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Why Are Health Ministry Workers So Bummed Out?

Survey finds handlers of BC's largest file feel increasingly poorly directed, unsatisfied.

By Andrew MacLeod 17 Jan 2014 | TheTyee.ca

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

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A very happy Terry Lake was announced as Premier Christy Clark's health minister in June 2013. Hope it's contagious. Photo: BC Gov Flickr.

Workers in British Columbia's health ministry are significantly less happy in their jobs and with their top managers than they were two years ago, according to survey results obtained by The Tyee.

The Work Environment Survey 2013, dated December and not yet publicly released, shows an overall engagement score of 64 in the ministry. That matches the overall score for B.C.'s public service in 2013, but is seven points below the ministry's score in 2011.

Health is by far the largest ministry in the government, accounting for over half the spending on core ministries. The survey was managed by BC Stats for the Public Service Agency.

At the ministry there were declines in all 16 areas surveyed, with the largest drops in the scores workers gave to executive-level management, pay and benefits, and organization satisfaction.

Only 37 per cent of the respondents agreed with the statement, "Executives in my organization provide clear direction for the future."

Similarly, just 42 per cent agreed that "Executives in my organization communicate decisions in a timely manner."

Survey respondents were much more positive about their immediate supervisors, teamwork with their immediate colleagues and the ministry's respectful environment.

Conducted between Oct. 2 and Oct. 25, the survey received responses from 966 employees in the ministry, some 81 per cent of those who could have responded. The surveys were previously done every year, but in 2011 the switch was made to conduct them every two years.

Surveys are useful tool: ministry

The surveys are an important tool for managers and the public service to hear the opinions of staff, said health ministry spokesperson Ryan Jabs in an emailed statement. Engaging employees is key to having a successful and motivated public service, he said.

"Once again this year we saw high teamwork and respectful environment scores," he said. "These scores show that the Ministry of Health is a good and cooperative place to work."

Jabs acknowledged the scores in other areas declined, however. "Given our environment of fiscal restraint, it is understandable that we saw low scores in pay and benefit," he said.

"Regarding the executive-level management score, the deputy minister of health has made it his personal challenge to work with the ministry's executive to engage staff and improve this score over the next two years," he said.

Many factors could have led to the drop in scores and any conclusion would be speculative, Jabs said. "The important thing is that we use the results to improve the work environment as we go forward. Supervisors across the ministry will be using this report to engage staff and to do just that."

Ministry staff will continue to work closely together on their shared goal of making the province's health care system better, he said.

One-fifth expect improvement

The report also addressed the usefulness of the surveys and engaging employees. "Research in both the public and private sectors, including in the BC Public Service, has shown that engaged employees are crucial to the achievement of positive organizational outcomes," it said.

"It has been consistently demonstrated that engaged employees are more productive, are less likely to resign, and provide better services to citizens and businesses," it said. "The investment in efforts aimed at achieving a more engaged workforce is an investment benefiting all British Columbians."

It appears, however, that ministry employees doubt the results will be used to improve their workplace. Asked whether the 2011 survey led to improvements, just 21 per cent agreed it had while 49 per cent disagreed.

After the May 2013 election, Premier Christy Clark made Terry Lake the health minister, replacing Margaret MacDiarmid who lost her seat. She also replaced deputy minister Graham Whitmarsh, the highest ranking executive in the ministry, with Stephen Brown, who had been at the Ministry of Children and Families.

In 2012, the ministry fired seven employees and stopped research contracts as part of an investigation of alleged data breaches, contract irregularities and conflicts of interest. Five related lawsuits are ongoing and the BCGEU grieved three of the dismissals, including one of a co-op student who later committed suicide.

Lake was unavailable for an interview.  [Tyee]

Read more: Health, BC Politics

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