Commentary by Jeff Neal Founder of ChiefHRO.com & Senior Vice President, ICF International
This column was originally published on Jeff Neal’s blog, ChiefHRO.com, and was republished here with permission from the author.
On Oct. 24, the Office of Personnel Management released the governmentwide results of the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS). OPM’s report provides a thorough and unvarnished view of the results and is well worth reading.
There is a lot to be concerned about in the survey results. I (and the Washington Post, Federal Times, Government Executive and Federal News Radio) have written about the alarming lack of faith in agency leadership. Many aspects of the survey were flat or showed minor variations from last year. The clear picture is one of a workforce that has changed its views of its employer for the worse in the last four iterations of the survey. With all of the bad news, is there anything in the FEVS results to feel good about? I think the answer is yes. Last August, I wrote a post called “How Long Does it Take to Crush a Federal Employee?” where I pointed out the risks of incessant fed-bashing. I said there are no nameless, faceless bureaucrats. There are people. They have names. They have faces. They have families, feelings, hopes and dreams. They also have vital skills the government needs to operate effectively.
More important for the government as an employer — they have choices and are free to leave. My concern then was about the federal workforce being crushed by the forces that treat them as nothing more than costs and political pawns. I am still concerned. We are pushing the morale of the workforce to extremes. The pattern of FEVS results since 2010 proves that. But I still believe the federal workforce contains a great many smart, dedicated and valuable public servants whose resilience is remarkable. The 2014 FEVS results demonstrate that they have not yet been crushed. Here are a few reasons why: Seventy percent of employees still get a feeling of accomplishment from their work. Almost all express a willingness to put in extra effort when needed. Most believe their supervisors treat them with respect. They clearly believe in the work they do, with 90 percent saying it is important.
This is from a workforce that had its pay frozen for four years, has been bashed by politicians for even more years, and has far too many people devaluing and disrespecting their work. That tells me federal employees are a resilient group that can take a punch and come back strong. My experience in 33 years in government told me the same thing. Are there lousy employees who are the bureaucrats some people imagine them to be? Yes. Is that the majority of the workforce? No way. If it were, agencies would be failing every day. That isn’t happening, because rank-and-file employees find ways to get the job done.
We have all heard the complaints about the employees who do not get things done, who come in late and leave early, or who go to the cafeteria to read the newspaper every morning. We do not hear about the federal employees who come in early because they need to get a critical project done, or those who leave work at 7 p.m. every day because the workload keeps growing while the budget is shrinking. When I was at the Defense Logistics Agency and at DHS headquarters, I could always find people still at work when I left, whether it was at 5 p.m. or at 9 p.m. That time does not get reported, because supervisors are not supposed to “suffer or permit” overtime that is not recorded. So those hours go uncounted and we pretend the government is not getting millions of hours of free labor.
I remain convinced the typical federal employee is capable, works hard and provides good value to the taxpayers. The 2014 FEVS shows that, even in the face of a barrage of fed-bashing, they still believe in what they do. They still are willing to put in more time than we pay them for, and they still believe the government is a place where you can feel good about what you do for a living.
That is good news.
Jeff Neal is a senior vice president for ICF International and founder of the blog, ChiefHRO.com. Before coming to ICF, Neal was the chief human capital officer at the Department of Homeland Security and the chief human resources officer at the Defense Logistics Agency.