I Live to Serve

It’s National Public Service Week! That special time of year when employees of the federal public service celebrate their professionalism … dedication and hard work which contributes to the quality of life of all Canadians.

Scoff if you must, but there are nearly 400,000 men and women across this great country of ours who spend their workdays serving the people of Canada. There are those the public sees:

  • The guy with the toupee who smugly points out that your passport application can’t be processed because you forgot to fill in section “C”…come back later and stand in line for another hour.
  • The Paris Hilton look-alike  who makes you feel small and treats you like a nuisance because you’ve come to file for Employment Insurance after being laid off from your job.
  • The clueless 25-year-old who was your parole officer after your last stint in the big house.
  • The officious prig who seems incapable of giving you a clear answer to your income tax questions.
  • The bedraggled bunch you see marching around downtown on-strike every 3 years or so demanding better pay and infuriating you to no end.

They’re only the tip of the iceberg. There are thousands more just like them that the public never sees. The ones that sit in their tiny cubicles every day and do mind-numbingly boring stuff in artificial light using 10-year-old technology. Stuff that represents a teensy, tiny drop in the gigantic Government of Canada ocean. Stuff that’s completely unconnected to anything tangible that you can go home at the end of the day and say, “I did this.” Stuff that usually ends up collecting dust in a drawer somewhere.

And while you, the general public, only have the pleasure of dealing with a public servant once or twice a year, we have to deal with each other every freakin’ day.

And no matter how hard you work, you cannot be promoted. No. In order to move up the ranks you have to wait until a job competition is announced. Then you may apply along with all the other public servants, and often, along with the general public, too.  You have to word your application just right or you’ll be disqualified from the competition. If you get accepted, you’ll have to sit a written exam. If you pass that you’ll have to do an interview or presentation or some other demonstration of skill in front of a panel. If you pass that your referees have to fill out a 4-5 page reference form. Then you wait. And wait.

The entire process usually takes a year or more.

Then you may be placed in an actual position or you may be placed on a list until an actual position can be approved. The list is usually good for a year. When it expires, you may just be out of luck or you may have to do the whole thing all over again.

The kicker is that many times, the job you’ve gone through all this for is the job you’ve actually been doing on an “interim” basis for the last 3 years.

Oh, boo hoo – right? We’re overpaid, have benefits out the ying-yang and an awesome pension plan, right?  Well, these days the pay seems to be on par with a lot of the private sector equivalent positions and our benefits and pension are pretty basic.

What makes it all worthwhile though, is that the public service is lifestyle-friendly:

  • People of every ilk and description are embraced into the fold and accepted.
  • And once you’re in, you don’t always have to be worrying and looking over your shoulder to see if there’s an axe hovering over you. Because as difficult as it is to get promoted, it’s much, much, much more difficult to get fired.
  • You rarely have to work overtime and never have to work weekends or any of the statutory holidays.
  • If you’re sick, if a family member is sick and needs your care, there is accommodation/time off for that.
  • If you need to get to an appointment, there is accommodation/time off for that.
  • If you want to learn, take courses, attend conferences, there is accommodation, time and financing for that.
  • If you want or need to move to another department or another province this is accommodation for that.
  • If you need a flexible work schedule or need to work at home some days or need to take the summers off to be with your kids, or need to take personal leave or some other kind of long-term leave, there is accommodation for that.
  • And the number of our annual vacation days is pretty good, too.

It’s a job that fits in with my life rather than a job that takes over my life.

To me, and probably most public servants, that’s of primary importance. We generally have a pretty relaxed and casual attitude toward the concept of “work” and we’ll never be rich or famous, but we somehow still manage to keep things ticking along regardless.

So, WOOOOOT for us.


27 responses to “I Live to Serve

  1. XUP,

    Thanks for yet another great read. I am one of the public service employees you write about. I sit in a cubicle, do my 7.5 hours a day and still have am afforded time to have a great quality of family life. While many may joke about us, I love the opportunities provided to me by being a federal employee. It offers me job security(a novelty these days), a reasonable salary and pension plan. Perfect for life and family. At least for now.
    Keep up the great blogs you make me laugh, (sometimes hysterically), and sometimes you make me think about other perspectives on issues.

    I look forward to your reads.

  2. Ah yes but don’t forget that without all those time consuming, detail oriented, soul sucking procedures for hiring/ advancements, the entire service would still be composed of boring middle aged white men, none of which would have the tiniest shred of a sense of humour.
    Here’s to one of the best silly services in the world no matter how bad it might seem at times.

  3. Thanks XUP.
    I too am a proud member of the Canadian PS and I work my ass off for the Canadian people. The bad apples that you describe are few and far between.
    My career gives me everything I want and while nothing is perfect, I am happy to come to work most mornings.
    YAY 4 US!

  4. And that’s why everybody in this town kills for working at the Gov! Aha! That’s the trick!

    Thanks XUPO… I know what my first act as a citizen will be: apply for a gov job! Yeah!

    Have a good day…

  5. Pingback: Time for we Canadian Public Servants to pat ourselves on the back! | Trashy's World

  6. Guillermo – Not all of us in this town work for ‘ol Gov!

    XUP – that ‘year’ – and then those DG’s or ADM’s call the temp help agencies to get the seat filled while waiting that year for an employee –

    And then everybody wonders why so much is spent on temp services!

    AS private sector would I wait a year for an employee?


  7. GND – Thank you very much. You know, there are many days when I think those 7.5 hours could be better spent doing something really meaningful; making a significant contribution; when I envy those people who have jobs that give them real satisfaction, but then I realize that there’s nothing more meaningful, significant or satisfying than having time to enjoy my family and my life and if I have to do something boring 7.5 hours a day in order to achieve that, it’s all worth it.

    Bandobras – Shucks… here I thought you, of all people, would have something really scathing to say about us. I’m not sure if we’er among the best in the world — there’s got to be some more efficient, no? But thanks.

    Trashee – Really? You work your ass off? Didn’t you just come back from a work trip to Paris? That sounded pretty brutal – ha ha. Anyhow, I think most of us do our work to the best of our ability and often even go above and beyond at times, but I don’t think there is any need for anyone to be working their ass off, is there? Keep your ass where it belongs.

    Guillermo – It’s funny, you know. We get a lot of co-op students and summer employment students and they put in their federal government time and sneer at us the whole time saying stuff like they’d kill themselves if they had to work here for there rest of their lives. Then they graduate and go off into the big world ready to jump into a big, well-paid, glamorous, exciting career (because they’re graduates so of course everyone immediately wants to hire them and give them management positions, right? Ha ha). So, after about 2 years of pounding the pavement and taking shitty jobs for shitty pay they come crawling back to our doors begging for a job.

    Elliot – The union has us so tangled up in the whole “fair hiring practices” web that the whole process has become completely inhumane and totally unfair. We’ve got kids fresh out of school coming in at positions and pay scales equal to people who’ve been here for 20 years. We’ve got people competing for the jobs they’ve been doing for 10 years and then losing out because someone less experienced and less qualified is better at writing an exam. We’ve got people frozen at the same level for a decade because they can’t advance without a second official language and they don’t qualify for language training because the list is long and they’re not at the right level. We’ve got a hiring process that can take years. This year+ is just the part that those competing for the jobs experience. Before that another year or so went into creating the competition. You have no idea.

  8. Woot for you. This being said, it’s pretty much the same in the private sector regarding doing Stuff that’s completely unconnected to anything tangible that you can go home at the end of the day and say, “I did this.” Stuff that usually ends up collecting dust in a drawer somewhere. Sounds like my job. Maybe I should join the public service.

  9. I work for a Crown Corporation…which has pretty much the same dysfunctional culture as the Silly Service.

    But like you said, it’s a steady paycheck. Hard to get fired unless you REALLY screw up. You’ll never get rich, the promotion process is screwed up…but on the other hand, its’ a 9 to 5 job with flexible hours.

    All these blogs I read…about how to quit your crappy job and live your dreams.

    Well, call me a heretic, but (for the time being, at least), I’d rather have a soul-sucking 9-5 job, and get off work at 4:30..and have the rest of the day to myself, and have a lifestyle.

    As opposed to being my own boss, working 70 hours a week, and worrying about how to pay the next months’ rent.

    But that’s just me.

  10. This sounds right up my alley. I love time off for appointments. Questions: Do I have to be a citizen of Canada? When I meet this panel to demonstrate my skills, can I pick the skills? I can throw a tennis ball really far. And if they need something a little more applicable, watch this: “Hey! That passport is wrong, stupid!” or “I said both forms and sign at the bottom, but I guess we’ll just bend the rules for you because you’re special.” or “Ummm… You must have missed this little sign, but I’m on lunch, so kindly step back behind the line before I have you placed in Gitmo or worse, Alabama.”

    Please see what you can do for me. I have an obvious talent for this kind of work.

  11. Happy Public Service Week XUP! The government, while frustrating at times with its sometimes nonsensical procedures and snail-speed in which things get done can be frustrating at times, but overall its a pretty great place to work!

    One thing though:
    “If you want to learn, take courses, attend conferences, there is accommodation, time and financing for that. ”

    This is ONLY if those courses are in your tightly defined job description. ex. If you want to say take French but your job is English essential, then you’re out of luck! Which is stupid, but its another weird quirk of the government.

  12. I am a former civil servant. I still do a lot of government work as a consultant. Short term stuff – not these leeches who get 3 year contracts with the gov… I do true consulting.

    I have to say that in my years (10) of government employ, I saw so many people who do so little for so much. So many of the civil servants could simply disappear tomorrow and nobody would really notice. If I could wave a magic wand and make that happen, I would. Their purpose seems to be to obstruct, obfuscate, delay, deny, and impede the progress of any real work in order to look busy and therefore indispensible. And they’re GOOD at that. These are the ones that bitch and moan when a consultant comes in because the consultant gets the job done that they’re supposed to be doing without all the baggage that goes with being a civil servant. Of course, there’s a solution to that, but these sorts of people will never see it.

    Not all the civil servants, however, are like that. There are a few who work like slaves, picking up the slack for their layabout coworkers. I feel unhappy for them that they are truly unappreciated for their labours. When you get the good fortune of working with one of these folks, it’s such a breath of fresh air.

    Civil service promotions seem to be granted on affirmative action much more often than ability, whether to fill a language quota, a region development quota, a gender or race quota, or whatever the current political hot-issue of the day happens to be. That always makes the organization looks bad and frustrates the people with real ability. Even when people with ability are promoted, their promotion is tainted… did they deserve it, or were they just the right flavour of the day.

    The public denies civil servants perqs that so many of the rest of us get in our jobs… something I think is wrong. It’s bad business too – For example: free coffee (something most IT companies provide) gets extra work out of employees who will otherwise wander out to Tim Hortons, for the cost of a few cents worth of coffee. It’s bad business not to provide free coffee, but that would be seen by the public as an unwarranted perq, I’m sure.

  13. That sounds like a government job in the states too, it is difficult to get in, but once you are in you pretty much have to kill a co-worker on your bosses desk just to get a reprimand. I was born to be a government employee.

  14. Jazz – Yes, I think we provide the model for much of corporate North America. And if you’ve got French you should definitely apply.

    Friar – I like that you work a 9-5 job and get off at 4:30!! I work a 9-5 job and get off at 3:00…but then I start at 7:00. Is that still 9-5? But I agree. Soul-sucking, but only for a few hours a day and then you can reclaim your soul. Some people have to sell their souls for their job.

    Mayopie – You’ve totally answered the skill testing questions wrong. You have to SAY you are a team player, have great interpersonal skills and are dedicated to serving the Canadian tax payer. Go practice and then come back and do the test again. The tennis ball throwing will come in handy in winter for the interdepartmental snowball fest.

    Hannah – I think your manager is pulling one over on you. There are 3 types of learning that are represented on your learning plan – mandatory courses, job-specific development courses and career development courses. That last one you could slot almost anything into. Sure you’re not going to get sent on full-time French, but you can do once or twice a week French classes if your manager agrees.

    Squid – Welcome to the blog and thanks for your very thoughtful comment. I totally agree with your assessment, especially about the perks. I was going to mention them but it would have made the post too long. Simple things like the office Christmas party. In the private sector bosses will arrange and pay for something — maybe give bonuses. We have to organize and pay for our own – out of our own pockets. No bonuses. When we retire we get an 8 1/2 x 10 piece of paper we have to get framed ourselves signed by the PM. If there’s a party or gifts it’s only because your coworkers have taken up a collection for your send-off. After 30 years of service! When we have conferences they have to be in St. John’s NL although it costs 3 times as much as having the same conference in the Bahamas. It’s all about optics. Our tax dollars paying for public servants to go to the Bahamas or paying for a gold watch for a retiring employee or paying for coffee for the coffee room.

    Risley – Hey if you’re willing to kill someone on the bosses desk, you’re the kind of person we’re looking for…except we have no bosses. We’re a team. Matrix management. (Please remember this for the interview)

  15. I didn’t realize it’s National Public Service Week… and my husband is a public servant. He’s technically with Passport Canada (but doesn’t wear a toupee), but is in full-time French for a job with the Foreign Service. It was almost 18 months between writing the FS exams to moving to Ottawa, in which time he was hired by Passport Canada.

    I wonder if he even knows it’s his special week?!

  16. People like squid of course talk of the efficiency of the private sector but that only applies to small business groups. If you work for a big organization private or public it takes forever and then 7 more committees to get anything done.
    GM that paragon of efficiency and private enterprise regularly takes 5 years to bring a “new” car to market and then when you get it you find that 90% of it is of course parts they have been making for decades. Most of the auto industry is just as bad.
    Microsoft has thousands of people and millions of man hours in every new software release and we all know how well they do with that. Everything works perfectly right from the start.
    Big equals innefficient.
    You can quote me on that.

  17. *raising a glass to toast XUP and all those other public servants* When I am done college, I shall become one of you. I look forward to the day… 🙂

  18. You don’t seem like the government drone type, but having said that, I’m not really sure what that is. Mom worked 15 years for a state university, so in effect, she worked for the state, and she didn’t seem like one either. Okay, I have to think on this some more. Or not. But Yay for you and all the Canadians you help, and keep on droning!

  19. Hey, I work downtown for the PS and today we had a cake auction in the building lobby. I believe there were 14 cakes made by employees and the money made went to the Government Workplace Charitable Campaign. Let me tell you… yummy!!! On another note, the top dude at our department is having a free BBQ for all staff (the entire department) and there’s gonna be cake (which I will be serving from 1 to 2pm on Thursday) served by the youth network of the department.

  20. As a teacher, I’m sort-of a public service employee too, except at the provincial level. Most of what you list as making your job lifestyle-friendly is equally applicable to teaching – oh except that there are kids involved in my job. Lots of kids. Lots of other peoples’ kids. Which means that teachers end up having to do a lot of parenting. Which as we all know, is thankless and unpaid labour. But other than that small detail, teaching is very similar to a federal PS job.

  21. Amy – Some departments don’t make as big a fuss about it as other departments. But you’d think in Ottawa everyone would be doing something? Bake him a nice cake.

    Jobthingy – There’s always cake. See some of the other comments below. Public servants love their free cake. It used to be a joke at my department in Halifax that the Communications unit spent 99% of their time ordering cakes for all the special occasions.

    Bandobras – And look what happened to the auto industry!! And you’re only talking about large corporations with unions. Large corporations without unions are a lot more efficient — not often fun to work for, but efficient. Then there are large corporations without unions that are both efficient AND great to work for. We should all be paying closer attention to them maybe.

    Susan – Thanks Susan. Make sure you leave yourself a couple of years between applying for the job and starting work. Unless you’re bridging in on a graduate program or post-graduate recruitment thing. No, that takes forever, too.

    Geewits – Government drones come in all shapes and sizes and styles. The government is a microcosm of the entire country – cultural mosaic!

    Stephanie – Hey, fellow PS! Gotta love the special occasion cakes! It’s a good thing I don’t really like cake or I’d be as big as a house by now. Your workplace sounds like much more fun than ours. Our director brought a couple of crates of Tim Horton donuts and some pizzas for lunch yesterday. And we’re all going out for breakfast on Friday. We have a small unit though, so that might explain it. Happy PS week!

    Pinklea – We’re also alike because everyone thinks we have cushy jobs – you with your 2 1/2 months of vacation every year! Also I’m guessing that dealing with parents all the time isn’t much better than dealing with public servants all day long. Still, we must like it most of the time, right? Or we wouldn’t be here anymore.

  22. I don’t think I could handle it… day in, day out like that. I mean the perks are nice, but the frustration at the ‘promotions’ or the lack of an axe behind my neck would drive me nuts! What you’ve described as gov’t work – is exactly the same as what it was like to work in Germany for me, and I couldn’t take it… for them, work was somewhere near 95th on the list of most important things! (which is of course good or bad, depending on your perspective)

    But for those where that does work – good for you, enjoy it – we all need different things. I’m actually relatively pleased with some of the online services that are now available – so keep it up and hire good PM’s (maybe me one of these days 😉

  23. XUP – I would like that from my boss! Timmie’s is always appreciated. Pizza? Even more! As for the BBQ, I recall that HC also did a big BBQ in Tunney’s Pasture. So my department isn’t that much out of the ordinary…

    Elliot – Yeah, I know, but I’m just an EA. My boss can do without me for an hour. Especially since she’s going to be in a meeting. But yeah, the BBQ is from 11:30 to 2pm. They needed people for different parts and I volunteered for the last hour.

  24. you make that type of job very, very appealing. especially this, “It’s a job that fits in with my life rather than a job that takes over my life.”

    you have the right perspective about it, and a very sensible lady you are 🙂