Workforce Management

Cost-free ways to boost morale

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Most federal employees find their work to be motivating, a new survey finds, but there's ample room for improvement. (Stock image)

The good news? Most federal employees find their jobs to be motivating. The better news? Agency managers have some ways to improve employee satisfaction without spending any more money, according to a new study.

The Merit Systems Protection Board’s report, "Federal Employee Engagement: The Motivating Potential of Job Characteristics and Rewards," examines motivation levels in the federal workforce and outlines what agencies can do to bring up employee engagement and performance.

The report found most employees say they are motivated in their jobs, and traits such as skill variety, autonomy and feedback are key to high engagement levels. However, many employees reported their job lacked one or more features needed to a high level of motivation; almost 80 percent said they did not have a highly favorable view of their job characteristics.

“This finding suggests that although at a general level federal employees feel motivated in their work, job characteristics are an area where potential improvements in motivation can be made,” according to the report. Most feds value nonmonetary rewards, such as serving the public and having job security, over compensation and bonuses. Slightly more than 95 percent cited the personal satisfaction they experience in their job as the most important reward to continue their employment in their agency.

“The importance of nonmonetary rewards to federal employees is encouraging in light of the budget and resource constraints that many federal agencies currently face,” the report authors wrote.

Despite valuing the nonmonetary rewards they receive, few feds see a clear connection between their work efforts and outcomes. Only 23 percent reported having a high Motivation Force Score – a number that reflects the motivational quality of an employee’s rewards and perceived connections between effort, performance and rewards. The practical implication of that is that employees who scored high were more likely to receive a high performance rating than those with a low score.

The report stresses better job design -- structuring jobs to maximize desirable characteristics--to encourage an efficient workforce. Such traits include having a substantial impact through work, receiving feedback and exercising autonomy in scheduling and performing work. Another way to increase employee engagement and motivation is to offer the workforce rewards that it values most.

Federal agencies need to ensure employees see results of their efforts and receive positive reinforcement for achieving goals and results, Susan Tsui Grundmann, MSPB chairman, said in a Jan. 7 statement.

“To ensure that recognition efforts are effective and use scarce resources wisely, federal agencies and managers need to learn what rewards employees value most and design their programs accordingly,” she said.

Employee engagement has been linked to higher productivity and increased agency outcomes. A report submitted to Congress in 2008 found that engagement levels were undesirably low at agencies: A third of federal employees were engaged, less than half were somewhat engaged, and 17.5 percent were disengaged.

MSPB found that NASA has the highest number (76.5 percent) of employees who reported feeling highly motivated. The lowest levels of motivation were reported by employees at the Housing and Urban Development Department, where just 61.4 percent said they were highly motivated.

The report is based on data from the 2010 Merit Principles Survey, which MSPB periodically conducts to evaluate the health of federal merit systems. The survey was distributed to nearly 72,000 full-time, permanent, federal employees, of which 42,020 responded.

About the Author

Camille Tuutti is a former FCW staff writer who covered federal oversight and the workforce.

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Reader comments

Fri, Jan 11, 2013

Money's not the only thing but it sure beats what's second!

Thu, Jan 10, 2013

These "studies" are always constructed so as to provide the leadership with the talking points they want. They want to say that pay is not a motivating factor so they can ignore the fact that pay freezes are a seriously demotivating factor. Anybody who actually has to work for a living knows that compensation is for most people the #1 motivator. Even for those with other #1 motivators, compensation is still going to be in the top 3. You have to be pretty damned well off (like most of our millionaire politicians) before pay ceases to be a major motivator.

Thu, Jan 10, 2013

Motivated, every morning it takes >15 minutes to get my PC to load, (>20 if email is included). Heaven forbid if there's a patch. PS: I'm not here for love--just stop paying me and see what happens!

Wed, Jan 9, 2013

Pay the license fees for the software I use every day so we can get upgrades and don't lose technical support and maybe I'll be more motivated... I've given up on having the leaky roof fixed.

Wed, Jan 9, 2013 A Fed

This is a combination of a self-serving spin on answers and questions written to prevent meaningful responses that would have shown that money IS important, and not being embarrassed to let oneself be identified as a Fed IS important. Right now I see a dead end career and continued efforts to steer conversations away from the identity of my employer. Maybe it's just me, though. The new crop might really be happy with the indefinite prospect of a "salary-as-political-hostage" pay model, continued villainization by congress, pats on their heads with a "job well done" and bringing their own devices.

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