US staff engagement creeps up, despite complaints over performance management

By on 12/10/2016 | Updated on 27/01/2022
USA Federal Employees Viewpoint Survey

Employee engagement in the US federal government has improved slightly in the past year, but staff still complain of a lack of effective performance management, according to the annual staff survey.

More than 400,000 employees took part in the Federal Employees Viewpoint Survey, conducted by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM).

The OPM put employee engagement at 65%, up from 64% in 2015. The global job satisfaction score is 61%, up from 60% last year.

Beth Cobert, OPM’s acting director, said: “For 2016, more employees agreed that their work gives them a feeling of personal accomplishment, that they are held accountable for results, and their agency is successful at accomplishing its mission.”

Some 96% of staff agreed that when needed, they were willing to put in extra effort to get a job done, and 90% agreed that the work they do is important.

In addition, 90% of respondents said they were satisfied with alternative work schedules – a term that encompasses flexible working and compressed hours.

But just 29% of employees agreed with the statement, “in my work unit, steps are taken to deal with a poor performer who cannot or will not improve”, while only 22% agreed that “pay raises depend on how well employees perform their jobs”. Only 34% said differences in performance were recognised in a meaningful way. These figures are the same as they were in 2012.

The Department of Homeland Security came under particular scrutiny this year because it has a problem of low morale among staff. After six years of decline, engagement in this department increased from 53% last year to 56% in 2016, the largest improvement of any cabinet department of its size.

Homeland Security secretary Jeh Johnson, who claims that improving morale has been one of his top priorities, put the department’s success down to a number of measures, including a focus on engagement.

“This year alone, the deputy secretary and I participated in 45 sessions with our employees in 22 cities across the country, to discuss our priorities and hear employees’ concerns,” he said. “In March I put on a TSA uniform and worked alongside TSA personnel at BWI airport. From all these engagements, we heard employees’ top three concerns were pay, work/life balance and hiring. We pushed out toolkits to managers and supervisors for conducting their own town hall meetings.”

Some 58% of survey respondents said they were satisfied with their pay, 66% with their job, and 57% with their organisation.

The OPM concludes that the most significant drivers of employee engagement are feedback, collaborative management, merit systems principles, training and development, and work/life balance.

It offers advice for federal departments on boosting engagement, such as setting up a suggestions box on intranet pages to create a culture of collaboration, or ensuring employees have access to a mentor or coach.

The five large government agencies with the most engaged employees this year are the Federal Trade Commission (82% of staff said they felt engaged), NASA, the Office of Management and Budget, the Federal Agency Regulatory Commission and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

For up to date government news and international best practice follow us on Twitter @globegov

See also:

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Robert Beschel, global lead, Center of Government Practice, World Bank: Exclusive Interview


About Tamsin Rutter

Tamsin Rutter is a journalist based in Brussels, Belgium. She writes on a variety of topics, including public services, cities, local and central government and education. She was formerly the deputy editor of the Guardian's Public Leaders Network and Housing Network.

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