‘Leadership deficit’ hitting US morale, survey finds

By on 17/12/2018 | Updated on 24/09/2020
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 is a freelance journalist whose work has been published by The Sun Online, The Guardian, Novara Media, Positive News, and Welfare Weekly, among others. She also writes reports and case studies on global business trends for behavioural insights agency, Canvas8. Prior to working as a journalist Natalie worked for the public sector in social services for several years. She switched careers in 2013 after winning a fully funded NCTJ in a national writing competition. She holds a Masters degree in social anthropology from Sussex University where she specialised in processes of social change and international conflict and reconciliation processes.

One Comment

  1. Charles Eldredge says:

    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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