistency in messaging from the department and their immediate supervisor was clearly noted by 81% of respondents, with 78% indicating that 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 Treasury Department’s 2021 Federal Employee Views Survey, based on nearly 16,000 responses, echoes New Zealand and Canada’s job satisfaction results.

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

Employees seemed satisfied with the flexibility of their work, with 87% of respondents being satisfied that their supervisor had supported 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 agency goals.

Teamwork was considered a strength at the Treasury Department, with 85% of respondents saying their colleagues cooperated to achieve organizational goals.

Most respondents (84%) indicated that their supervisors had committed to having a workplace representative in all segments of the community.

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

What about staff who feel a sense of personal accomplishment? Just over 73% say they are satisfied with the work they do.

That doesn’t mean there were all happy campers though. When asked how low performers were handled, only 46% believed people were treated appropriately if they were underperforming.

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