Surveys to tap into feds’ feelings

Mandatory satisfaction surveys are meant to give agencies new insights into their leadership and management practices

On Jan. 1, 2007, a new federal regulation will require all agencies to conduct annual surveys to gauge employee satisfaction and rate internal leadership and management practices. Agencies must post the results on their public Web sites.

After reviewing public comments on the regulation, the Office of Personnel Management added 11 questions to the list it compiled for the annual surveys. Those additional questions include whether employees feel their workloads are reasonable, whether they have trust and confidence in their supervisors, and whether pay raises depend on how well employees perform their jobs.

OPM announced that the mandatory survey will contain 45 standard questions. Agencies can add questions, but they cannot ask fewer than the 45 on the standard survey. OPM will publish guidelines on its Web site to help agencies use the survey results to improve their institutional performance.

Some commenters had asked that small agencies with fewer than 800 employees be exempt from the survey requirement, but OPM said the law establishing it — the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal 2004 — makes no exceptions based on size.

The annual employee surveys will supplement a larger Federal Human Capital Survey that OPM conducts in alternating years. In the years that agencies participate in the Federal Human Capital Survey, they will not have to conduct their own surveys, according to the regulation.

OPM allowed agencies the flexibility to conduct the surveys themselves or have a third party do the work. Agencies can use statistical sampling or require every employee to answer the survey questions.

Employee responses to the surveys will be confidential, but employees will be asked to answer some demographic questions, such as whether they identify themselves as Hispanic/Latino or black/African American. The survey will also ask about their job status, such as whether they are a team leader, supervisor, manager or executive.

The law requires agencies to publish the survey results on their Web sites, “unless the head of the agency determines that doing so would jeopardize or negatively impact national security,” it states.

“What is not always emphasized enough is that overall agency efficiency goes up when areas for improvement are identified and resources are allocated to the problem areas,” said Catherine Rao, chief executive officer of survey software company Raosoft, which has worked with the Air Force for many years on its periodic employee satisfaction surveys.

“Survey data is actually a relatively inexpensive way for an organization to gain the guidance to improve its operations,” Rao said.

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