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What would make feds happier?


In recent years, Federal Computer Week has asked numerous management experts about how agencies could improve the productivity and job satisfaction of federal employees. We have also conducted several formal surveys, asking feds to assess the workplace environment at their agencies.

But it’s time to cut to the chase and ask feds directly: How could your agency or manager make you happier and more successful in your job?

Think about all the usual factors: compensation, the office environment, management style, technology policies (telework, personal-use restrictions), technology tools, etc. 

But what variables are often overlooked?

Share your thoughts with us by posting a comment on this blog (registration required) or by sending an e-mail to [email protected] (subject line: Workforce) so we can post it for you.

Comments should range in length from 75 to 175 words and be clear, constructive and specific. We will publish a selection of the comments we receive, along with commentary by management experts, in an upcoming issue.

Please let us know whether we can use your name or whether you would prefer to remain anonymous.

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I work for a large Defense Agency located on Fort Belvoir in Virginia. The main thing that would make my/our working environment much better is to "Drive out Fear," which is one of the tenets laid down by Dr. Deming, a famous business behavorist pioneer. We have no trust, therefore we have micromanagment. With micromanagement comes the top SES expectation for mid level managers to work and be available on a 24/7 basis. Of course, there can be no 'empowerment' for employees in this culture. Innovation and creativity are the enemies of senior management, and have even been referred to as 'Cowboy Culture,' likened to lawlessness in the early Wild West. Therefore, innovation equates to chaos. There is too much negativity, with rarely a genuine compliment heard. The only time we hear about what a great job we are doing is when it is lip service in front of the Director and/or larger audience for our SES to save face. Long-time knowledgeable employees are retiring, resigning, and basically running for their lives in record numbers. In the last three years, it's been about a 50% drop in the workforce...and it continues at an alarming rate. These should be the greatest jobs in the world -- a great mission, a good facility, great pay and benefits. It's the intangibles that have our senior leaders stumped. Employees basically cower in their cubes, don't volunteer anymore, and try to stay under the radar to stay out of trouble. To make matters worse, we are now under a pay-for-performance system that is a poor fit with this culture.

Posted by Jackie on September 10, 2008 - 09:13 AM

I think this is happening across government. Why is it when you want to look forward, you are micromanaged, told you are too smart, and are expected to only have the ability to manage contracts and not worry about any of the details. When I came to washington 20+ years ago, the through was to help figure out ways to innovate and make the government work better. Now we are being asked to sit back, and let our contractors run everything and not ask any questions. What ever happened to leadership?

Posted by routerdude on September 10, 2008 - 09:57 AM

As a Government Employee I would be much happier with Technology advances. I have worked for 3 Government agencies since 1999 and over the years I have seen that the systems which the government agencies have at each individual agency are not consistant. For example at one Federal Agency there was an entire electronic system for reporting travel requests and vouchers and at another it is still paper-based and sneakered from desk to desk to get approvals and payment. If the Government would standardize which systems the agencies must have implemented to this point "2008" such as the travel forms, or training forms I think employees would be able to use their time more effectively. Also, in general I would be much happier if new technology were released when it was still "new" instead of years after. In addition to these items I would like to see in the upcoming years the GS-2210 series requirements be more detailed to require certain certifications and education similar to the GS-1550 series. If this were done I think IT department services would improve greatly.

Posted by GovTechie on September 10, 2008 - 10:35 AM

I agree with routerdude! It is all over the government. It is not the tangible items, but the micromanagement that feeds and breeds fear. Why don’t SES and upper management get it? Is it oxygen loss from being in their ivory tower too long or is it too much time being in the Scrooge syndrome? Did they forget their roots? Empowerment means they can be less stressed and their subordinates grow, is it not a win-win situation. All the Sigma Six and PMI training should have taught them something about people and extrinsic and intrinsic rewards. Funny how we tend to go through life saying we are human, yet we forget humanity. We also forget about teaching and delegation, while seeing what is reaped from those methodologies, too. Micromanagement hinders productivity, hence, employee spirits or compassion to work on a project or for that particular group takes a major dive.

Posted by BlueAngel8404 on September 10, 2008 - 10:58 AM

I remember what my industry jobs were like. I was so very passionate about the work and the management gave me broad responsibility over all aspects of the work. I miss the authority that goes with the accountability. In government there seems to be trust within cliques. If you're the new guy or not part of a clique, you may get ignored at best or kicked to the curb at worst. Three things: Clarity of purpose; recognition for a job well done; and the ability to speak your mind without worrying that there'll be retribution through the new NSPS system. don't use my name - i have been effectively muzzled

Posted by geek15 on September 10, 2008 - 12:05 PM

I've worked over 23 years in DOD; DCMA,Army & Air Force. I have to say the Army works you hard but allows you to gain great experience. DOD, for the most part, does not trust its employees, have severe micromangement tendencies and does not appreciate the majority of its experienced employees. I'm now working in an agency outside of DOD and I'm happy. I'm challenged, they find the funds to train me effectively and they promote from within, they try different things. When I make a mistake they do not castigate me but teach me the correct way and the reason why I need to do it differently. I'm very happy here. I wish everyone were happy in their positions.

Posted by Govt Employee on September 10, 2008 - 12:43 PM

(via e-mail:)

1. Management should be more available to communicate with their employees. (In my organization they seem to put up barriers to this.)

2. Mentor lower graded employees to improve work output & self improvement. 3. Institute upward mobility programs so lower graded employees can improve their knowledge base & status. 4. Provide initial & refresher training in technology tools. Don't expect us to 'learn' a new program on our own or by 'word of mouth' from other employees.

Management & some Project Managers seem to expect you to 'know all about' a project even when all team members are not fully involved with the program. They go to meetings & briefings but don't come back from those meetings & briefings & relay the information they have gleaned to their various team members.

Posted by jsmeditor on September 10, 2008 - 01:49 PM

I have been in the government for 20 years and what I see is much the same as others who have posted: micromanagment of such tiny things that it became clear to me years ago that very few managers here know what is important. They don't even suspect. People reach the GS-15 and SES levels not because they are competent, although there are exceptions, but because they have learned how to progress in a completely deranged environment. They know how to manage up, but they have been mis-managed throughout their careers and use that training as guidance to mis-manage once they obtain their high status. I work in an agency that has spent millions over the last six years for a system that has yet to go online because no one knows how to manage the work but they have been successful at blowing smoke upstream all the way to OMB. Every GS-15 and SES in the government should get a directed reassignment into another agency and new standards for judging their performance. Give them 18 months to show they know how to manage or make them leave so they can paint houses or drive a cab - work they may be able to perform.

Posted by Vance on September 11, 2008 - 09:04 AM

Who cares?

Greater effectiveness through the alignment of mission, process, and technology would please the good ones. The rest should get a real job.

Posted by Federal Enterprise Architect on September 11, 2008 - 09:31 AM

Empowerment would be the main issue. Even as line management, I am not authorized to approve anything except time cards. We spend huge amounts of money overseeing purchases and travel. It would be much better to let people buy what the want when they want it if there supervisor approves and it is within the guidelines. We have spend as much as $10K debating a $500 pruchase. Also with travel, if the travel is approved as necessary for business and the amount spent doesn't exceeed the per diem then why question everyone about it and demand justification for each expense. It finally ends up in a lack of trust by management. Empower people to do the job and deal with those who go outside the guidlines rather than trying to "legislate morality".

Posted by ken on September 11, 2008 - 09:32 AM

Just give me cash and teleworking. I've given up on trying to reform the system and just accept the fact that it is corrupt.

Posted by DoDEmployee on September 11, 2008 - 09:58 AM

Echoing pretty much what everyone has already said, enpower me so that I can do my job. Setting up unnecessary approval processes delays the work. Most federal workers are responsible adults that know what to do and how to do it. Micromanagement has it's place. For example, as a supervisor, I micromanage people who I feel need it,(e.g. new employees not use to policies and procedures, new processes, non-performing staff, etc.) Anyone who has the years of experience, excellant track record, and has proven themselves to be competent do not need to be micromanaged. However, I, like routerdude and BlueAngel, am given responsibility, but not authority to implement processes that I am sure would ensure we do a good job.

Posted by agardner on September 11, 2008 - 10:26 AM

Micromanagement and the failure to train people. I am a program manager an exceptionally technical field (GIS) yet I never am able to attend trainings or professional meetings. The mantra is: NO MONEY. When new technology arrives (software or hardware), I am just supposed to magically understand how to use it--and teach others! The micromanagement occurs at the upper levels (our work group is actually great), but because of the micromanagement, we spend up to 50% of our time proving that we are accountable by writing justifications and filling in data sheets showing that we are working! Which we aren't because we are writing justifications and filling in data sheets! And like others, I see that the highly qualified and very experienced employees who are assets to the organization are retiring ASAP! As I plan to do!

Posted by ddcsr on September 11, 2008 - 10:35 AM

Stop making the overall Federal pay scale a political toy. Every year Congress and the President argue on a political basis our "COLA." A law was passed to make the Federal pay fair compared to private industry and never followed. If that law was wrong in its method of calculation, pass another one. Once passed, stop making it an annual political game to earn points with the public.

Posted by Barry on September 11, 2008 - 10:42 AM

In my HHS agency, supervisors/managers are absolute ceilings btw staff and Agency Director/Deputy Director. As a result, staff ideas cannot be, and are not, considered unless submitted by supervisors/managers and, as a result, (everyone knows who gets the credit for ideas). Becauase annual performance reviews are the sole responsibility of supervisors/managers, their opinions and report is the only permanent record; workers are discouraged from adding comments to these reviews. Why do I put up with this? My office is 4 miles from my home and I am close to retirement (close to 30 yrs of service).

Posted by FedWrkrBee on September 11, 2008 - 10:42 AM

(via e-mail:)

While I agree with the micromanagement issue, I have seen other issues at the top of government workforce concerns too. It is hard to trust the political environment. It is hard to find a path through to work hard, honestly, and to produce the results. Instead we often watch projects failing around us and lament over what could have been if we could have eliminated political motivations. Most all government employees join the ranks to make a difference working with important national missions. So many want to perform, see the results, and to know they are a part of something important. Only some can say they have met that goal. With so many retirements looming we have an unique opportunity to change the government management model to emphasize effective planning, solid risk management techniques, and valuing effort and results. (I have seen a couple of agencies making real progress with this which is encouraging.) We need help, though, to overturn inefficient and outdated practices that keep us from being competitive. I hope that new management studies what is working outside of government in private industry and within government in an effort to know what is most effective. It is a time to share information and collaborate to maximize results. So many attempts at doing this have already been started but let's measure the results honestly and put controls in place so that any individuals with individual biases never have the ability to stop us from accomplishing what is good for the nation's people. Solicit ideas from the working level that may not know where to give their ideas right now (but they have them). This is a time when many are overworked from retirements and vacancies left open but they will work with you still to fix the process if it means we do not repeat our mistakes and that we are getting better in the end.

Fed Worker

Posted by jsmeditor on September 11, 2008 - 12:21 PM

I am a GS-15 Deputy CIO and on my way into the SES CDP. I got here on both my technical skills and my ability to know when they are not as important as the ability to lead. It is xtremely disheartening and frustrating to see how disinfranchised these commenters are. What I haven't read from most of these comments is how they have taken their own careers into their own hands. Have they had the courage to professionally have that crucial conversation with their management? Have you made your OWN changes to improve your situation. Do you know WHY and HOW decisions get made at those high levels? Complaining and whining about management is the status quo. I can't say that all managers are great but it works both ways. I'm lucky that my staff can provide me with feedback to help me improve my leadership skills. Put up or shut up!

Posted by nvrgiveup on September 12, 2008 - 07:19 AM

To the person who asked if we have taken our career into our own hands, the answer is yes. I came in the government 8 years ago with the thought that it would groom their employees in many facets of organizational administration as does the military. My mistake in thinking in those terms and now pigeon-holed in the procurement series that I knew from working on my Masters was necessary to understand to get things done. Now, with many skill sets that are transferable to other series, I can not get there because they only look at whether you have been in the series identified in the announcement. Government is wrong in not allowing folks to have multiple experiences. Yes, I have talked to management who only are interested in helping you for their office, not government as a whole or even maintaining you within the agency. I even attended a SES luncheon last year that talked about how the SES program needs to rotate their folks more to get multiple experiences to become better leaders. That just leads to another aspect that I have failed to see. I have not seen management with leadership skills like I experienced in the private sector. They waiver on making decisions due to political reasons and saving their butts. Still with everything I have witnessed, my personality will not let me give up on cracking this nut. One more thing, I resent being micro-managed as if I ma a child, not a professional. The company I worked for in the private sector was in a totally different state from me. No one looking over my shoulder and I worked 12-14 hour days.

Posted by gworker on September 12, 2008 - 08:42 AM

I am in an SES CDP as well, and agree with the comments nvrgiveup posted. A group of fellow candidates and I are looking at the issue of recruitment and retention to develop a plan to address the needs of the agency in the future. While all the comments have merit, our group would prefer to focus on more concrete ideas, especially those of folks who have a more recent recruitment experience and who may have worked outside the federal environment and could provide some benchmarks. We would welcome your input.

Posted by abcdefg on September 12, 2008 - 08:47 AM

I wonder if the staff of nvrgiveup have ever mentioned anything about tact? The simplified response doesn't show quality of leadership nor depth of thought and in fact makes the points of the prior commenters rather well. There are a plethora of Government employees who are capable and willing to step up but are beaten back or minimized by Management as they are seen as a 'threat' or are somehow in direct competition with Contractors (as odd as that may sound). The mass retirements that are oft touted are to be celebrated as we just might get something accomplished.

Posted by staypositive on September 12, 2008 - 09:08 AM

Trust and growth seem to be a big issue here. Government employees should be treated much like military personnel. We put our soldiers through months and or years of training before they fight for our country why would we not train the personnel that keep this country running in the same manor? This has always bugged me!

Posted by TechEDguy on September 12, 2008 - 10:58 AM

In USA Biz/Gov apply the 33% Solution!
Grp1. Managers are Explicit Intellectualist. Grp2. Doers are Implicit Experientialist. Grp3. Teachers are Dogmatic Educationalist.
Only one in three in any of the above groups respects the abilities in either of the other two groups.
Only one in three will share value/content within and with other groups/communities.
Only one in three will make sure others are recognized for contributions/performance (maybe one Manager in ten will present anyone other than themselves as solution/value providers).
Biz/Gov Teachers only one in three could get tenure at a public high school or university; frequently, not the HR/Training managers. Hence, low ROI gimmicky seminars, pointless curriculum, and clueless career track courses.
The most frequently (66%) promoted in any of the groups are the best social-engineers, lowest ethics, certified/qualified lazy SOBs in any workplace.

Anyway, give me a Venture Architect manager that is mission focused, knows his folks/doers are his valued customers, and capable of career risky visionary decisions for mission success anytime ... maybe I would work for more time and less money.

66% of managers are fearful career managing wimps or petty criminals.

Posted by oh777 on September 12, 2008 - 12:26 PM

same here. I am sick of the micromanaging. I am constantly monitored by a person who only has 3 years federal service versus my 30 (yes I have a college education as well)...as mentioned in the comments, if you are not in the clique, they kick you to the curb...especially if you speak up and out...I too am waiting to retire and take my education elsewhere. I am only fourty something by the way and not over the "hill" yet...I still consider myself capable of something besides federal service with DoD.

Posted by PJJ on September 12, 2008 - 03:27 PM

It's not about making us "happier" on the job; it's about getting us committed, engaged, and passionate. When the leadership understands that, and understand what makes us committed, engaged, and passionate (ask US; don't rely on some cheesy off-the-shelf vendor survey!)everything else will fall into place. I have been miserable in some jobs, but passionate about the work and therefore I contributed to the mission and vision of the organization. I can also remember being happy as a clam in other jobs ... but I was Retired In Place -- one foot out the door and the other on a banana peel; it only took one really bad day or one really good offer, and I was gone.

Posted by Mike706160 on September 13, 2008 - 11:58 AM

How could your agency or manager make you happier and more successful in your job? Explain where we are and where we are going. Communicate both up and down. Describe your expectations. Listen to other before you make decisions. Allow you managers to actually manage (just like their PD says) Have faith in your people (They are good people) Take care of your employees (they also are working on their careers) Make the office environment a “safe feeling” place to come to each day Tell employees where they stand NEVER verbally abuse other humans. You can direct without pain/stress Monitor to assure diversity

Posted by NoBodySpecial on September 17, 2008 - 07:55 AM

Govtechie- I completely agree with your comments! Give us the newest technology and properly teach us how to use it. Since when is it considered training when you are given a new product and told to go to a web site and learn how to use it? If I used work time to learn the programs I need to use, I'd never get any work done. This forces me to try to learn on my own time.Give DoD employees the same programs at the same time and teach us how to use them. Then we will literally be on the same page!

Posted by anothergovtechie on September 19, 2008 - 08:23 AM

I agree GovTechie. Give DoD employees the newest technology and teach us how to use it. Since when is it considered training to go to a website and left to fend for myself? Provide all employees with the same hardware, software and programs at the same time and we'll literally be on the same page. Converting documents up and down because others have different versions takes up too much valuable time.

Posted by anothergovtechie on September 19, 2008 - 08:29 AM

What would make employees truly happier is the feeling that they have an opportunity to advance in an organization.

I work in the Department of Defense and I have seen in recent years, the increased hiring of retired Army Officers at the Colonel and LT Colonel ranks directly into the GS-14 and 15 ranks.

My current Division Chief was an active duty Colonel on week, went on 4 weeks of retirment leave, and came back into the same position as a GS-15.

The organization has filled several other 14 and 15 positions with recently retired officers.

This obvious display of nepatism only shows the workforce that it is who you know, not what you know that is needed to get by.

This seems to be echoed elsewhere in this blog by those that get micromanaged. Great ideas are taken by those managinging them while bad ideas are transferred down and pinned on a worker bee.

NSPS has only worsened the situation in which private sector folks can waltz into top end jobs.

All these improvements stated by SESs and focus groups forget a major issue - if you want good federal government employees, you have to grow them, nuture them, mentor them, and give them a reason to stay loyal to the organization.

Otherwise, you have what is going on now in the federal government, disillusioned employees looking for greener pastures with no sense of upward mobility in an organization, and therefore, no sense of ownership for any of the products or actions of the organization.

These GS-15 SES selects need to take leadership 101 classes, because many SESs have forgotten their roots, their people once they have 'arrived.'

Evaulations should be as much up the ladder as down the ladder. This is true leadership to find out what your people think of you, but many would only consider this as "whining."

Posted by FedVet2020 on November 12, 2008 - 02:24 AM

Posted by John Stein Monroe on Sep 09, 2008 at 12:17 PM


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