Government survey shows federal agencies unhappy with employees

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

Across government, the overall decline of more than 4 points 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.

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 the suspected culprit. Within the Social Security Administration, its Inspector General’s office has fallen sharply and ranks last among more than 430 agency 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 returning to the office, 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 Viewpoint Survey: Would you recommend your agency as a good place to work? Are you satisfied with your work? Are you satisfied with your organization?

Satisfaction and engagement of federal employees show a sharp decline

“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. “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 bottom, the agency had 11 secretaries, confirmed or acting. Some of them are presumably 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 under 55 in 2020 to nearly 61 in 2021. Nonetheless, it remained tied with the 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 received the same ‘$274 million’ Congressional appropriation for nine consecutive years, causing a 25% budget cut, our dedicated staff are forced to do much more with much less. While our petitions for union elections are skyrocketing and accusations of unfair labor practices are also rising, we have lost 50% of our field staff over the past two decades Our staff across the country are feeling this crisis, and an ownership that is taking serious taking our resource issues into account will help the hard workers of the NLRB fulfill our important mission,” Blado continued.

The Inspector General of Social Security plays an important investigative role. That office is to investigate its sharp drop in engagement score from over 56 in 2020 to slightly above 33 in 2021. Rebecca Rose, a spokeswoman for the agency, said these results “do not reflect every effort we have undertaken to improve employee morale” since the workforce was surveyed in late 2021, including the establishment of a full-time organizational health director and “the implementation maximum flexibilities in the workplace during covid and for the measures we are taking to make the pilot permanent”.

The FTC fell 24 points in a remarkable achievement under Chairman Lina Khan. In three of the four leadership measures, the agency ranked no better than 18 out of 23 agencies. For senior executives, a group that includes Khan, the rating was even lower at 22. That contrasts sharply with workers’ opinions of their immediate supervisors at the FTC. Managers closest to workers received a high ranking of 2 agencies out of 23. FTC workers are also very unhappy with their pay and agency performance. An agency statement said Khan had “tremendous respect” for FTC workers and linked the poor results to “a period of significant change.”

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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