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Report: Employees respond to good leaders despite pay dissatisfaction

May. 29, 2012 - 06:12PM   |  
By STEPHEN LOSEY   |   Comments

With federal employees’ pay satisfaction declining, agencies must shore up morale with strong leadership, the Partnership for Public Service says in a report due to be released Wednesday.

“We need to double down on the quality of our leadership,” Partnership president Max Stier said in an interview. “Even in an environment of tight resources, great leadership will trump constrained resources every day.”

The Partnership’s">“Satisfaction With Pay” study analyzed results of the 2011 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey and found a 3.9 percentage point drop in pay satisfaction from 2010, from 63 percent to 59.1 percent. That represented the biggest decline among workplace satisfaction categories in the Partnership’s “Best Places To Work” rankings.

But Stier said a decline in the pay satisfaction of top leaders themselves is a cause for alarm. Senior executives’ pay satisfaction dropped nearly five percentage points— from 62.1 percent to 57.2 percent. Stier said this suggests members of the Senior Executive Service and other executive cadres are feeling increasingly undercompensated for the enormous challenges they deal with.

The reasons behind the drop in pay satisfaction are obvious: Federal employees are in the second of a two-year pay-scale freeze that is expected to cost them $60 billion over a decade. President Obama has proposed a minuscule 0.5 percent pay raise for 2013, but many leading House Republicans oppose even that and want to extend the pay freeze one more year. And Obama and lawmakers are pushing to increase federal employees’ retirement contributions by at least 1.2 percentage points.

“The efforts to squeeze money out of the federal workforce are having a real impact,” Stier said. “If we keep treating federal employees as a cost, rather than an asset, we’re going to diminish the capacity of the federal workforce to do what we want it to do.”

But agencies can keep employees motivated by ensuring their mission doesn’t suffer. If someone who entered public service to make a difference sees that his efforts are being wasted — on top of the lack of pay raises and potential benefit cuts — that employee will lose interest and seek employment elsewhere, Stier said.

“It’s really critical,” Stier said. “When there are diminished resources to reward the public workforce, we must make sure that we’re excelling.”

Stier said tight budgets shouldn’t hurt someone’s ability to be a strong leader. As an example of someone who knew how to motivate his workforce, he mentioned one manager who spent an hour handwriting notes to employees each day thanking them for the good work they did.

“It isn’t about money,” Stier said. “It’s where leadership puts its time.”

Stier said the pay dissatisfaction shows the government must overhaul how federal employees are paid.

“We really need a different pay system that is market-sensitive,” Stier said. “Making comparisons between large groups isn’t all that helpful. But if you look at the specific talent you need, by geography and experience level, that would be more helpful.”

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