Public Service Employee Survey (PSES)

Detailed information for 2017




Every 3 years

Record number:


The primary objective of the survey is to obtain reliable and timely information on the views of all employees of the federal Public Service about their leadership, workforce and work environment. The information will be used to measure employees' perceptions of the state of people management in their organization, identify strengths and opportunities to guide organizational planning and learning, and contribute to the assessment of departmental performance. The information may also be used by Statistics Canada for other statistical and research purposes.

Data release - March 29, 2018


The Public Service Employee Survey (PSES) has been conducted every three years since 1999 to gather employee perspectives on aspects of their workplace, workforce and leadership, providing information about issues such as employee engagement, performance management, career development, and fairness and respect in the workplace. The survey results provide essential information for the Management Accountability Framework, and inform policy related to values and ethics, official languages, staffing, training, and other key people management areas.

The survey results inform managers and employees about strengths and areas for improvement at all levels within an organization. The results contribute to the understanding of people management issues, leading to action plans that may positively impact the workplace. The results also serve as a platform to initiate and maintain dialogue about key people management issues.


  • Government
  • Industries
  • Labour

Data sources and methodology

Target population

The survey targets active employees of organizations in the core public administration and of participating separate agencies listed in Schedules I, IV and V of the Financial Administration Act. Indeterminate, term, seasonal, casual and student employees, as well as Governor in Council appointees are eligible to participate.

Instrument design

The content of the 1999 survey was developed by an interdepartmental committee, led by the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, with the support of Statistics Canada. In 2002, the survey was modified extensively, retaining 39 questions from the 1999 version. The 2005 version was a duplicate of the 2002 PSES. In 2008, the survey underwent a major revision, including changes to the response scale for the majority of questions, which precluded comparisons with results from previous survey cycles. Recent questionnaires have evolved to address current issues and allow for benchmarking with other government employee surveys. The 2017 survey content was developed through extensive consultation with departments and agencies, central agencies, bargaining agents, Human Resources policy groups, functional communities, and employment equity group committees.

The 2017 questionnaire contains 119 questions: 18 new questions, 7 modified questions, and 94 questions repeated from the 2014 survey. To test the content of the 2017 questionnaire, focus group sessions were held in the National Capital Region, Winnipeg and Montréal. Participants were from various departments and agencies, and various occupational groups and levels.

As well, participating departments and agencies were given an opportunity to add up to five supplementary questions to be administered to their employees and, 16 departments did. The supplements were also tested in a series of focus groups held in each of these departments.

The 2017 questionnaire was formatted as an electronic survey (to be completed online) and as a paper survey.


This survey is a census with a cross-sectional design.

Data are collected for all units of the target population; therefore, no sampling is done.

The PSES sample frame is built from lists of employees provided by human resource services from participating organizations. In doing this, they have to provide a list of fields requested by Statistics Canada to conduct the survey and to include employees meeting the in-scope population criteria. These lists were then verified, cleaned and combined by Statistics Canada to form the final survey frame. This sampling unit is a person.

A total of 86 departments and agencies are participating in the 2017 survey.

Data sources

Data collection for this reference period: 2017-08-21 to 2017-09-29

Responding to this survey is voluntary.

Data are collected directly from survey respondents.

The Public Service Employee Survey is administered to active employees in organizations in the federal public service, for which Treasury Board is the employer, as well as in participating separate agencies. The survey is a census with voluntary participation. The collection is primarily done using an electronic questionnaire. Each department and agency is responsible for providing a complete list of email addresses for their department. Email invitations are sent to each employee with a valid email address containing a unique password to access the survey questionnaire. Reminders are sent on a weekly basis to those who have not responded to the survey. As soon as the respondent submits their completed questionnaire, the data are transferred through Statistics Canada's internal network and then decrypted for processing. Respondents have the possibility to save their partially completed questionnaire and finish it later.

Employees who do not have email addresses or access to the Internet receive paper questionnaires, which are distributed through the human resources service of their department or agency. Paper questionnaires are returned directly to Statistics Canada in a postage-paid return envelope.

View the Questionnaire(s) and reporting guide(s) .

Error detection

The data capture of the 1,215 paper questionnaires received was done using imaging and automated data entry technology. A small proportion of questionnaires, those that could not be read by the optical scanners, were captured using heads-down keying by experienced operators. Quality control measures were used to verify the error rate of the capture operations. For the Public Service Employee Survey, based on the quality control sample that was selected, it was determined that the overall data capture error rate did not exceed 0.5%.

All 178,071 paper and electronic questionnaires received were processed the same way. The data were processed by applying edit rules to identify missing, invalid or inconsistent data. Each question was examined to verify the presence of a valid code. If none was present then a "Not stated" response code of "9" was assigned. For example, an edit rule was also applied that examined the flow of data from Question xx to Question xy. Depending on the response to Question xx, superfluous data that did not respect the flow of data were eliminated and coded as a "Valid Skip".


This methodology type does not apply to this statistical program.


Weighting factors for PSES are calculated so that the respondents and population for each department or agency have the same overall distribution with respect to occupational groups. For example, if 20% of the employees in a department or agency are in a particular occupational group, then the weights ensure that when tabulating the data, respondents in this occupational group represent 20% of the number of employees for that department.

Put another way, the weighting factor compensates for the over- and under-representation of occupational groups within each federal department or agency. For over-represented groups, the weights are set to one, so that each respondent only represents themselves. For under-represented groups the weights are greater than one, so that each respondent represents, besides him or herself, other persons who did not respond. For example, a respondent with a weight of 2 represents 2 persons in the population.

The weighting procedure calculates this factor for each record. This weight must be used to derive estimates from the microdata file. For example, if the number of employees who "Strongly agree" with the statement "I am proud of the work I do" is to be calculated, it is done by selecting the records for those respondents (Q15 = 1) and summing the weights.

Non-response adjustments were also applied to the weights in order to reduce non-response bias. They were calculated separately for each department or agency.

Quality evaluation

While rigorous quality assurance mechanisms are applied across all steps of the statistical process, validation and scrutiny of the data by statisticians are the ultimate quality checks prior to dissemination. Two validation measures were implemented. They include: 1) analysis of changes over time and 2) verification of estimates through cross-tabulations.

Disclosure control

Statistics Canada is prohibited by law from releasing any information it collects that could identify any person, business, or organization, unless consent has been given by the respondent or as permitted by the Statistics Act. Various confidentiality rules are applied to all data that are released or published to prevent the publication or disclosure of any information deemed confidential. If necessary, data are suppressed to prevent direct or residual disclosure of identifiable data.

Revisions and seasonal adjustment

This methodology type does not apply to this statistical program.

Data accuracy

The Public Service Employee Survey is a census and therefore, there is no error due to sampling. However, the survey is subject to non-sampling errors such as non-response or other non-sampling errors that may occur at almost every phase of a survey operation. Respondents may make errors in answering questions, the answers may be incorrectly captured and errors may be introduced in the processing and tabulation of the data.

Quality assurance and control methods were implemented according to Statistics Canada's standard practices at each step of the data collection and processing cycle to monitor the quality of the data. These measures included focus group testing to detect problems of questionnaire design or misunderstanding of instructions, and using edit rules designed to detect missing, invalid or inconsistent data.

Quality control was also used to measure the error rate for a sample of the data captured by the operators and automatically. Errors found in the sample were corrected. For the PSES 2017, based on the quality control sample that was selected, it was determined that the overall data capture error rate did not exceed 0.5%.

Total non-response can be a major source of non-sampling error in many surveys, depending on the degree to which respondents and non-respondents differ with respect to the characteristics of interest. Total non-response occurred when an eligible employee did not participate in the survey or returned a completely blank questionnaire. The overall response rate for the 2017 Public Service Employee Survey was 61.3%.

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