Finding ways to make federal employees want to stay

Agencies are emphasizing engagement and adding performance incentives to make government careers more attractive to the next generation of employees.

Shutterstock image (by Jirsak): customer care, relationship management, and leadership concept.
 

Federal agencies are focusing on ways to attract and retain the next generation of employees, and finding that performance incentives and improved engagement are key.

The Office of Personnel Management's recent release of the 2016 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey data shows incremental improvement in most federal agencies in terms of employee engagement and workplace satisfaction.

At the General Services Administration, strategies to improve the workplace experience center around forging interpersonal relationships, creating and publishing employee engagement goals and simply finding out "what communications do people want more of," deputy administrator Andrew Neufeld said. 

"It's not a budgetary issue for the most part," said Neufeld, who was speaking at Atlantic Media's Fedstival event. "I think it's pretty customized for each organization. There's no wrong way to figure this out."

But Neufeld cautioned that "it took us about two years" to show a significant bump in the FEVS.

Meanwhile, Donald Kettl, a fellow at the National Academy of Public Administration, openly fretted about the future.

"Turns out, the millennials are the least engaged generation in the workforce more generally, not just in government," Kettl said. He suggested that one reason millennials do not feel engaged is the lack of communication with supervisors who "don't give them a sense of value."

While the FEVS is often discussed as a measurement of the experience of lower-level employees, the survey also measures the satisfaction of leadership.

A key incentive for the senior executive service is for "agencies to go and revisit their pay plans until they actually compensate these senior executives," said Stephen Shih, OPM's deputy associate director of employee services, executive resources and employee development.

Due to overlap in the SES and general schedule pay scales, "there's a possibility" that SES officials can be appointed at a certain pay rate that falls below the GS-15s they manage," he said. "Obviously this is not a great dynamic where you're trying to recruit the best leaders and keep them in the SES where their staff might be making more than them."

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