By the time you read this blog post if you are a federal government employee, you have probably already received an email from your agency asking you to participate in the annual job satisfaction and commitment survey to nowhere known as the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS). Don’t participate this year. Why? This survey does not work. It is the definition of insanity in the words of Albert Einstein. “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
Ask yourself this simple question. If the FEVS works, why are commitment and satisfaction levels among federal government workers in 2014, at their lowest levels since the inception of the survey in 2003? Is it a coincidence that citizen satisfaction with the federal government services for 2014 is at its lowest level since 2007 or that customers ranked Wall Street and insurance companies higher in customer satisfaction than the federal government.
Here is the familiar refrain you probably hear from your agency.
It is that time of the year again.
• Let’s do an engagement survey.
• We need hard data.
• Let’s share the data with employees; they will know what to do.
• After all, they are professionals, they can handle it.
• Our scores were bad but at least we were pretty close to similar agencies.
• What is in it for me?
• What will be the repercussions?
• Not again, another engagement survey?
• Why should I cooperate this time?
• What happened to the last survey?
• Why didn’t anything change from last year?
Here are three things I hear from frontline managers when they complain about the FEVS.
• 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.
Do you see a theme with above comments? The FEVS has such an accusatory tone about itself that managers and employees feel like they are the problem when in fact, the organization is the problem. The entire process has a weighted feel to it of trying to control people by getting them straightened out. As opposed to a more transformational approach that allows employees to find their own paths by discovering purpose in their work.
The fact that the state of government is still stuck in the 20th Century does not help the FEVS. According to consultants, David Bradford and Allen Cohen, the federal government is too hierarchical, rigid and interested in the status quo. They recommend it move into the 21st Century where organizations are flatter, transparent and innovative.
In the meantime, another year will pass and the Office of Personnel Management and their beltway partners in crime, the Partnership for Public Service will recommend everyone emulate the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) as the best place to work in the federal government as they have for the last 3 years. Ignoring the fact that NASA has one of the whitest and male dominated workforces among all federal agencies.
So farewell my friend FEVS, it was nice to know you. You titillated us and brought us to the edge of our seats in great expectation that you could change our fragile lives as federal government employees. Yet in the end, you were like so many other conversations about improving the commitment and satisfaction of federal employees. Plenty of people talk about it but no one can seem to do a damn thing about it.