As a whole, federal employees feel slightly more engaged at their agencies than they did a year ago, according to new annual survey data released by the Office of Personnel Management on Tuesday.
More than 400,000 employees from 82 federal agencies participated in the annual Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) this year, with about 49 percent of respondents identifying as baby boomers, followed by Generation X at 39 percent and millennials representing 11 percent of those surveyed. (If you're wondering, the survey was conducted between April and May, prior to OPM's announcements about the massive data breaches.)
Overall, employee engagement rose 1 percentage point to 64 percent this year after dipping slightly in 2014. According to OPM, employee engagement is defined as “an employee’s sense of purpose, manifest in the level of dedication, persistence, and effort that he or she puts into the work and into the overall commitment to an agency and its mission.”
NASA, Federal Trade Commission and the Office of Management and Budget had the highest engagement score — 78 percent — among large agencies. For small agencies, U.S. Trade and Development Agency, Federal Labor Relations Authority and Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service saw the highest engagement scores.
“While the change is small, it is statistically significant,” OPM Director Beth Cobert said of the employee engagement score. “An agency that engages its employees and ensures a work environment where each employee can reach his or her potential, in turn has a strong impact on the agency’s ability to achieve its mission goal.”
The Defense Nuclear Facilities, Merit Systems Protection Board and the Export-Import Bank of the United States saw their engagement scores jump by double digits. These agencies had the greatest increase in engagement scores among both small and large agencies.
Although the government’s overall engagement score is trending up, there are still federal agencies lagging far below the governmentwide score. The Department of Homeland Security has seen its overall employee engagement score steadily decline from 60 percent in 2011 to 53 percent this year.
When asked about engagement scores at DHS, Kimya Lee, Senior Advisor on Research and Evaluation at OPM, said there are pockets within the department that have seen their scores improve, and “you can’t move the full ship at the highest level without moving the individual offices.”
The survey doesn’t provide details for the public to see how individual components and bureaus within a department scored. But “agencies have that capability and are doing that as we speak,” said Jonathan Foley, Director of Planning and Policy Analysis at OPM. The ultimate goal is to use the FEVS as a management tool to drive change and increase employee engagement and productivity.
One thing the report does show is the various questions and scores that comprise the overall engagement score and how agencies scored on each of those individual questions. For example, if you drill down a little deeper into the DHS employee engagement score, you’ll see that the leadership score is extremely low. Employees were asked to rate leadership behaviors, such as community and workforce motivation.
“In departments and large agencies, leadership component scores vary widely from a high of 75 percent [at the FTC] to as low as 38 percent [at DHS]," Cobert said.
Below are the numbered questions from the survey that ask about leadership, in case you want to view FEVS scores in the report:
- In my organization, senior leaders generate high levels of motivation and commitment in the workforce. (Question #53)
- My organization’s senior leaders maintain high standards of honesty and integrity. (Question #54)
- Managers communicate the goals and priorities of the organization. (Question #56)
- Overall, how good a job do you feel is being done by the manager directly above your immediate supervisor? (Question #60)
- I have a high level of respect for my organization’s senior leaders. (Question #61)
In 2014, the administration set a topline goal of raising the engagement index score from 63 percent in 2014 to 67 percent in the 2016 survey. Considering the modest gain of 1 percentage point to 64 percent this year, that goal seems very ambitious but not impossible.
“We set a goal about where we wanted to be, [and] we’ve seen individual agencies of different sizes make real progress against that goal, and so we’re going to continue to work on driving that improvement,” Cobert said. “And I think one of the core things we’ve done in helping get us there is to make this an overall agency leadership commitment. It is not the responsibility solely of the Human Resources Department, it is something that agency leadership has embraced.”