The Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (and how to improve YOUR results)


The results of the latest government-wide Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey have been released. Over 687,000 federal employees completed the FEVS survey, and according to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (PDF):


The 2012 FEVS indicates the Federal workforce remains resilient - hardworking, motivated and mission-focused even amidst the many challenges facing Government today.

The Federal workforce remains mission-focused and hardworking

Nearly all Federal employees report that their work is important, they are constantly looking for ways to do their job better, and they are willing to put in the extra effort to get the job done. This finding is consistent across the 82 Federal agencies that participated in the 2012 FEVS.

Eight out of 10 employees like the work they do, understand how their work relates to the agency's goals and priorities, and rate the overall quality of the work done by their work unit as high.

Employee Engagement remains strong

Employee Engagement scores are relatively consistent with the 2010 levels. Approximately two out of three employees report positive conditions for engagement still exist in their agencies.

Federal employees' satisfaction with their jobs, pay and organizations are areas of continued risk

This year employee responses were down two percentage points when recommending their organization as a good place to work (67 percent) and down three percentage points with their satisfaction with their job (68 percent) and organization (59 percent).

Satisfaction with pay (59 percent) had the greatest impact on the Global Satisfaction scores, as it decreased by four percentage points. This is pay satisfaction's lowest level since the 2004 survey administration.

Two out of 10 employees feel pay raises are related to their job performance.

Three out of 10 employees feel that their performance is recognized in a meaningful way and that promotions are based on merit.

Though some areas trended downward, results vary by agency and subcomponents within agencies. The FEVS presents an opportunity for agency leadership to make improvements.

While the Survey indicates that several key areas are trending downward, it also states that there are plenty of opportunities for improvement, which is true.


A Less Rosy Picture

Another less optimistic way to look at the FEVS report is to note the following:


  • About 33% of the employees do not believe that positive conditions for engagement exist in their agencies.
  • About 33% of the employees do not believe their organization is a good place to work.
  • 32% of the employees are dissatisfied with their jobs.
  • 41% of the employees are not satisfied with their organization.

When you extrapolate these numbers across a government-wide workforce of about 1.6 million Federal employees, those numbers are actually pretty scary. For example, the results suggest that over 640,000 Federal employees are not satisfied with their agencies.


Human Capital Assessment and Accountability

A different way to look at this is to examine the results of The Human Capital Assessment and Accountability Framework index. The HCAAF index uses a set of metrics to evaluate Federal agencies' human capital management. The HCAAF looks at four key areas: Leadership & Knowledge Management, Results-Oriented Performance Culture, Talent Management, and Job Satisfaction. The FEVS is one of the tools used to develop these overall scores.

Here are the overall results for the Federal Government in these four areas. For additional perspective, let's compare the results in each of the four categories to the surveys from 2010, 2008 and 2006:


HCAAF Scores 2006 - 2012

                                                                    2012      2010     2008     2006

Leadership/Knowledge Management            60%       61%      59%     58%

Results-Oriented Performance Culture         52%       54%      54%     53%

Talent Management                                     59%      60%       60%     59%

Job Satisfaction                                           66%      69%       67%     67%


As you can see, the overall scores have declined by 1% to 3% from their high in each category, with pay most likely being the largest contributor to these declines. However, regardless of the year in which you look at the numbers, it is still quite clear that the Federal Government has enormous opportunities to improve --- in every category.

Most troubling, if you look at the category which is probably of the greatest interest to the general public --- Results-Oriented Performance Culture --- even under the best of circumstances, almost 800,000 Federal employees have consistently given this area the lowest score.


What can be done?

With Sequestration looming, it is unlikely that most agencies will have an enormous amount of money to throw at this issue. That is simply the current reality. However, there are several things that can be done which will collectively make a big difference. Let's review a few of them now.



Communication always seems to be a workplace issue, whether it is in the private or public sector. The best way to address it is to develop and maintain a two-way communication strategy that shares information in a whole-brain manner. After all, you don't want your employees spending an inordinate amount of time around the water cooler griping because they don't know and/or understand what is going on.

By making a conscious effort to both transmit and receive information, you will be in a better position to know what your employees are thinking and feeling and be able to make adjustments when necessary.

Here are some concrete steps you can take which will reduce some of the frustration and discontent among the troops:


  1. Have frequent information sessions with the employees through town hall meetings, team meetings, newsletters, etc. Better to over-communicate than under-communicate.
  2. Be honest and upfront with them. Tell them what to expect with respect to future pay, cutbacks, Sequestration, etc.  If possible, any bad news should come directly from you rather than from the newspaper or through the grapevine.
  3. With respect to workload challenges, let them know what you are doing to address the current situation. Share the pressures you are under so they have a realistic idea of what you are dealing with. Moreover, let them know the strategies you are pursuing to try and make things better and invite them to share their ideas with you.
  4. Periodically remind everyone that things are not as bad as they might appear. That is because while pay increases have clearly been limited, millions of people are out of work and would gladly take a government job if they could get one.
  5. Manage by walking around. If people see you everyday and you interact with them, they will conclude you are truly concerned about them. Moreover, they will be much more inclined to talk with you and give you a realistic sense as to what is really happening on the floor.


Employee Engagement

A "turned on" workforce is what everyone strives for, but since one out of three employees don't feel that way, more needs to be done in this area. Here are some steps you can take to address this issue:


  1. People want to be part of something bigger than them. To do this, connect them to the mission. Sounds simple enough but it often doesn't happen because of workload pressures, bureaucracy, poor management, etc. After all, if you only talk about numbers; that is all people will think you care about. Therefore, when you talk about your metrics, also talk about the people you serve. Design your physical plant using Visual Management principles** so that it "breathes" your mission, describes your history and showcases your many success stories. Nothing breeds success better than success.

(**Editor's Note: For more on visual management, see Stewart Liff's recent articles on wherein he explains how this novel approach to management has helped transform some government agencies. For a complete description of the concept, see Stewart's book Seeing is Believing: How the New Art of Visual Management can Boost Performance throughout your Organization, written with Pamela A. Posey.)


  1. Make sure your employees are involved in all aspects of the work. That is, involve them in setting goals, workload planning, performance management, self-development, etc. The more people are engaged in all facets of the work experience, the more they will be turned on.
  2. Utilize the team concept. Most people don't want to work alone; they want to work with others and be part of something special. In addition, given the length of time that people spend at work, they often need to establish meaningful social connections with their co-workers. Setting up a team environment is the best way to accomplish your work and build relationships among the employees.
  3. Consider self-managed teams. They take teamwork to a completely different level and if done correctly, help create an environment where everyone can be a leader. Moreover, they produce a much higher degree of employee involvement, employee knowledge and engagement.
  4. Make sure your systems are carefully aligned and support teamwork. Otherwise, you will send mixed messages. For example, high partitions generally inhibit teamwork. If you only reward individual performance, people will be less likely to help each other. Remember, organizations are perfectly designed to get the results that they get.


Manage Performance

In my experience, most people want to be part of a winning organization. They want to work for an organization where performance is valued and people are treated fairly. In order to accomplish this, here are some actions you can take:


  1. Share the performance goals and actual performance statistics with everyone so they know what the goals are and how they are doing (at both the group and individual levels.) I strongly advocate posting this information in locations where employees meet.
  2. You should have daily (15 minutes is usually sufficient), weekly and monthly performance meetings as appropriate to discuss group performance. This will ensure that everyone is involved and has the chance to participate.
  3. Employees should receive periodic feedback on how they are doing relative to their performance standards (monthly is preferable.) Along these lines, consider providing them with a monthly report card telling them how they are doing.
  4. You should have reliable consequences for every level of performance, regardless of whether you like the employees or not. In other words, people should always be able to see an action coming, whether it is good, neutral or bad. However, in the FEVS Survey, only 41% of the respondents agreed that "Awards in my work unit depend on how well employees perform their jobs." Clearly, many people believe that awards, among other actions, are not reliably given based on performance.  (As stated earlier, only two out of 10 employees felt that pay raises are related to their job performance.)
  5. Most importantly, DEAL with your problem employees; do not move them. After all, this continues to be perhaps the most frustrating area for Federal employees. For instance, in response to the following statement, "In my work unit, steps are taken to deal with a poor performer who cannot or will not improve," only 29.7% of the employees responded affirmatively, meaning over 1.1 million Federal employees do NOT feel that poor performers are properly dealt with.

These are only some relatively simple but effective actions you can take to improve your results. In my next column, I'll discuss additional steps you can take to improve the views of your employees.


Stewart Liff writes on human resources management issues in government for OhMyGov. A recipient of the President's Council on Management Improvement Award, he is the author of five books, including the just-released Improving the Performance of Government Employees. His expertise includes employee relations, labor relations, Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO), performance management, staffing, training, rewards and recognition, metrics, systems design and succession planning.


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