OPM’s Federal Employee Survey

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This topic contains 15 replies, has 6 voices, and was last updated by  Mark Hammer 5 years ago.

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  • #174080

    Katie Murray
    Participant

    OPM’s Employee Viewpoint Survey results were interesting, to say the least, and discouraging to read about the decreased scores in job satisfaction and morale. Here are three ways to address those issues now—using effective communication to have positive impact on employee opinion. Do you think there are any other quick-win approaches to help address this challenge?

  • #174110

    Mark Hammer
    Participant

    I’d be very careful about drawing inferences regarding “change”. The 2011 survey drew from 266,000 employees, where the 2012 drew from 687,000. That’s a very big leap in terms of respondents. While much of what we all learn in undergrad stats classes would tell us that 266,00 is big enough to be “representative”, and that big increments in sample size will lead to the same general result with a smaller standard error, this is a little different. It’s different in that its not just more people from the same kinds of jobs and organizations.

    For example, in 2011, about 49,000 of the 266,000, or roughly 18% of all, came from DoD. In 2012, 232k of 687k (roughly 34%) came from DoD. The organizations, position types, and sectors, that opinions are solicited from are a huge determinant of what shows up in the results. In other words, WHO is telling you this time out, and how they might be different from the last time out, is every bit as important as what they are telling you.

    There may well be very little cause for concern, and even cause for rejoicing. One needs to look into the agency-by-agency results, see what’s changed, and see if the composition of who in that agency is telling it has also changed in any conspicuous way.

    I’ve told this story too many times, but we had a lesson taught us in a federal employee survey we ran here in Canada in 1999 and again in 2002. From several outward signs, it appeared there was some sort of emerging “problem” with work-life balance. When we looked closer, though, we realized that our equivalent of the IRS had been part of the 1999 survey population, but NOT the 2002 population. That organization had constituted some 25% of the 1999 population, and a large chunk of those folks were in jobs that ended at 4:30 or whenever their shift was over, and began again at the start of their next shift, with no reason to put in overtime. When all those folks were removed from the 2002 survey, the folks in policy and communications shops who had to often put in overtime, preparing things for Parliamentary committees or press releases the next morning, became a larger share of the remaining population. Nothing had really changed other than WHO was being represented in the survey results, and some voices were now speaking louder than they had previously. And sure enough, when we re-analyzed the 1999 data, factoring out that one big agency, the apparent “declines” from 1999 to 2002 miraculously vanished.

    All of which is to say, be absolutely certain that the results are telling you what you THINK they are telling you, before launching into any particular action plan.

  • #174108

    Terrence Hill
    Participant

    I think that there is no question that morale is decreasing in agencies, especially as the Congress is trying to balance the budget on our backs and every dollar is being squeezed out in the name of efficiency. The issue of engagement is too complex to provide a “quick win” approach, but a good place to start would be to get leadership committed to making a change based on ideas that employees support. Leaders need to make a commitment to implement one new initiative each month for the next 12 months that have a real impact on employee engagement. Luckily, many of these initiatives won’t cost a penny and may even end up in the government saving money by using their engaged employees more effectively.

  • #174106

    Katie Murray
    Participant

    Mark, thanks for the insight! You definitely make a good point about doing due diligence about what exactly the results are saying. There’s the issue of comparing apples to apples to make sure you’re getting accurate results. Appreciate the info!

  • #174104

    Katie Murray
    Participant

    Hi Terry. It’s definitely a complex issue! But good point about implementing an initiative each month—they don’t have to be earth shattering, but the commitment could make a big difference over time.

  • #174102

    Mark Hammer
    Participant

    Agreed. Sometimes, it’s some very little, unobtrusive, simple things that need to be done that can potentially make a big difference.

    I was helping out a branch of one agency make sense of their survey data. There had been considerable turnover, both at the management and non-managerial level (enough that the branch director was trying to make the case that the survey results were no longer relevant because of all that change in personnel since the survey had been conducted!).

    One of the issues flagged was people putting in lots of overtime, without being compensated for it, or feeling like they could ask for compensation (much of that over-time revolved around work-related travel). Now, management in this organizational branch were certainly not slave drivers, but the considerable churn and change in staff had translated into one of those “I thought YOU packed the kids’ bathing suits before we left.” situations. New managers thought that everyone already understood the ground rules for claiming overtime and compensation, but so did new non-managerial employees. New employees naturally wanted to make a good impression, and didn’t want to seem pushy, but no one had ever laid out the boundaries of what is and isn’t considered appropriate, so they were essentially gambling in the dark that their accumulating overtime would be compensated, whether in leave or pay.

    I asked the folks at the management meeting where the survey results were being discussed if they ever had brief presentations or e-mail memos to staff about the ground rules for claiming overtime, and the overwhelming response was “Well…no.” So I suggested to simply make it a standing meeting item twice yearly to go over what is and isn’t claimable, and how to go about claiming, just so that everyone was on the same page. I don’t know that organizational interventions can get any easier or cheaper than fiteen minutes devoted to rehashing protocol, twice a year.

  • #174100

    Katie Murray
    Participant

    Thanks, Mark. Yes, sometimes it seems that a “back to basics” approach can be the most meaningful!

  • #174098

    Terrence Hill
    Participant

    Don’t tell anyone, but OPM is getting ready to launch a new survey soon on Work/Life and Wellness programs. Stay tuned…

  • #174096

    Morale is bad due to bad management. If they put some under cover IG’s in some of the services they will see the issues.

  • #174094

    Megan
    Participant

    Here are the 2011 and 2012 rankings. The data is very helpful, and can be viewed by demographic as well as agency subcompenents.

    To get a rough idea of the rankings in 2011, just count down the list. Just looking at the data within a particular year is interesting. Feds filed more age/retaliation complaints than any other, and black/African American complaints were up in 2011. The stats show which of the subcomponents are the worst offenders.

  • #174092

    Mark Hammer
    Participant

    Look more closely, and you will note that, on average, the distribution of scores tends to be wider, the smaller the agency. One of the outcomes is that small agencies, using the composite indicator, are among the very “best” and very “worst” places to work. We get exactly the same thing here in Canada with our comparable survey, with the biggest agencies being very close to the PS-wide average.

    Why is this?

    First, it is worth noting that the largest agencies constitute a MUCH bigger share of the overall PS-wide average than the small places. In our federal survey, if you added up all the small agencies together, they would constitute some 5% of everyone who completed the survey. So, naturally the “average” is going to be all about the big places, and the small places will be deviations from the mean.

    Second, it is worth noting that these are aggregate results for entire agencies, meaning that all branches/sections/divisions/etc. are rolled up into one score. When it comes to large agencies, there are many more such organizational units, many of which could be spread across the nation or around the world, compared to a small agency that may be situated in one building (heck, on one or two floors of a building) in the capitol. Some of those units will, if isolated, have “scores” that are simply awful, while others will have scores that make one think “I’d like to work there.” But all of that tends to get lost when they are pooled together to form an aggregate score for an entire agency.

    The small places, on the other hand, can sometimes be the same size, if not smaller than, some of these organizational units in larger agencies, but they have nothing to hide behind or be averaged with. If there is poor management in a small agency, or simply an especially difficult mission in difficult circumstances, it WILL show up, with no happy shiny organizational units to average out with. Conversely, if the place is well run, or is blessed with very favourable circumstances and adequate resources, there will be no miserable challenged units to drag its score down. As a result, small places tend to be found at the upper and lower tails of the distribution more often. One might also be so bold as to suggest that good and poor senior, or upper middle, management has a more direct effect on staff, the smaller the organization. That’s not always the case, or inferable from the data, but CAN be so on occasion.

    DO NOT let this deceive you. Within many of those larger agencies are organizational units that can be every bit as bad as the worst small agencies, or as idyllic as the best. You just can’t see them in the aggregate score.

    A small agency or an organizational unit, that comes up poorly, can sometimes turn around with the retirement or departure of individual managers. It may take a little time for their regime to fix itself, but things WILL turn around.

  • #174090

    Dave Bell
    Participant

    The most obvious answers on how to help address the abysmal scores are to (1) introduce a new cadre of leaders and (2) rotate the existing executive managers. Knowing the scores were already low and they headed lower, I am reminded of an old adage, “A fish rots from the head.”

    Coming from an Agency that is the 2.2 percentile of all federal agencies and agency sub-components, in employee/skills match, I know we have to try something different. There is no place to go but up.

  • #174088

    Megan
    Participant

    Yes I agree with this statment

    “DO NOT let this deceive you. Within many of those larger agencies are organizational units that can be every bit as bad as the worst small agencies, or as idyllic as the best. You just can’t see them in the aggregate score.”

    However the good news is that large agencies are broken down into agency subcomponents, so these rankings are far more interesting than the overall Agency rankings. Also, if you have Union, they often get data broken down by organizational directorate within the Agency subcompents. You can ask for this data as well to show trends within individual directorates within a particular Center.

  • #174086

    Megan
    Participant

    Yes but it has to start at the top with a willingness to clean it up. The EEOC stats show that there is “strategic harassment” that is supported by higher ups across the Federal gov’t. Bullying aging workers into early retirement is a systemic problem that is often supported since it is not possible to simply fire a civil servant. This is how the Feds make way for young professional new hires. So, unfortunately, some of the responsibility lies on the shoulders of the targets of discrimination, as filing grievances and complaints is often the only way that senior management listens to the grumbles. The Feds typically just ignore the EVS rankings since there is no tieback to performance metrics of individual executives.

  • #174084

    Mark Hammer
    Participant

    We get the same breakouts too, and they are every bit as informative as you allude to, and should be pursued as doggedly as you suggest.

    I wouldn’t want people to decide where they wish to apply for work, or avoid applying to, based on aggregate scores alone. Nor would I want folks in management or HR to think they are “out of trouble”, or have dodged a bullet, because their aggregate score is smack on the mean.

    As well, there can be organizational units that routinely come up a little poorly on the indicators because that’s the nature of the work there. Folks who work in policy shops will undoubtedly end up having to stay late because something is needed for a meeting the next morning. Folks who work in the regulatory/enforcement game will have to deal with disgruntled citizens on a regular basis, and have less encouragement to be innovative. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, nor a badge of shame, merely what comes with the job. Conversely, if nurses working in VA hospitals have to contend with harassment, or the threat of physical violence, from those they have custodial responsibility for, you don’t want to lose that in the midst of happier responses from those working in VA offices. And organizational-unit/subcomponent breakouts allow you to see that, as do breakouts by occupational group.

  • #174082

    Katie Murray
    Participant

    This is a great conversation. Thanks, everyone, for your insight.

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