Mark Hammer

Government takes its employees abstractly. That is, management cares, but apart from line supervisors, is often so far removed as to not have a good sense of the realities, and in turn how to respond to them.

I work in the area of employee surveys. I’m the poor sap who has to read all the (anonymous) comments people submit with their surveys, in addition to working with the checkmark data itself. I have one comment taped to my wall that is 3 solid continuous pages of 10pt Arial Narrow with 3/4″ margins all around, and no indents or paragraph separations. It is clearly an outlier, but reflects how deep feelings can run.

For a variety of operational reasons, I end up reading tales of sorrow about HRM tragedies some 8 months to a year after they’ve happened. I liken myself to a highly-trained paramedic who is only allowed to show up to the scene of the accident after everyone involved has bled out and died. I don’t get to save anyone; I just get to count the bodies and cart them away.

What management wants from me are numbers. Now, I am a dyed-in-the-wool quantitative research guy, so numbers that tell a clear story and shed light are an absolute source of delight to me. Every shipment of fresh data brings a sparkle to my eye, and a skip in my step. And I fully understand how management’s dance card is so full that there is no time to read these comments, so they want, and need, a quick 3-paragraph summary of the hundreds of pages of misery and frustration I’ve plowed through. And I know that management are good caring generous people.

But there is something missing.

And that’s why I don’t broach it in terms of caring or not, in terms of taking them seriously or not, but in terms of abstractly vs concretely/realistically. What we desire is what transpires when people are close. What we all too often get is what happens when people are separated by distance.

And, I might add, the numbers you cite are also a product of what happens when staff are separated from senior management and head office. Keep in mind that most of the federal agencies included in the FEVS results are distributed across the union and sometimes around the world. Their leadership may not know them, as employees, but they don’t know their leadership, either. That distance can breed mistrust, or at least reluctance to trust.