December 18, 2017
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Federal employees more positive about working for Uncle Sam

By Eric Yoder, The Washington Post
Updated:
Charles Dharapak | AP | BDN
Charles Dharapak | AP | BDN
In this March 27, 2008, file photo, an aerial view of the Pentagon. More than nine-tenths of federal employees believe their work is important, according to a new survey.

A several-year trend of improvement in federal employees’ views of working for the government continued this year, with responses more positive in 64 of the 84 questions in a government-wide employee survey and more negative in just one compared with 2016, the government said Thursday.

Results of a survey conducted in May and June and released by the Office of Personnel Management, repeated familiar themes. On the positive side, more than nine-tenths of federal employees believe their work is important, that they are willing to put in extra effort to get their work done, and that they are constantly looking for ways to improve.

The most negative responses again involved the government’s performance culture. Forty-seven percent disagreed that pay raises depend on how well employees perform their jobs, and 42 percent disagreed that in their work unit steps are taken to deal with employees who cannot or will not improve their performance.

Similarly, about a third disagreed that promotions are based on merit, that differences in performance are recognized in a meaningful way, that awards depend on how well employees perform their jobs, and that creativity and innovation are rewarded. In contrast, four-fifths agreed that they are held accountable for their performance.

The OPM further groups some questions into broad indexes, all of which also showed gains this year. The “employee engagement” index measuring views of top leadership, immediate supervisors and feelings of motivation at work rose by two points to 67 percent positive; the “inclusion quotient” reflecting questions about fair treatment, support and diversity also rose by two points to 60 percent positive; and a measure of overall satisfaction with pay, the job and the organization rose three points to 64 percent positive.

“These findings are an indication that the sustained efforts agencies have made to improve engagement, and employee satisfaction and inclusion are being recognized by the Federal workforce,” the report says.

About 486,000 employees responded this year to the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, which is closely watched in the federal employee community and is in part the basis of a good-government group’s highly publicized listing of the best and worst places to work in the government. Top-ranking agencies tout their standings in their recruitment messages, while lower-ranking ones find themselves under scrutiny from Capitol Hill and crafting plans to improve their scores.

The Securities and Exchange Commission, for example, stressed that over five years its overall satisfaction rating rose from fourth from the bottom to the top among mid-sized agencies, and that it ranked among the top four in the other two indexes.

“Our scores reflect the continued collaboration between management and staff to foster an environment of innovation, transparency, and accountability that best serves the American public,” SEC chief human capital officer Lacey Dingman said in an email.

Similarly, a fact sheet from the Defense Department called attention to gains in all three of the index measures, saying its employees “remain very positive about their work, jobs, and mission, and appreciate the work-life programs, especially alternative work schedules and health and wellness programs.”

Over the last three years, overall scores government-wide have increased in 69 of the topics and have decreased in none; the only decrease in 2017 from 2016 involved whether employees believe their work unit is able to recruit the right people, down one point to 42 percent positive.

Also closely watched are employees’ views of their leadership. Seventy-two percent said they have a positive overall view of the job done by their immediate supervisor, while 60 percent said the same of the manager immediately above their supervisor.

Views of top agency leadership overall were lower, with only 43 percent saying that senior leaders generate high levels of motivation and commitment and only 56 percent saying they have a high level of respect for senior leaders. Both of those measures were above 2016 levels, however, and both continued a three-year upward trend.

The survey does not define “senior leader.” In government parlance, that could include officials from top political appointees down to senior executives, nine-tenths of whom are career employees.


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