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Employee dissent in federal government organizations: Lessons for managing reputation and fostering employee loyalty

Heather Lynne Hamilton (University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada)

Corporate Communications: An International Journal

ISSN: 1356-3289

Article publication date: 9 August 2011




The purpose of this paper is to investigate how government employees perceive and react to limits on their right to express public dissent about their employer. Within the context of Canada's federal workplaces, this two‐part project sought first to analyse and clarify the nature of complex government rules on dissent, and then to explore federal employees' understanding of those rules, and the balance between the duty of loyalty owed to their employer, and their protected rights as citizens to criticize their government. The goal was to contribute to further research and improve professional practice within the federal public service in addressing employee dissent.


This research is qualitative and exploratory. Documentary and literature analysis was conducted to review Canada's laws, policies and guidelines. These were critically analysed for consistency with each other, and with their stated objectives. Employee views and perceptions were collected through a focus group of communications employees, and three in‐depth interviews. Interviews and focus group results were analysed by inference to explore employee perceptions of their duties and rights, and the authority on which their perceptions are based.


Results indicate that respondents base decisions about employee dissent on unconsciously internalized organizational values. Formal policy, training, or legal consequences had less influence on dissent than organizational culture, employee experience, and perceived career and relationship risks. Respondents valued their right to dissent, but were willing to yield it to honour a voluntary moral contract to support a higher cause (public service). The implications are that traditional theories that view employee dissent as largely self‐interested may be less relevant when employees perceive the organization's goals to be value‐driven, and that employee dissent can be minimized by promoting a value‐based organizational culture.

Practical implications

This paper's findings suggest that organizations might better manage reputation and minimize external employee dissent by focussing on communications that foster a value‐driven organizational culture, rather than by implementing formal limits or policies to control dissent.


This paper offers policy analysis that fulfills an identified gap in knowledge in terms of general day‐to‐day practise when it comes to advising Canada's federal employees regarding their rights and responsibilities, and offers some challenges to traditional theories that suggest employee choices regarding dissent are primarily based on individual self‐interest or self‐actualization.



Lynne Hamilton, H. (2011), "Employee dissent in federal government organizations: Lessons for managing reputation and fostering employee loyalty", Corporate Communications: An International Journal, Vol. 16 No. 3, pp. 255-273.



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Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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