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OPM pushes for more employee engagement

Nov. 12, 2013 - 08:33PM   |  
By SEAN REILLY   |   Comments

As key indicators of federal workforce morale continue to sag, the Office of Personnel Management is pressing agencies to do more to engage employees in their jobs.

“Engagement is all about commitment,” Justin Johnson, OPM deputy chief of staff, said Tuesday at the annual public meeting of the Chief Human Capital Officers (CHCO) Council. Commitment to an organization or a person “keeps you coming back,” Johnson said. “It keeps you feeling like what you’re doing is making a difference.”

It’s also something that agencies can do something about, unlike sequester-related budget cuts and a three-year freeze on federal pay scales imposed by Congress. Those factors appear to be driving some of the biggest declines in the newly released scores from this year’s Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey.

The voluntary survey, which drew almost 377,000 responses, took place between April and June, just as the sequester was taking effect. Forty-four percent of respondents said they had sufficient resources to do their jobs, down from 48 percent in 2012. During the same time, the proportion of those surveyed who were happy with their pay fell from 59 percent to 54 percent.

Among the remaining bright spots: Virtually all respondents said they were willing to put in extra effort “to get the job done,” while 90 percent said they were constantly looking for ways to do their jobs better. At Johnson’s prompting Tuesday, more than a half dozen agency human resources officials outlined what they are already doing to further boost employee engagement.

“We try to tell people, ‘Hey, we can’t control that you’re not getting a pay raise ... but what can we do to keep you invested in your job?’ ” said Miriam Cohen, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s chief human capital officer. At the NRC, she said, those efforts include executive leadership seminars to focus on conflict resolution and problem-solving, as well as keeping tabs on workplace bullying and other problems that may result from the stress of tough times.

The Agriculture Department is working closely with its unions to get their input before decisions are made, said CHCO William Milton, while the Justice Department has held focus groups to get staff feedback on the survey results and begun a mentoring program aimed at low- and medium-grade employees, according to its deputy CHCO, Terence Cook. Besides providing low-cost training, the mentoring lets workers know that their jobs are important, Cook said, even if they aren’t attorneys or law enforcement officers.

Katherine Archuleta, OPM’s newly installed director, praised those steps and assembled an advisory group on how to share similar ideas across government.

“I want to learn from you about how we can help,” she said.

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