Last week the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) announced the roll out of this year’s government-wide Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS). However, did you know that over half of all feds disregarded the FEVS in 2013? That’s a paltry participation rate.
Worse yet, some agencies had a shockingly low rate of under 30% of employees participating in the survey. This is simply unacceptable. So why aren’t more feds saying yes to the FEVS?
There appear to be a confluence of factors to explain this, including:
- Low job satisfaction and sagging morale,
- Employee disengagement and indifference,
- Privacy concerns related to potential retaliation, and
- Frustration with agency managers and supervisors, among other indicators.
Many feds are still demoralized and may feel like proverbial punching bags — and for good reason. Feds have been beaten up by Congress, the news media, stakeholders and the general public for multiple years now.
Feds have been frozen out of pay raises, furloughed, shutout by shutdowns, downsized and forced to “do more with less” because of sequestration and fiscal austerity.
- Results of the 2013 FEVS
Greater Participation Needed Now
With all the hardships feds have had to endure for years should it really be a surprise that so many employees may feel apathetic? Ironically, such feelings of despondence and detachment are likely causes of low FEVS participation. Thus it appears this may be a viscious cycle.
But despite the melancholy mood, more feds need to lift up their chins and participate in the FEVS without delay. Participation remains critically important in providing a key barometer to assess dozens of employee issues within the federal workforce.
OPM Director Katherine Archuleta said in announcing this year’s FEVS:
- “The Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey is essential to advancing the Administration’s commitment to employee engagement in a high-performing government. The survey is a way for employees to communicate openly and honestly with Federal leaders.”
- “This engagement is an important part of the President’s Management Agenda that commits to better understanding our Federal workforce to help find areas where we are succeeding and find places where we can improve.”
However, agency leaders at the highest levels need to set the stage for more employee participation, as Federal Times pointed out in a recent editorial (An underused tool for building a better government):
- “In recent years, the FEVS survey results have shown troubling signs of an increasingly demoralized workforce. Virtually all measures of satisfaction are flat or trending downward.”
- “Given the turmoil many feds feel these days, it is more vital than ever that agency leaders embrace the FEVS survey as the strategic asset it is capable of being.”
Gold Standard of Federal Surveys
It’s important to recognize the FEVS is still the only major government-wide survey of its kind, one in which feds can make their voices heard anonymously. Moreover, feds are allowed to take the survey during their official work hours. This is another incentive which should not be ignored.
Still, some feds may be wary of confidentiality assurances during a time in which employee monitoring, invasions of online privacy and hacking into federal computer networks are more common than ever.
Nevertheless, the FEVS remains the gold standard for evaluating and assessing a broad range of data-rich variables which are government-wide and agency-specific. Higher participation rates in the FEVS may result in a better likelihood of systemic improvements going forward, not to mention at individual agencies.
Pulse of the Federal Workforce
In addition to OPM, the closely watched FEVS is used by other federal agencies, professional organizations and consultants to take the pulse of the workforce and pinpoint problem areas as well as positive ones.
Organizations such as the Partnership for Public Service meticulously crunch the FEVS data and release their own detailed agency-by-agency and gov-wide studies which delve deep into the state of the federal workplace.
But FEVS results may be misleading or inaccurate when fewer than 50% of feds participate gov-wide. This lack of participation makes it difficult to paint a more complete picture highlighting important areas in need of attention.
Addressing feds directly, OPM Director Archuleta stated, “Your input is more important than ever. You now have the opportunity to share your insights as a Federal employee, on your job, on your organization and on your working conditions. The success of your agency depends on you, and when it comes to understanding what it’s like to work in your agency, you are the expert.”
With this meaningful message in mind let’s hope more feds say yes to the 2014 FEVS.
- Also check out: FEVS 2013: Job Satisfaction Declines Again
- NOTE: All views and opinions are those of the author only and not official statements or endorsements of any public or private sector employer, organization or related entity.
David Grinberg is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.