Increasing Employee Engagement to Improve the Federal Government
August 11, 2014
Author: Zach Shen, C’16
As citizens and customers of the federal government, we often find it easy to stand back and criticize the federal government for its lack of efficiency and its tendency to move slowly. Instead of finding a solution, we tend to point the finger of blame towards the Democrats, the Republicans, the “hippie-liberals,” or the Tea Partiers. We seem to constantly concern ourselves with “whose fault is it?” rather than asking what we can do about it. Although there are many opinions surrounding politics, what cannot be changed is fact. And the fact is that federal government is comprised of thousands of regular employees no different from you or me. If employees are disillusioned and unsatisfied, there is no way the overall government can run smoothly. Thus, the key to improving federal government and its agencies is through focusing on employee engagement.
This summer, I have had the wonderful opportunity to work for the Partnership for Public Service, a nonpartisan, non-profit organization that seeks to revitalize government by building, energizing, and maintaining a high-quality federal workforce. Every year, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) sends out the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) to employees all across the federal government. This survey seeks to measure and score agencies and subcomponents on overall employee satisfaction in 10 workplace categories, such as effective leadership, employee skills-mission match, pay, teamwork, and work-life balance. OPM then sends the raw data to the Partnership and the Research Team then proceeds to analyze and compile the data into a series of rankings known as the Best Places to Work in the Federal Government®. With these rankings published for the public to see every year, federal agencies are able to view how they scored in various categories as compared to other agencies and in which areas they should seek to improve. Through the Best Places to Work website (bestplacestowork.org) users can also view historical data and trends to see where they have improved or regressed over time.
The rankings have been around for almost eight years now, but in the last three we have seen a decrease in scores all across government. In this most recent year, the government-wide index score saw a three point drop to 57.8 out of 100, marking the lowest overall Best Places to Work score since the rankings were first published in 2003. On the other hand, private sector employee satisfaction scores increased by 0.7 points to 70.7.1 The Partnership seeks to close this gap between the public and private sector scores and offers a variety of services in order to effectively aid federal agencies, such as complimentary agency briefings, action planning workshops, Action Planning Facilitation Trainings, and Work-Outs.
Although the Best Places to Work rankings have not been around for too long, they have already begun to make an impact across government. In the past decade, agencies have paid more attention to matters of employee satisfaction and proudly exhibit the Best Places to Work plaques they receive for “Most Improved Agency” or scoring as one of the top five agencies in their size category.
In his most recent budget message, President Barack Obama noted the importance of investing in the federal workforce and announced his administration’s goal to “attract and retain the best talent in the Federal workforce and foster a culture of excellence.”2 My time with the Partnership has allowed me to step back from my role as a civilian consumer and study government as a civil servant. I strongly believe that in the coming years, employee engagement will grow in significance as the federal government realizes that its most important assets are its employees.
1 “The Big Picture”, The Best Places to Work in the Federal Government,http://bestplacestowork.org/BPTW/overview/analysis/
2 “The Budget Message of the President”, The Office of Management and Budget, http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/budget/presidents-message
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