Does the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey Matter?

The Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) is a weird animal. Some in the federal sector hail it as the most important document since the Emancipation Proclamation. Others ridicule it as a huge waste of time and one of the biggest sources of pollution in the federal swamp.

Three major complaints I hear from managers whose job it is to drive the very engagement the FEVS is supposed to promote are:

• They feel disconnected from the entire process.
• They feel inordinate pressure to improve the individual commitment and satisfaction scores of their direct reports while broader organizational concerns go unaddressed.
• They feel like the survey is an add-on activity to an ever expanding list of things they are required to do.

I hear employees say the FEVS seems to have a backward focus with an emphasis on the past. They claim it rewards mediocre results that highlight bygone achievements. Finally, worker bees suggest that each year the survey results birth new initiatives while prior engagement projects collect dust on a shelf.

Some employees wonder if their responses even matter based on an absurd notion that if a certain number of survey replies are not submitted within a subcomponent division, the results are not even counted at the retail level. Small teams, who may not unanimously complete the FEVS, lose out on an opportunity to even discuss their results. Since most engagement happens at the front-line level, these ground troops forfeit the chance to have an intimate discussion about the survey’s findings.

The fatigue surrounding the granddaddy of all federal workplace surveys is increasing across the federal landscape. In 2016, only 48.5% of federal respondents participated in the survey. That was down from 49.7% in 2015. This trend of decreasing contribution seems counter to a 2 year winning streak of overall engagement scores increasing slightly in 2015 and 2016. Can you really take the results of a survey seriously when less than half of the target audience does not take to time to participate?

Another interesting movement within the FEVS community is more folks in the field seem more interested in improving engagement compared to public servants who work at headquarters. In 2016, 60% of field workers completed the survey while only 40% of headquarters personnel took the time to render their opinions.

It is time we drain the federal swamp called the FEVS. We are tired of being mediocre. We want survey instruments that help us win big. Then and only then will we be true to the ultimate aim of any engagement survey-to make us feel great again.

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