APEX 2017 Executive Work and Health Survey Results

The 2017 APEX Executive Work and Health survey paints a picture of an executive population that feels pride in their work, respected by their superiors and increasingly committed despite a high-stress, demanding work environment with constant time-pressure and an ever increasing workload.

    The 2017 Executive Work and Health Survey is the Fifth Edition since 1997. Over the past 20 years, APEX has conducted research focused on the health and well-being of executives within the federal public service.

    APEX commissioned Ipsos to conduct the survey from May 2 to June 19, 2017.

    3,075 executives provided a response to the survey which constitutes a 48% response rate (an increase over the 35% response rate achieved in 2012). Of those who provided a response, 2,674 executives fully completed the survey.

    The survey provides an assessment of individual and organizational health measures within the executive work environment. The research explored new issues such as readiness for the future with a focus on preparing for the digital economy and digital services as well as addressing psychological and mental health issues in the workplace.

    The 2017 Executive Work and Health survey paints a picture of an executive population that feels pride in their work, respected by their superiors and are increasingly committed despite a high-stress, demanding work environment with constant time-pressure and an increasing workload. Key outcome measures like job satisfaction and self-rated health status remain stable and relatively strong compared to 2012.

    There are, however, some worrisome trends which could negatively impact individual and organizational health over time. Thirty-five percent report working 55 or more hours per week (up from 25% in 2012), satisfaction with pay has declined and 70% have thought about leaving their current position at least monthly in the past 6 months. Further, from a personal health standpoint the majority of executives are classified as overweight or obese, more executives have been diagnosed with musculoskeletal (from 28% to 45%), mental health (from 11% to 21%), and gastro intestinal (from 8% to 18%) issues than in 2012. The incidence of incivility continues to be of concern.

    For most, managing the demands of work have only been exacerbated by the increasing use of e-technology which led executives to feel obligated to work after hours, has made it more difficult to take a break from work and has not provided them any more flexibility. While the majority feel e-technology has increased their productivity (particularly among younger executives), their ability to do their job and ability to communicate it has also increased their workload and steadily decreased work life balance over the years.

    Public sector executives are much less confident in their ability to balance the demands of work and personal life compared to those in similar managerial positions across Canada, as well as less likely to feel their employer promotes a work-life balance or that they have a psychologically healthy workplace.

    Lower level executives, while reporting fewer work hours, are much more likely to have issues managing the demands of work. Lower level executives are less satisfied with their job, feel less respected, are more likely to get burnt out from work and are less likely to feel they can take risks on their team. They are also less likely to rate their mental health as positive and more likely to report being diagnosed with mental health issues or to seek professional counselling.

    There are also consistent differences between male and female executives. Female executives report higher levels of stress, higher absenteeism, higher incidence of harassment and generally have more trouble separating themselves from the demands of work, however they are also more satisfied with their pay and career prospects, rate their personal health higher, are more likely to fall into an acceptable BMI, sleep better and drink less than male executives.

    In a context of rapid change, and expectations that they be agile and resilient, executives express a high level of uncertainty that we are well positioned to respond to future demands with respect to the use of technology and social media, the recruitment and retention of talent, adapting our workplace environment to a new context, and building a strong, capable leadership team.

    Given the findings of this survey, and insight gained through our ongoing engagement with Executives, four areas surface as critical in moving forward:

    Managing Talent and Leadership Development
    - How can we balance the needs of the community, the centre, and senior management in an integrative approach to managing talent?
    - What does a robust continuum of leadership development for Executives look like?

    Healthy Workplaces
    - What are the workplace conditions that position organizations for success?
    - How do we move our organizations there?

    Healthy Executives
    - What is the prescription for taking care of ourselves in the midst of a high demands and expectations?

    Culture
    - How can we improve the work environment to facilitate innovation, creativity and agility?

    The survey results were the beginning of a conversation to lead to concrete actions.

    Since the release of the Survey results in early 2018, APEX has lead or participated in over 50 events, engaging more than 1,700 executives in considering the results of the survey. Whether they were focused on overall results or specific action, discussions point to recurring themes and priorities for APEX around: compensation, talent management, healthy workplaces, executive health, and the critical role of leaders in setting a workplace culture. Thank you to all Executives who contributed questions, ideas or suggestions through this process.

    Acting on the results is a shared endeavour…
    - Deputy heads of organizations have received the results and, in some cases, have identified a departmental community champion and specific areas of focus;
    - many departments and agencies are considering the results in planning actions to build healthy, rewarding workplaces; and,
    - Executives are looking at the role they play and action they can take in response to the survey findings.

    The Survey results have already influenced APEX work. For example:
    - the 2018 Symposium included the theme of Mindful and Compassionate Leadership – strengthening skills around creating respectful workplaces;
    - APEX regularly contributes to the New Directors program at the Canada School of the Public Service, to discuss the importance of health in the context of becoming a new executive;
    - we are working with OCHRO to capture Executive input as to how to evolve the talent management system to more fully meet the needs of executives – the first step will be seeking specific input from Executives, and others, as to their expectations for the system;
    - we are working on developing a series of learning events for the fall that will delve into some of the issues raised through the survey.

    Get involved! If you have any ideas, suggestions or thoughts to add, please contact Ann-Marie Julien (consultations@apex.gc.ca) to be part of the conversation.