The federal workforce is slightly more engaged this year than it was the last, according to the results of the 2016 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey.
About 65 percent of the workforce says they feel engaged at their agencies, a slight bump over last year’s 64 percent employee engagement score.
The survey results, which the Office of Personnel Management released to the public Tuesday morning on UnlockTalent.gov, are designed to take the pulse of federal employees’ opinions about their jobs, workplaces and leadership.
Though the Office of Personnel Management praised this year’s improvement, the engagement score fell short of the administration’s goal to reach 67 percent by 2016, which OPM Acting Director Beth Cobert described as a “stretch goal.”
“In my old role at OMB, I was actually involved in setting that goal, and what we said is that’s where we wanted to get to, but if we don’t set stretch goals, we don’t achieve as much,” she said, during a press call with reporters. “We have been focused across agencies in making improvements. While we would have liked to have gotten to that goal, we are pleased that we have turned the tide after multiple years of decline to have two years of successive improvements across the government.”
The new inclusion index, which measures whether federal employees think their workplaces are fair, open, cooperative, supportive and empowering, also rose from 57 percent in 2015 to 58 percent this year.
Though this year’s FEVS results show a second consecutive year of overall improvements, participation and response rates were down in 2016.
OPM administered the survey from April to June 2016.
Last year, roughly 50 percent of the workforce — or 421, 748 employees — took the FEVS. But 407,789 employees took the 2016 survey for a 45.8 percent response rate.
Yet Cobert said that each agency used the FEVS results as a management tool.
“They used the data and the information and the visibility of it as a tool that could help them and their entire organizations perform better,” she said. “They took that data and insight, and working with input from their organizations, crafted a tailored program that fit what their agency needed in this point in time.”
The Homeland Security Department reversed a six-year trend in declining employee engagement this year.
Though the department is still ranked last in employee engagement among large agencies, its overall score rose from a six-year low of 53 percent in 2015 to 56 percent in 2016.
“Hopefully, this year’s improved results are the beginning of a new upward trend,” DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson said. “I hope that the next secretary of Homeland Security continues to make employee satisfaction a top priority.”
“Last year, we were disappointed with the FEVS results,” he said. “Our campaign had not yet produced results today. I looked back today at the statement I issued a year ago. I said then I’m disappointed, not discouraged. We will not give up. We know that improving employee satisfaction across our 22-component, 230,000-person department will take time.”
Many of DHS’ component agencies also made noticeable progress this year after they each developed their own customized plans, he said.
Engagement at Immigration and Customs Enforcement rose 7 percentage points this year, increasing from 48 percent in 2015 to 55 percent in 2016.
Johnson pointed to an improved pay scale and enforcement policies as the main reasons for a 7-point increase at Immigration and Customs Enforcement this year, where employee engagement rose from 48 percent score in 2015 to 55 percent in 2016.
Engagement also increased for Customs and Border Protection, which saw its scores rise from 49 percent to 53 percent within the past year.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services boosted engagement from 68 percent to 71 percent this year.
And though the Secret Service only saw a 1 percent increase — from 49 percent to 50 percent — in engagement this year, the agency saw huge boost in its participation. About 59 percent of Secret Service employees took the survey this year, compared with 41 percent of employees the previous year.
Johnson attributed his department’s success to the concerted effort it put into its employee engagement steering committee, which DHS Undersecretary for Management Russell Deyo chaired, as well as the efforts he and other leaders made on strengthening employee morale and engagement.
“This year alone, the deputy secretary and I personally participated in 45 employee engagement sessions in 22 cities across this country to discuss our priorities and hear employees’ concerns. As some of you may know, I even put on a TSA uniform in March and went to BWI Airport to work alongside our TSA officers.”
Johnson also asked for employee feedback on a DHS-wide mission statement, where 3,000 employees responded. The department also created a new DHS orientation for employees to new people about its mission as a whole.
And DHS also brought back the Secretary’s Valor Awards, which honor employees for acts of bravery on and off duty.
In addition, the department put a new emphasis on telling its employees about new job and promotion opportunities, Johnson said.
Familiar faces at the top
The Federal Trade Commission earned the top spot on the 2016 FEVS, with an 82 percent score.
Once again, NASA did well and ranked second in the FEVS results among large agencies and posted another overall boost in employee engagement.
Nearly 80 percent of NASA’s workforce, or 79.6 percent of employees, said they felt engaged this year, compared with 78.3 percent in 2015.
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said his agency is continuously taking data from past FEVS and using it to look at ways it can improve. And he acknowledged that in many ways, his agency has an advantage over others.
“We’re able to focus our leadership on career civil servants,” he said. “We don’t have a large contingent of political appointees. There’s a term I like to use whether it’s about missions or about people, and it’s ‘constancy of purpose.’ When we seek to improve our outreach to our employees and enrich our employee engagement, I can feel satisfied that the same thing’s going to happen whether I’m sitting in my seat or not.”
Bolden said the agency used last year’s results to focus on three areas: managing performance, strengthening leadership and improving engagement.
To that end, NASA is seeing signs that its workforce feels trusted. Bolden said he sees the agency’s increased use in the telework program as an example that leaders trust their employees, and vice versa.
Bolden also said he realized that he needed to eliminate some of the variances in practices across NASA’s nine national centers. Bolden and his team created a new leader’s handbook with “promising practices” for supervisors, mid and upper-level managers.
And he attributes NASA’s continued success to the agency’s mid-level managers. NASA employee participation in the 2016 FEVS rose more than 8 percent this year over the last, a number that Bolden credited to his mid-level managers.
“Our employees have really high marks for their immediate supervisors,” he said. “So that says … the mid-level leaders have been effective in getting down and mentoring and getting people to understand that they really do care about them.”