Feds happy with their workplaces

But OPM survey shows workers are critical of managers

An Office of Personnel Management survey of federal workers found that the government needs to do a better job of tying employees' pay to their performance.

A quarter of employees said poorly performing workers are not properly dealt with and less than half believe that high performers are regularly recognized or rewarded, according to recently released 2004 Federal Human Capital Survey results.

"We're concerned that there's an awful lack of performance sensitivity in our reward systems," said Doris Hauser, a senior OPM adviser. "There has got to be recognition, and employees are reporting it's still not there," she said at a May 19 press conference.

But despite that dissatisfaction, 83 percent of federal workers said they like their jobs. That number may not be sustainable, however, without instituting a pay-for-performance system, Hauser said. Recent government recruits "may not be as likely to stay with an employer for a long time," especially if they see that outstanding and mediocre workers are treated equally, she said.

OPM surveyed about 150,000 federal employees during the last half of 2004. Of those, 71 percent said they get a sense of personal accomplishment from their jobs.

The 2004 survey was conducted before pay-for-performance systems began to be implemented at the Homeland Security and Defense departments.

One union official interpreted the OPM survey results not as a mandate for big changes, but as a call to adequately fund the current pay system and manage it more effectively.

"Federal employees are well aware that the Bush administration's pay for performance would mean a general reduction of pay for the entire federal workforce, except for a few well-connected favorites getting big raises at everyone else's expense," said Jacque Simon, public policy director at the American Federation of Government Employees, in an e-mail message.

Simon said the survey results are easy to dismiss or misinterpret. "When employees say elsewhere that managers are poorly trained and ineffective, their wisdom is ignored, except when they complain about managers' reluctance to fire so-called poor performers, which again is misinterpreted as a call for unrestricted power for managers to fire anyone at will," she said.

Worker happiness would probably initially decrease under a newly instituted governmentwide pay-for-performance system, Hauser said. Previous small-scale projects show that "in the first couple of years, there is expressed dissatisfaction," she said. "We would be foolish not to anticipate that again."

After workers acclimate to the new system, however, satisfaction edges up and surpasses previous levels, Hauser said. The dissatisfaction mainly comes from resistance to change in large organizations, she added.

In the survey, workers rated organization leaders' honesty, integrity and ability to motivate workers as less than stellar. Only 38 percent of surveyed workers felt motivated by leaders, and only 49 percent felt leaders had high standards of honesty and integrity.

Florence Olsen contributed to this story.

Survey shows feds' mixed feelings

Results of the Office of Personnel Management's 2004 Federal Human Capital Survey show that federal employees think their jobs are important. But less than half believe that high-performing employees are adequately recognized and rewarded. Other findings include:

  • 71 percent of employees said they are not considering leaving their organization in the next year.
  • 66 percent said their job performance appraisal fairly reflects their performance.
  • 62 percent said they were satisfied with their pay.
  • 29 percent said differences in performance in their work unit are recognized in a meaningful way.

Source: Office of Personnel Management

About the Author

David Perera is a special contributor to Defense Systems.

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