Techies are hurting, federal employee survey shows

In the newest Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, feds show they're feeling better than they have over the past few years – but there's still room for improvement, especially in mission-critical IT.

Shutterstock image: workforce concept.

The good news: Federal workers by and large feel a bit better about everything.

The bad news: Folks in some mission-critical IT roles are bucking that trend.

The survey responses of nearly half a million people, formed the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) results that the Office of Personnel Management released Oct. 6. Of the nearly 850,000 feds contacted, 421,748 responded.

OPM's Acting Director Beth Cobert touted modest, significant improvements in three key measures: employee engagement, satisfaction and "New IQ," a measure of inclusion. All three indices ticked up one percentage point over last year, with 64 percent of employees saying they were engaged, 60 percent saying they were satisfied and 57 percent reporting inclusive workplaces.

"While the change is small, it is statistically significant," Cobert said in a conference call with reporters.

Success stories

Many agencies posted strong gains, with NASA leading the pack.

"When I dove into the full report, I was especially gratified by the progress made by individual agencies," Cobert said. "Since last year, 30 of the 37 large departments and agencies made gains in their scores measuring job satisfaction, which includes how satisfied employees are with their jobs, their pay and their organizations."

NASA topped the large agency results for all three major measures -- engagement, satisfaction and inclusion -- with roughly three-fourths of NASA respondents answering positively. Among small agencies, the U.S. Trade and Development Agency and the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service showed the most positive results.

Lagging on leadership

Only half of FEVS respondents, however, agreed with the statement, "My organization's senior leaders maintain high standards of honesty and integrity" -- a response rate that reflected a three-year downward trend. Just 39 percent said their agency's senior leaders "generate high levels of motivation and commitment."

Cobert said those lackluster responses reflect a long history of middling marks for leadership, not a dramatic new shift.

IT disconnect

The Homeland Security Department was at the bottom of large agency rankings, and the poor showing of one of the most cybersecurity-focused agencies may reflect the discontent among federal IT employees.

Of the people employed in the five mission-critical occupations identified by OPM, IT workers were the least likely to say they felt engaged. They were the least likely to say that senior leaders generate high levels of commitment. They were the least likely to recommend their agency as a good place to work. And less than half said current job training was satisfactory.

How IT specialists stack up to MCOs and Non-MCO Occupations
Question(s) IT Specialist MCO Occupations* Non-MCO Occupations
Work unit is able to recruit people with the right skills 37% 43% 41%
I recommend my organization as a good place to work 60% 61% 63%
Senior leaders generate high levels of commitment 40% 42% 39%
Planning to stay with their organization 63% 62% 67%
I am given opportunity to improve my skills 61% 65% 61%
I have enough information to do my job well 64% 68% 70%

The information above was pulled directly from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management's annual Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey Results report, accessible at their site.

*MCO: Mission-Critical Occupations

The unease of IT workers was backed up by the answers of STEM-occupation feds, with only 37 percent of technology-focused feds saying their work unit's recruiting was able to bring in the right talent, and only 38 percent of engineers saying their senior leaders inspired commitment.

"This helps us to understand the problem," Cobert said of the survey's implications for the cybersecurity and IT pros in the federal workforce. She added that fixing the issues is "work for all of us to do."

In the long run, FEVS 2015 shows a slight positive movement after years of decline.

Cobert pointed to one government shutdown and broad funding fears as the forces that have weighed on federal employees' enthusiasm over the past few years, but she added, "we are not accepting a new normal," and said that OPM and individual agencies should use FEVS as a diagnostic to pinpoint areas for continued improvement.

Another morale-sapping factor, not included in this year's FEVS: the impact of OPM's massive breach.

The FEVS surveys went out in two waves, on April 27 and May 4, so they hit federal employees' inboxes before news of the breach broke in June.

"We are doing all we can and know how to do with our interagency partners to regain the trust that we lost," Cobert said. She declined to say whether she expected the breach impact to weigh down next year's FEVS responses.

Dive into the data on OPM's Unlock Talent dashboard here.

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