OPM survey finds employees enjoy work, but dislike their bosses

Federal Human Capital Survey; Office of Personnel Management

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Federal workers love the importance of their jobs but want more recognition, according to the Office of Personnel Management’s Federal Human Capital Survey for 2006. The survey, which OPM conducts every two years, gauges how federal employees feel about their jobs, bosses and work.

OPM canvassed more than 221,000 employees from all major agencies represented on the President’s Management Council, along with several small and independent agencies.

OPM reported that an overwhelming majority of the feds surveyed — 90 percent — believe their work is important, and 83 percent said they believe that they understand how their work contributes to their agencies.

OPM broke the results down by agency. Most of the top-ranking agencies were small  or offer many professional positions such as engineer or scientist. Higher ranking agencies tended to excel in multiple categories.

“An agency that does well does well across the board,” said OPM Director
Linda Springer. The categories include leadership and knowledge management, results-oriented performance culture, talent management, and job satisfaction.

NASA, the National Science Foundation, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Office of Management and Budget ranked in the top 10 in all four categories.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Federal Trade Commission, National Credit Union and the General Services Administration ranked in the top 10 in three categories, while the Commerce and State departments and the U.S. Agency for International Development landed in the top 10 in two categories. Finally, the Justice Department and the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency each made it into one top category.

Meanwhile, the Homeland Security Department was among the worst performers, finishing dead last in two of OPM’s categories and near the bottom in the other two.

OPM was not present on any of the four top ten lists, but Springer attributed this to a large number of newer workers in the agency, many of whom chose to answer “not sure” on many questions.

Although they reported being happy with their jobs, feds were less satisfied with senior management’s treatment of employees and agency efforts to recognize high achievement. Only half of the workers surveyed believed they received the recognition they deserved for their efforts and fewer than a third said they thought agencies were taking the appropriate steps to reprimand poorly performing colleagues.

Unions said the numbers showed a serious problem with agency management.

“When 30 percent or more of the employees in a given agency seriously question the policies and practices of senior management, there clearly are problems that need to be addressed,” said Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union. The union represents 150,000 employees across 30 agencies.

Interaction urged
Kelley said managers should interact more with organizations such as the NTEU to address problems.

“Agency leadership must find a way to get past their reluctance to deal effectively and forthrightly with employee representatives to address and resolve the issues driving this serious level of dissatisfaction,” she said.

Representatives for government executives also questioned the validity of the results for larger, multi-departmental agencies. Senior Executives Association President Carol Bonosaro said smaller or profession-based agencies have more clearly defined and measurable goals than large agencies whose goals may be more widespread.

“It’s a composite score of a bunch of component agencies,” she said. “I’m wondering if any of these scores in the departments were broken out by the component agencies, one might see different results within a department. There might be a difference within the Commerce Department between the International Trade Administration” and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Drilling down into those smaller component departments may be the key to figuring out how to improve overall morale at large agencies. DHS has already created a working group, which includes Chief Human Capital Office and Undersecretary of Management Paul Schneider, to do that.

Springer pledged to continue working with all agencies to glean best practices from higher-ranking agencies and improve worker morale across the board.
DHS targets employee unhappinessThe Homeland Security Department is working to improve its low worker satisfaction ratings. The department ranked last on the Office of Personnel Management’s 2006 Federal Human Capital Survey for job satisfaction and results-oriented performance, second to last for leadership and knowledge management, and fourth to last for talent management. The results are similar to those in a survey OPM conducted in 2004.

To create a stronger worker culture, DHS’ Chief Human Capital Office and the department’s undersecretary for management, Paul Schneider, have created a working group to analyze the causes for worker dissatisfaction on a component-by-component basis.

Strengthening core management is one of DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff’s highest priorities, DHS Chief Operating Officer Michael Jackson said in a memo to agency employees Jan. 30. “The key elements are effective communications and proper recognition of our workforce,” he wrote.

Jackson said leaders of DHS’ departments and component agencies will keep open lines of communication.

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