OPM: federal employee engagement reaches six-year high

Nearly a half-million feds responded to the annual OPM survey, and results suggest some increase in morale and job satisfaction in the federal workforce, despite some public indications to the contrary.

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Federal employee engagement rose for the third consecutive year, reaching the highest levels since 2011, according to the latest Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey results from the Office of Personnel Management.

Overall, the employee engagement index rose two percentage points since last year, hitting a six-year high of 67 percent.

"While there have been gains during the past three years, there is still an urgent need for progress, especially when comparing the government to good private sector benchmarks," said President and CEO of the Partnership for Public Service Max Stier. "The Trump administration should aspire to make the federal government an employer of choice so that the American public benefits from the best service possible."

In total, 485,000 employees responded to the survey, marking a slight dip in the governmentwide response rate, from 45.8 percent to 45.5 percent, the lowest figure in at last five years. The agencies with the lowest response rates were the Departments of Defense (30.3 percent), Veterans Affairs (30.7 percent) and State (31.4 percent).

The survey was conducted during May and June of this year. It paints a different picture of the mood of the federal workforce than was captured in an online survey of feds by the Partnership for Public Service in late April. In that survey of participants in professional development programs, two-thirds of respondents said morale was down at their agencies and the same proportion said that the Trump administration "has had a negative impact on the ability of their agencies to fulfill their missions," according to Tom Fox, a vice president at the Partnership.

Among agencies of at least 1,000 employees, the Federal Trade Commission posted the highest employee engagement score with an 83 percent.   For agencies with 10,000 to 74,999 employees, NASA scored highest, recording an 82 percent. For agencies with more than 75,000 employees, the Department of Health and Human Services performed best, scoring a 72 percent.

The Department of Homeland Security, which has historically been around the bottom of employee engagement scores, continued its upward trend, posting a four-percentage point increase. The Army, the General Services Administration, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the National Labor Relations Board, the Small Business Administration and the Securities and Exchange Commission also posted 4-percentage point increases.

The 15 questions that factor into the employee engagement score consist of three subgroups: leaders lead, supervisors and intrinsic work experience, all of which increased from last year.

Scores in the supervisors category, which reflects the interpersonal relationship between workers and managers, were the highest, with a 74 percent positive.

Intrinsic work experience, which aims to measure employees' feelings of motivation and competency relating to their roles in the workplace, scored a 71.

Despite a two-percentage-point increase for the second consecutive year, leaders lead, which reflects the employees' perceptions of the integrity and communication skills of leadership, still lags, with a score of 55 percent.

The National Treasury Employees Union, which represents 150,000 feds across multiple agencies, noted that the results argued that some of the results reflected "serious and persistent shortcomings in the federal work environment, according to union president Tony Reardon.

"More than half of federal employees say they lack the resources they need to carry out their agencies' missions, and I fear that number will only get worse if Congress adopts the administration’s proposed budget cuts," Reardon said.

Generally, smaller agencies fared better on each of the three subfactors than large or very large ones.

The prompts that received the highest percentage of negative responses were: "Awards in my work unit depend on how well employees perform their jobs," "Creativity and innovation are rewarded" and "I believe the results of this survey will be used to make my agency a better place to work."

The New IQ score, a measure of employee inclusion, rose by two percentage points to 60 overall. The subfactor of the New IQ score that received the lowest rating, a 47 percent, asked the question, "Are all employee treated equitably?"

Other questions with high rates of negative responses dealt with the efficacy of senior leadership and agencies' abilities to recruit.

This story was updated Oct. 13 to include comments from the National Treasury Employees Union.

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