Workforce Wonk

By Alyah Khan

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Is an unhappy employee likely to spill your secrets?

Are federal employees who are unhappy with their job more likely to reveal confidential government information?

It seems plausible. Happy employees would be less likely to want to harm their employer. But then, revealing classified information is a serious crime and one would think it would take more than just some discontent on the job to motivate someone to commit it.

National security officials, hoping to prevent more disclosures of classified information such as happened recently through the WikiLeaks site, would like to know whether agencies have thought about the happiness question. Agencies have been instructed to complete their initial post-WikiLeaks assessment by Jan. 28, according to a Jan. 3 memo distributed by Office of Management and Budget Director Jacob Lew.

In the memo, national security officials ask agencies what metrics they use to measure trustworthiness without alienating employees. They also ask agencies if they use psychiatrists or sociologists to measure relative happiness or “despondence and grumpiness” as means to gauge an employee’s trustworthiness.

Jon Desenberg, senior policy director at the Performance Institute, said he was unsurprised by the White House’s concern regarding employee behavior because now there's more understanding about the importance of an engaged workforce.

“Employee engagement is more than happiness – it’s how committed are you to doing whatever it takes to accomplish your agency mission,” he said.

A disengaged workforce not only poses a security threat but can also stand in a way of an agency’s goals, Desenberg added.

He explained that some federal employees might become disgruntled because the government fails to reward high-performing people and has a low turnover rate, leaving dissatisfied and underperforming employees in their jobs for years.

Desenberg said many of these problems have been expressed in the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey conducted by the Office of Personnel Management, but federal managers often don’t pay enough attention to its results.

But with the government looking to deter employees from unauthorized disclosures, it might make sense for officials to start paying more attention to what the employees are actually saying about their jobs.

Posted by Alyah Khan on Jan 10, 2011 at 12:20 PM

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Reader comments

Thu, Jan 13, 2011 Jeffrey A. Williams

The simple answer is yes. But some will and some won't. Unhappy employees of any organization might spill the beans of something that might be harmful to their former employeer.

Wed, Jan 12, 2011

An article like this is going to hurt FCW's credibility. Do yourself a favor since you don't publish any comments other people have posted. (That's called censorship by the way). Please review all the comments and get your facts straight. Make a public apology and withdraw this article.

Tue, Jan 11, 2011 Unknown

This is a very serious issue. This issue does not really have to do so much with happiness/unhappiness with the jobs or agency as it does with frustrations, anger, feeling overwhelmed and lack of effective communication. Sometimes people who are not totally engaged may divulge something through ignorance. Others may beleive their agency is doing something that is morally or ethically wrong and may divulge their perception of agency wrongdoing. Still others may divulge other information due to being overwhelmed by their workload or other reason. They are not really unhappy but may be frustrated and overwhelmed and may beleive there is no one to hear their pleas or to help them resolve issues. Being overwhelmed may cause unhappiness. When communication goes from higher management to the ranks and the ranks have no real way to communicate their concerns up to higher management or to have assistance in resolving issues can cause anger. There are probably some who are truly unhappy or may be in the midst of mental health issues. Perhaps we should look around our agencies and start talking to each other more. We should know who is engaged and who is not, who is overwhelmed or not, who needs assistance. Someone told me today, "You can never over-communicate." Start listening to your employees needs and assist them instead of ostracizing them and hanging them out to dry when things go wrong. Not every agency does this but I have seen it done in some agencies. I have also seen some agencies whose people are able and willing to learn from their mistakes and make corrections when needed.

Tue, Jan 11, 2011 Martin Atayo Washington, DC

It will be a terrible mistake to narrow facts finding of confidential government information leaks to employee's happiness and job satisfaction alone. It does work in multiple ways. Has the employer created a secure and check and balance structure that eliminates employee's ability and free will to ditch out confidential information?? Management structure,specifically, bureaucratic structure in today's format requires thorough re-examination, as it serves to encourage such practices. Societal sociological, economic and cultural beliefs and practices of a given population permits 'sell out practices' by even the most patrotic citizens for material gains. Additionally, even the most refined minds occasionally get tormented by evil forces(get tempted by the devil to commit evil). Finally,the best and most appropriate move hinges on developing sophisticated algorithms(protocols)that guarantee multiple interfacing checks and balances prior to and leading permission approval for any document download,print or sharing.Where there is any red flag in the course of verification, access and permission denial ensue. Of course, a topic of this nature conjures multidisciplinary examination to generate broad and balanced resolutions.

Tue, Jan 11, 2011

Perhaps there may be some "unhappy" federal employees as in any large organization. Let's not make the generalization that most feds are rejects and misfits. Most high performance feds make sacrafices with lower pay to serve because they love what they do and feel rewarding. Yes, feds may not get the highest pay in their field as compared to the private sector, but most feds get decent pay and fairly compensated.

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