Fed satisfaction survey reveals vast amount of info

Federal News Radio talks with OPM, the SEA and Senior Correspondent Mike Causey about what\'s in the survey.

This week, Federal News Radio brings you the Best of the DorobekInsider. This interview originally aired on July 13, 2010.

We told you yesterday about OPM’s Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey.

OPM says this year, it’s more comprehensive than ever before. It is the fifth one that has been conducted since 2002 and reflects responses from over 250,000 full-time permanent government employees.

According to the survey, 78 percent believed that their agency was successful at accomplishing its mission.

62 percent were satisfied with their organization, which is an increase of five percentage points since 2008.

92 percent thought their work was important, 86 percent liked the work they did and 84 percent knew how their work related to their agencies’ goals and priorities.

John O’Brien is OPM’s director of planning and policy analysis and says the survey targeted the 1.7 million full time, permanent feds.

“About 500,000 folks received a survey. So, for some agencies, we send it out to everyone, and for others we do a sample. The Defense Department is a good example. We don’t survey the entire Defense Department; however, our samples are actually quite large, so the results are very robust.”

He says he thinks the survey results show that, in general, feds are highly motivated and happy with their pay and benefits.

“One of the pleasant things about the survey is that the perception of senior leadership was up several points overall and the vast majority of that was agency by agency, so it wasn’t concentrated. I think it’s an indication that the senior leadership in the various agencies is regarded well by their employees, and it’s also a sign that senior leadership is reaching out to employees to work with them,” he adds.

Carol Bonosaro is president of the Senior Executives Association and says much of the data can been looked at as either glass half empty or half full, “For example, when 60 percent [of feds] say that their workload is reasonable, that means that 40 percent think it’s not.”

Bonosaro says these numbers are interesting, but they are also just numbers.

“There are an awful lot of questions on this survey, so there is obviously a limit to how deeply you’re going to probe, but it would be interesting to know more about why they have the answers they do — why they have those impressions,” she adds.

Another portion of the survey dealt with telework, and Federal News Radio Senior Correspondent Mike Causey says he wasn’t really surprised by the fact that 12 percent of respondents said they had no interest in telework in the first place.

“I think some people need the energy of the office and need to feed off of [each other]. Attorney Bill Bransford of the Senior Executives Association made a good point and said a lot of the people who are resisting it are not resisting it because they’re dinosaurs, necessarily, or because they want to have eyes on people at all times. He said they’re resenting it and resisting it because many employees, particularly new people have this sense of entitlement.”

Bonosaro says there is, however, valuable information to be gleaned from the survey, especially as president of the SEA.

“For example, the question about whether agencies are dealing with poor performers, which almost inevitably an awful lot of people say they aren’t. We’ve been talking about that issue for years. . . . If the poor performances aren’t being addressed, we think there’s some reasons they aren’t and there are some things that can be done to encourage dealing with that,” she notes.

In addition, the survey data showed that less than half of respondents felt that promotions were based on merit, which also caught the attention of the SEA.

“That’s troublesome. You always have to wonder about that — whether it’s just almost inevitable that [people think] — ‘gee, I think i’m doing a terrific job, why did he or she get the promotion?’ Or, whether part of the problem is that there’s not enough clarity or transparency about the basis on which these promotions are made. Or, whether, indeed, there’s favoritism. So, I think that’s a tough one to look at just on the basis of that one question,” Bonosaro says.

As someone who has conducted her own surveys, Bonosaro says, while they might not be completely accurate all of the time, they are valuable because they are used as an overall gauge of what the federal employee is thinking.

One thing that surprised many were the numbers that came out of the Office of Management and Budget. A lot of employee satisfaction at that agency, it seems, dropped dramatically when compared to the last survey, and Bonosaro says she’s really not surprised.

“OMB is a tough place to work. I started my government career there, and I don’t think it’s changed much over the years. If anything, it’s probably gotten tougher. Every administration comes in with their own management agenda [and] their own approach to the budget, and it’s a tough job. There are challenges. There’s a lot of pressure. Having said all of that, however, one still has to ask what in the world contributed to that result, and I’m sure they’re asking that over at OMB.”

Overall, she says, the survey results do show that government employees seem to like their jobs. She says the challenge now is to convey that message on college campuses and to others who are part of the next generation getting ready to enter the workforce.

O’Brien says OPM uses the survey not just to figure out how feds feel, but to see how feds feel about their individual agencies.

“Our goal is to improve the workplace in general so we produce better for the public. [We don’t] spend so much time parsing about who’s scoring higher, but also to look at trends within agencies. Even large agencies, while they wouldn’t show up at the top of the ranking, both the Department of Treasury and Department of Transportation are two relatively large agencies . . . Both of whom showed substantial progress in some of the major indices that we create over those surveys. What we are more interested in is telling an agency that what’s important is not so much where you are, but where you’re moving.”

Email the author of this post at dramienski@federalnewsradio.com

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