Engage federal employees with improved workplace structure

Criticism of the public sectors’ effectiveness, scope and function alongside budget cuts is making public servants’ roles increasingly difficult. Even while facing these arguments, elected officials and public sector workers are expected to deliver on work objectives and respond to some of the most pressing issues facing Americans today.

Against this climate of criticism and in order to meet the high expectations from the American public, government departments need to find ways in which they can improve their performance. Employee engagement is one way to do so.

Why employee engagement matters

Gallup found that businesses with highly engaged workforces outperform their competition by 147 percent in earnings per share. Additionally, organizations with highly engaged employees outclass their counterparts in areas of productivity, customer satisfaction and employee retention.

Highly engaged organizations are roughly 20 percent more productive than those with lower levels of engagement. While the federal government may not be looking to maximize profits, other metrics associated with employee engagement, such as effectiveness and efficiency, should be driving this approach.

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Unfortunately, according to an analysis done by the Best Places To Work in the Federal Government, overall federal employee engagement sits at around 59.4 out of every 100 employees — far from being a fully engaged workforce.

5 steps to increasing employee engagement

Arguably, improving employee engagement for workers in the highly visible and complex world of federal government is far more important than it is in the private sector due to its far-reaching impact. To give the best return on public investment, employees should be engaged and interested in producing the best results possible for their department and the American public.

An employee engagement program can produce powerful results for the government, just as it does in the private sector. However, all stages of the process must be managed effectively for it to have the desired impact. The five steps of the process include running employee surveys, analyzing results, publicizing and reporting the results, creating an action plan and following through with it to actively sustain and increase employee engagement.

The first step, employee engagement surveys, determines the level of engagement within each government department. The Office of Personnel Management already conducts an annual Federal Employee Viewpoint survey, analyzes responses and produces a report with overarching trends and individual agency results. These activities already put federal departments ahead of the game in terms of improving employee engagement.

However, in order to reap the rewards from the initial research and analysis, each agency must ensure the final steps of the employee engagement process — creating an action plan and following through with it — are completed. This will allow agencies to avoid the annual employee survey having the opposite effect on participants and alienating them further from their roles.

Action plans increase engagement

It’s not sufficient to survey employees, analyze results, report on them and then do nothing. This decreases employee engagement and implies that managers and leaders do not care for the opinions of their teams. The real change happens when the results reported are followed up with an action plan that bosses are seen to follow through on.

Building an action plan should involve the collection of additional data (possibly through focus groups), identifying priorities and “quick wins,” and developing recommendations or measurable actions in response to the survey results. There needs to be buy-in from leadership on the resulting framework, and the details should be communicated to all team members who will be affected by it.

To help maintain momentum, action plans should be created to be as lightweight as possible. Where appropriate, they should involve associated agencies or cross disciplinary teams to enable all involved to move efficiently from survey results to the actions which address them with as little red tape as possible.

All actions should be taken in a logical way. Departmental issues, such as communication bottlenecks, may take more time to resolve and require several actionable steps before any change is perceived.

Whatever the issues that are identified, the actions to address them should be clear, measurable and, where possible, collaborated upon with all workers. This will allow teams to produce the best solution and garner support from all levels of the agency.

Communication is key

Throughout the entire process, lines of communication should remain open and transparent. Communication is the glue that holds teams and departments together and keeps staff members working toward shared goals. Conversation before, throughout the surveying period, and over the course of action implementation should be clear and frequent.

There are multiple ways in which communication can be kept flowing. For example, suggestion boxes, regular email updates, team- or department-wide meetings, and further employee surveys about the implementation of the action plan all encourage feedback and continued communication flow.

In some cases, anonymous feedback options can be beneficial for sensitive changes as long as these are given in the spirit of advancing the action plan. Additionally, these should be made public without identifying the individual who made them.

While employee engagement surveys and the follow up steps may seem simple, they are also incredibly effective at re-engaging employees who have lost sight of the reasons they began in their role. They allow managers and leaders to identify the best actions and solutions to improve commitment to the agency’s goals and mission in a way that enables employees to be part of the process.

It invites buy-ins from the very people you’re aiming to increase engagement. Boosting workforce engagement is the first step to increasing effectiveness and meeting the expectations of the American public.

Rae Steinbach is a contributor to 15Five, a company that provides training and tools for continuous performance of organizations and their employees. Steinbach is a graduate of Tufts University with a combined International Relations and Chinese degree. After spending time living and working abroad in China, she returned to NYC to pursue her career and continue curating quality content. Rae is passionate about travel, food, and writing, of course.

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