OPM answers the question: ‘What is employee engagement?’

Federal agencies now have a common language for planning and discussing how best to develop a more engaged workforce.

The Office of Personnel Management developed a new white paper on employee engagement, which describes the outcomes of a committed and focused workforce and the strategies agency managers can use to drive that kind of engagement among their employees.

Matthew Sigafoose, senior personnel research psychologist and one of the leads behind OPM’s white paper, said agencies previously had little sense of what exactly “engagement” meant and how that term can — and should — apply to their employees.

Sigafoose and his team define engagement as: “The employee’s sense of purpose that is evident in their display of dedication, persistence and effort in their work or overall attachment to their organization and mission.”

An employee’s engagement with his or her job drops 12 percentage points after the first five years at an agency, Sigafoose said. Managers then have the challenge of finding and creating meaningful and motivating work for their employees.

Employees are also looking for support from managers and co-workers, consistent feedback from their supervisors and a challenging job that gives them an opportunity to do varied and often independent tasks.

Sigafoose said it’s those job characteristics that are often more challenging barriers to overcome for agencies like the Transportation Security Administration.

The emphasis on employee engagement is a cross-agency priority (CAP) goal and is part of the President’s Management Agenda, which calls on agencies to improve the overall culture and performance of their employees.

The governmentwide employee engagement score rose 1 percentage point over the previous year, according to the results of the 2015 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey.

Kimya Lee, senior adviser on research and evaluation, said 58 percent of individual component agencies and bureaus boosted their engagement scores.

“One of the things that we’ve learned over time is that all engagement is local,” said Justin Johnson, executive director of the Chief Human Capital Officers Council at the group’s annual open meeting on Nov. 10. “So we will continue to try to roll out data and tools through UnlockTalent.gov and these courses.”

Employee survey results available on UnlockTalent.gov

OPM made the results of the 2015 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey available to the public on UnlockTalent.gov for the first time this year, which Lee said is part of phase three of the project.

OPM rolled out UnlockTalent in phases. Creating a “community of practice” — a collection of case studies and resources from agencies that have made the most improvements — is the focus of phase four, Lee said.

Nearly 12,000 employees are registered on UnlockTalent. Agency managers have their own login credentials and can access data specific to their individual workforce.

For example, chief human capital officers and other managers can find out how many of their employees are retirement eligible and what offices around the country have the most employees who could retire.

OPM will put together a focus group to work on the “community of practice” and gather other ideas for new metrics to track on UnlockTalent.gov, Lee said.

Other agencies, like the Agriculture Department, said they found success using free, online courses on HR University. Around 12,000 employees at USDA have taken an engagement class online.

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