Morale plummets in US labour relations agencies

By on 08/11/2018 | Updated on 24/09/2020
Tick the ‘angry’ box: staff engagement has fallen at the US government agencies overseeing federal workforce and labour relations issues (Image courtesy: Andi Breit).

Satisfaction with senior leadership has declined sharply among the U.S. agencies responsible for governing labour-management relations and federal workforce issues, the government’s workforce survey has found.

The Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, run by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), measures employee satisfaction and engagement across 82 different government agencies annually. Respondents were asked to give opinions on their jobs, workplaces and leadership between April and June this year, with the results published at the end of October.

Headline results for the OPM survey initially looked good. Overall engagement is at its highest rate for six years – up one point, to 68% – and overall satisfaction remained steady at 64%.

However, not all employees registered such a positive outlook. And three of the five agencies showing the worst decline in satisfaction and engagement were those involved with workforce issues.

Gloom amongst the workers’ workers

The agency with the starkest decline of the entire survey was the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA), which considers appeals on labour-management issues in the civil service – many of them raised by unions. The FLRA saw a massive 20 point fall in overall employee satisfaction.

On questions dealing with perceptions of the integrity of senior leadership, as well as leadership behaviours such as communication and workforce motivation, FLRA employees were particularly unhappy. Satisfaction with senior leadership fell dramatically from 70% in 2017 to just 41% this year. While happiness levels fell across the board, FLRA results saw the steepest downturn on this measure.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the agency responsible for policing U.S. workplace relations and employees’ rights, also saw happiness levels plummet with a decrease of 10 points in global satisfaction compared with last year – the fourth worst results overall.

Falling respect for leaders

Again, questions around senior leadership were key in explaining this decrease. For example, only 17.9% of NLRB respondents “strongly agreed” with the statement “I have a high level of respect for my organisation’s senior leaders”down from 30.5% in 2017. And a higher proportion of NLRB staff (21.5%) “strongly disagreed” with the same statement, up by nearly 15 points on last year.

When asked if they agreed with the statement “In my organisation, senior leaders generate high levels of motivation and commitment in the workforce”, NLRB staff were scathing. Just over a third (33.8%) said they “strongly disagreed” with the statement – more than double the 14% recorded in 2017, and by far the highest proportion of employees from any agency who ticked the “strongly disagree” box to this question.

The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC), an independent federal investigative and prosecutorial agency, which deals with whistleblower cases, was another agency that fared badly during the past year. It saw a seven point decline in overall satisfaction levels, the fifth worst satisfaction results overall.

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.

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