How frontline supervisors, federal leaders digest and respond to employee engagement results

As agencies begin to parse through the latest employee engagement scores for 2019, the Office of Personnel Management has a new toolkit designed to help supervisors better understand and take action based on the feedback.

The toolkit, which OPM released earlier this week, gives supervisors step-by-step guidance to review the results of the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) within their agencies and individual work units, share the survey results with employees and then create actionable plans to improve engagement based on the data and feedback.

In addition, the toolkit offers up leadership behaviors that supervisors can adopt and practice to improve employee satisfaction.

“The intent of this toolkit is to empower supervisors at every level to develop comprehensive strategies to improve the work-related experiences of employees.” Mark Reinhold, associate director of employee services at OPM, wrote in an Oct. 21 memo.

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Evaluating how employees are feeling and then adjusting plans to respond to FEVS feedback has been “particularly tough” for agencies, Reinhold said.

The new resources from OPM are detailed. One guide suggests supervisors flag noteworthy data points on the FEVS. Successes, or favorable FEVS responses with 65% satisfaction or higher, should be highlighted.

Supervisors should also flag unfavorable findings, which OPM suggested will help agencies focus in on the pain points within their organizations.

Another guide walks supervisors through hypothetical scenarios, which leaders and managers can use to share employee feedback results, OPM said.

“[It’s about] showing how much you care about the work that they’re doing,” Michael Rigas, OPM’s deputy director, said Tuesday during a panel discussion at the National Academy of Public Administration in Washington. “People don’t care about how much you know until they know how much you care. One of the things I like to do at OPM is walk around the buildings, spend time talking to folks, visiting with different departments and just having the opportunity to talk to employees one-on-one. Employees will feel free to stop me in the parking garage or the hallway and tell me about the issues that they’re having or [ask] why we can’t do things this way or that.”

It’s important for employees to understand how organizational decisions are made, what top leadership considered in making that decision and what employee feedback the agency took to inform that decision, Rigas said.

“Once employees know that you care about them, you want them to have a happy and productive work experience, that word travels fast,” he said.

A third guide instructs supervisors on focusing on one or two areas of improvement and creating an action plan to tackle those challenges.

For Harvey Johnson, deputy assistant secretary for resolution management and the acting executive director of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion for the Department of Veterans Affairs, the key to high engagement and satisfaction is placing employees in jobs or specific assignments that are best suited to them.

“What is it that you are destined to do? If I enjoy what I’m doing, it’s not work,” he said. “You have to be authentic to yourself. If you’re doing a job that you just do not like, it’s going to manifest in so many ways and you will blame everybody for why it is a tough assignment. But if you’re doing a job you love and you have that creative freedom to innovate then you’re going to flourish.”

Johnson said he conducts “retention surveys” to determine what’s driving his employees to continue to work for the organization.

Managers should consider meeting with their employees once every two weeks or so to check in and gauge whether their thinking or attitude toward a particular project has changed, Johnson said.

“Ask them, ‘what are you working on that you enjoy working on?'” he said. “They’ll tell you. Listen, because then you [can] align them with their passion based on what they tell you.”

Pamela Richards, an investigative research analyst at the Government Accountability Office’s Forensic Audit and Investigative Services, said her agency has seen value in finding specific paths to promote employees to higher-level work or learn new skills.

“Our organization allows you to get promoted and work on different teams, which gives you a variety of skillsets, working with different groups of people and ensuring they are valued in everything that they do,” she said.

A final OPM guide encourages supervisors to embrace an “employee-focused mindset.”

“When we shift to an employee-focused mindset, we see employees as people with purpose and value beyond just accomplishing the mission, who balance their lives with their dedication to the work,” the guide reads. “With an employee-focused mindset, we recognize the impact that we have on employees, and we consider ways to help them achieve their goals to ultimately further the mission.”

For Joyce Evans, a lead investigations case analyst trainer with the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency, developing an employee-focused mindset starts with self-aware managers.

“As leaders we have to be engaged in the mission ourselves,” she said. “We have to be at a point where we continue to give back and like what we are doing. It’s reflective if we’re in a position that we really don’t care for [and] we really hate coming to work. But when [I’m] engaged, I’m there early [and] I stay late. It’s about the mission, and it’s about that next generation that’s coming behind us.”

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