‘Leadership deficit’ hitting US morale, survey finds

By on 17/12/2018
Falling temperatures in Washington: employee engagement declined at a majority of government agencies this year, according to new research.

There has been a dramatic fall in US federal employee engagement in 2018, research has found, with senior leadership a major concern amongst workers.

The 2018 Best Places to Work in the Federal Government’ rankings, produced by the Partnership for Public Service and the Boston Consulting Group, found employee engagement fell at nearly 60% of government agencies over the past year.

Nearly 40% registered an increase in employee engagement, but the Partnership for Public Service says this represents a sharp fall on the previous three years – when more than 70% of federal organisations saw gains in how their employees viewed their jobs and workplaces.

Protectors feel unprotected

The agencies showing the steepest declines were the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), with an overall drop in engagement of 25.2% on last year; and the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA), with a 31% downturn from 72.6% to 41.6%.

Both the CFPB and the FLRA registered particular dissatisfaction with senior leaders. In the category ‘Effective Leadership: Senior Leaders’, the drop was 35.6% and 37.2% respectively.

This was consistent with the results overall. When isolating effective leadership, the report revealed only 46.4% of federal organisations showed improvement in 2018 compared to 75.8% in 2017 – a 29.4 percentage point difference.

The results echo recent analysis of the Office of Personnel Management survey by Global Government Forum. This found morale had plummeted at labour relations agencies, with senior leadership being a key factor explaining the dive in satisfaction levels. 

Wake up, people

Max Stier, president and chief executive officer of the Partnership for Public Service – a non-profit organisation that works for a more effective civil service – said the findings should be a wake-up call for federal leaders across government whose agencies had low or falling scores.

“This leadership deficit should be of great concern to the White House, Congress and the American public,” he said. “Best-in-class private sector organisations understand that increased employee engagement leads to better performance and outcomes, and federal leaders need to follow suit. Building a highly-motivated and engaged workforce should be a top priority not only for the Trump administration but also the new Congress.”

Other categories showing a drop in satisfaction were‘the match between employee skills and agency missions’ and ‘pay’. Along with effective leadership these are the three strongest drivers of employee engagement, according to the Partnership for Public Service.

In a statement to the Washington Post, J. David Cox Sr., president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said: “No one should be surprised that federal employees are feeling discouraged, oppressed, and disrespected.

“The administration seems to be at war with its own workforce, trying every day to take away their rights, and reduce their pay, pensions, and healthcare”.

About turn

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) initially acknowledged the results were “disappointing”, telling the Washington Post: “We must redouble our efforts to engage and work collectively to solve problems and improve”.However, on December 13, the deputy director for management in the Office of Management and Budget and acting director of the Office of Personnel Management, Margaret Weichert, questioned the report’s methodology, tweeting: “Misleading stats on # of agencies (esp small agencies) obscure hard work by agencies.”

About Natalie Leal

Natalie Leal is an NCTJ qualified journalist based in the UK. She holds a BSc and Master's degree in Social Anthropology and writes about society, poverty, politics, welfare reform, innovation and sustainable business. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, Positive News, The Brighton Argus, UCAS, Welfare Weekly, Bdaily News and more.

One Comment

  1. Charles Eldredge

    18/12/2018 at

    It’s a time of transition. Sometimes there is pain when there is growth. We are all glad to see a marked reversal in our nation and our government. Taking our nation and our government back to the people. Thank you President Trump and all his supporters!!!!

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