In 2019, its overall employee engagement score had climbed to 73.5%, a 7% increase in five years.
But perhaps what’s more significant is how HHS managed to increase its participation rate on the 2019 FEVS by 15% in one year alone. Nearly 72% of the department’s workforce, or 51,703 employees, took the 2019 survey — a significant feat for an organization of HHS’ size.
“The participation rate was a major emphasis for the leadership,” Blair Duncan, chief human capital officer for HHS, said last month in an interview with Federal News Network. “They wanted to hear what the employee had to say.”
It’s why HHS launched a campaign to promote the FEVS two months before the Office of Personnel Management began to administer the survey. Senior leadership created videos to talk about the importance of the FEVS and explained how they would use the survey results to create meaningful change, Duncan said.
Individual HHS components talk about the FEVS early and often. Duncan said the Indian Health Service director held town hall meetings throughout the year, where the survey and its results are a central part of the agency’s conversations with employees.
“We’ve built the culture inside the organization where FEVS is an important piece of what we do,” Duncan said. “We want to hear from you. That has transcended itself into the results that you see. It’s because we are listening, and we are doing things that will enhance their ability to get their job done.”
One tool that HHS believes will improve employees’ capabilities to perform their jobs is a new, department-wide “HR exchange,” which will roll out soon.
The exchange will serve as a portal where employees can view and engage with human resources data in a new way, Duncan said.
Managers can, for example, use the HR exchange to request hiring actions or show employees when their next promotion is due. And because managers and supervisors currently perform most of these activities manually, an online, automated HR portal should free up more time for leadership to communicate with and engage their employees, Duncan said.
“If we can engage the employee and be proactive in getting them their information, that’s going to go a long way to say to the employee, we want you to have this information,” he said. “We want you to let us know if your information is correct or incorrect.”
The HHS HR exchange will also track current and historical FEVS data, so managers can measure and track their progress over time.
Disseminating and communicating FEVS results is an especially important part of HHS’ employee engagement strategy, Duncan said, as the department attempts to send data broadly across the entire workforce.
“It’s a yearlong process,” he said. “We start by getting those results out as quickly as we can. Then it’s all throughout the year; we’re looking at those results, seeing where we can find the opportunities to become better.”
Each HHS work unit receives their organization’s FEVS results in a kind-of-spreadsheet format. The National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases has developed its own tool that gives their managers a visual representation of annual FEVS results. NIDDK is sharing that tool across government.
In addition, HHS has installed “FEVS program managers” across the department, who focus on the survey and employee engagement more broadly, Duncan said.
HHS earlier this year developed a supervisory guide to employee engagement, which described tools and strategies for managers to better evaluate and understand the FEVS results.
“What should I do with this information? How do I read the information? How can I, as a supervisor, engage my employees and talk to them about the results of FEVS? That was a collaborative effort across the enterprise,” Duncan said.
The department also created a separate FEVS “how-to” guide for managers. Individual HHS supervisors and leaders have created their own templates and employee engagement strategies to get the word out about the survey — and show the workforce how their feedback has inspired specific initiatives designed to improve the organization.
“We’ve created a culture where people can speak and we listen — and actually things are implemented because of the results of FEVS,” Duncan said.