Best in Government survey shows federal agencies unhappy with employees

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The latest ranking of the federal government’s best places to work, released Wednesday, raises troubling questions for the Biden administration and federal agencies whose reputations are rapidly falling.

Across government, the overall 4.5-point drop in employee engagement, an estimate of worker morale, is a worrying indication that significant improvement is needed in agencies large and small. Nearly two-thirds of agencies saw their scores drop or stay the same, which is not a good sign. Employee engagement scores are the key component of annual ratings produced by the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service and the Boston Consulting Group.

Federal employee satisfaction and engagement show steep decline under Biden

One agency that consistently ranks low — including this year — is the Department of Homeland Security. For 10 consecutive years, it was last among 17 major agencies. The Federal Trade Commission managed to jump from second place in 2020 to 22nd among two dozen midsize agencies – with senior management being the suspected culprit. Within the Social Security Administration, its inspector general’s office has fallen sharply and ranks last among the agency’s 432 sub-components. The National Labor Relations Board remained at the bottom of its medium size category, despite a notable increase in its score.

“It’s not about happy employees,” said Max Stier, president and CEO of the Partnership. “We’re looking at whether they’re, frankly, more productive, whether they actually produce better results for the public. And so, it really matters.

Ratings matter because the reputations of agencies and their leaders, including President Biden, are at stake. They matter because higher employee engagement and morale lead to better customer experiences. Ultimately, rankings relate to the quality of service the federal government provides to taxpayers.

Uncertainty about return-to-work policies, after working from home for many federal workers during the pandemic, could have contributed to the poor ratings. Yet the quality and availability of leadership is still a key issue. The Engagement Score is calculated from three questions from the Office of Personnel Management’s Federal Employee Perspectives Survey: Would you recommend your agency as a good place to work? Are you satisfied with your work? Are you satisfied with your organization?

“The dramatic decline in employee engagement and satisfaction came during President Biden’s first year in office, during which the administration saw only 55% of his appointments requiring Senate confirmation. fully confirmed,” the Partnership said in a statement. “The issue of leadership vacancies presents a major challenge for the administration, which has described federal employees as the ‘backbone of our government’ and pledged in the president’s management agenda to ‘make every federal job a good job, where all employees are engaged, supported, heard and empowered. ”

Here’s a closer look at a few agencies where this engagement needs major work.

• With a decade in the basement, the DHS seems hopeless. Stier has long emphasized the importance of leaders, and DHS has had plenty of them, which is probably a big part of the problem. During its 10 years at the base, the department had 11 secretaries, confirmed or acting. Some of them – presumably – are good leaders, but the turnover hasn’t been good for the workplace. To improve its performance, DHS said it is holding award ceremonies, producing a weekly staff newsletter, holding monthly senior management forums and improving procedures to reduce paperwork in favor of more efficient service. directly to customers.

• The NLRB demonstrated a notable improvement in its score from 54.7 in 2020 to 60.9 in 2021. Nonetheless, it remained tied with Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency for last place in its category. “The most important issue in improving morale at the NLRB is adequate funding,” NLRB publicist Kayla Blado said in an email. “Because we’ve received the same $274.2 million Congressional appropriation for nine consecutive years — causing what is effectively a 25% budget cut — our dedicated staff are being forced to do a lot more with a lot less. So as our petitions for union elections soar and so do accusations of unfair labor practices, we have lost 50% of our field staff over the past two decades.Our staff across the country is feeling this crisis, and ownership that takes our resource issues seriously will help the hardworking NLRB to fulfill our important mission.

• The Inspector General of Social Security plays an important investigative role. That office is to investigate its sharp drop in engagement score from 56.2 in 2020 to 33.3 in 2021. Rebecca Rose, a spokeswoman for the agency, said these results “do not reflect all of the efforts that we have undertaken to improve employee morale” as the workforce was surveyed in late 2021, including the establishment of a full-time organizational health director and “the implementation of maximum flexibilities in the workplace during covid and for the measures we are taking to make the pilot permanent”.

• The FTC’s 24-point drop was a remarkable achievement under the leadership of Chairwoman Lina Khan. In three of the four leadership measures, the agency ranked no better than 18 out of 23 agencies. For senior managers, a group that includes Khan, the rating was even lower, at 22. This contrasts sharply with employees’ opinions of their immediate supervisors at the FTC. Managers closest to workers received a high ranking of number 2 out of 23 agencies. FTC workers are also very unhappy with their pay and the agency’s performance. A statement from the agency said Khan had “tremendous respect” for the FTC’s workforce and linked the poor results to “a period of significant change at the FTC, which is always difficult.”

Improvement can also be difficult, but it happens with good managers.

Stier pointed out that leadership, more than anything else, determines employee engagement ratings.

“Mismanagement,” he said, “creates a morale problem.”

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