Satisfaction Slows for Gov Employees – 3 Reasons Why

Federal pay, sequestration and uncertain agency funding have weakened federal-employee satisfaction, according to the Office of Personnel Management's Federal Employee Viewpoint survey.

For the second year in a row, overall employee satisfaction scores fell, dipping below 60 percent this year, reports Federal News Radio. 

A sharp drop in employees' satisfaction with their pay, down 5 percentage points this year compared to last, was the main driver in the sagging employee morale.

So how do you bounce back from the sagging numbers? Tom Fox is the Vice President for Leadership and Innovation at the Partnership for Public Service. He told Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER program that the lackluster numbers are not surprising.

"The numbers are no great surprise. The federal workforce continues to be highly motivated around the work that they do day in and day out. They are certainly feeling the pressures and disappointments associated with the constant pay freezes, the budget cuts and sequestration," said Fox. 

The survey was conducted prior to the shutdown so those numbers are not factored in. More than 376,000 federal employees responded to the survey, which OPM has conducted annually since 2002. Satisfaction with employee pay experienced the most significant declines — down 5 percentage points this year to 54 percent — the lowest in nearly a decade.

The survey matters because...

"The survey is a vital piece of information for senior leaders and frontline workers. The question becomes what are you going to do about the data? You get this information. It is probably no surprise.  But you are given a more in-depth picture of what is driving motivation or dissatisfaction in your office. How do you have a conversation with your folks to figure out how you and your team can do to improve. These are very difficult circumstances," said Fox. 

Major takeaways from the survey: 

  1. The federal workforce remains incredibly mission focused. They want to find ways to continuously improve their teams and their agency’s operations and activities. That is the good result from the survey. That despite the turmoil that is going on in the federal space there is still that rock-solid commitment.

  2. Pay is growing as an area of dissatisfaction for employees. Most leaders can do very little about that because it is driven by external factors. The Hill and what they allow from the budget. But for leaders maybe you can find alternative ways to motivate folks.

  3. We continue to see leadership scores suffer. One of the areas for greatest improvement is if leaders could communicate more effectively with their employees they would actually see that despite all the other issues that are taking a toll on federal employees they could see their satisfaction grow.

Is it difficult to feel a connection to the mission?

"There has been some bright spots in this area. Because federal workers have been so put-upon publicly perceptions are starting to improve. But it is still a pretty steep hill to climb. Leaders need to focus on the connection to the mission. Whether that is in regular staff meetings, in more informal meetings with your direct reports, you want to try and find ways to continuously make that connection naturally. You can’t force it," said Fox. 

Focus on results. 

"You want to focus on results. These are the people that we serve and now here is the benefit that they are receiving as a result of your hard work. Those are two sides of the same coin, being very clear about your goals and outcomes and then focus on results. That coin can help you with motivation. Constant communication is a given in high performing organizations," said Fox. 

Don't dread the staff meeting

"So often people dread the staff meeting that they’ve seen others hold. But it is your staff meeting, reshape it in the mold that works for you and your team. Work with your employees to figure out what would make sense. Make your staff meetings a two-way dialogue that allows for people leave a meeting not feeling like they have lost 30 mins of their time," said Fox. 

Disconnect between public and public servants?

"You have to tell the positive public service story. If you share the stories it will come back to your workforce and inspire them. It is a way to show great pride in your work," said Fox. 

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