Federal workers remain pessimistic about rewards

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Federal workers are souring on their prospects for performance-based advancement and other rewards, according to a new report from the Partnership for Public Service and Deloitte.

Slightly more than 43 percent of federal workers think their good work will lead to promotions or other rewards, according to data from a 2012 survey of federal employees. That figure is down 2.5 percentage points compared to 2011, and has never crested 50 percent since the survey launched in 2005. Just 31.5 percent said that promotions in their work unit were based on merit, down 1.9 percent from 2011.

The report, "Best Places to Work in the Federal Government," is available at the Partnership website.

The unhealthy numbers and trend lines are indicative of poor management, said Max Stier, president of the Partnership for Public Service. Good management practices are increasingly important in this time of fiscal austerity, pay freezes and sequestration, he said. And though the government-wide numbers are bad, there are individual agencies with workers who say that awards and advancement are clearly based on job performance.

"Peel back the onion," Stier said. "There are wide variations among different agencies. That tells you that it's possible to do very well, even in the public sector, despite substantial financial constraints."

Among large agencies, NASA, the intelligence agencies, Commerce and State boast more than half of their employees perceiving that advancement and rewards are linked to performance. The departments of Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs are at the bottom, at below 40 percent. Other than the Department of Transportation, no large agency reported an uptick in this measure of morale between the 2011 and 2012 surveys. The 2013 survey, the first to be done since the institution of furloughs for many departments, is finishing up now.

The report's recommendations are largely low-cost, given the current fiscal climate. In lieu of raises or bonuses, the report suggests awards of time off, written thank-you notes and an emphasis on personal connections between managers and workers as a way to recognize employee effort. Managers could also step up efforts to help workers with career development, with new tasks, leadership opportunities and training.

Managers should also be candid with federal workers about their performance, prospects for promotion and the selection criteria involved in advancing to more senior positions.

The personal touch, from agency heads on down to front-line mangers can be critical, said David Dye, director of the Federal Human Capital practice at Deloitte. "It's a really important part of letting your workforce know they're appreciated," Dye said. "These subtle, important personalized experiences are going to help attract people to government and keep people as well," he said.

Stier said that more needs to be done to share success stories from far-flung corners of the federal government. One way is to have the Office of Management and Budget act as a resource for providing such enterprise-wide perspective. Another is to move proven leaders into troubled agencies. "Virtually everything that should be happening in government is happening somewhere," Stier said.

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is executive editor of FCW.

Before joining the editing team, Mazmanian was an FCW staff writer covering Congress, government-wide technology policy and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial roles at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, New York Press, Architect Magazine and other publications.

Click here for previous articles by Mazmanian. Connect with him on Twitter at @thisismaz.


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