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Editorial: An alarm bell worth heeding

Nov. 17, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
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Slow-rolling trend stories rarely make headlines. But one such story that deserves more widespread attention is the worsening state of federal workforce morale.

The latest annual governmentwide employee satisfaction survey shows a continued and growing slide in federal employee job satisfaction.

Released Nov. 8, the survey should be an alarm bell for agency leaders, lawmakers and citizens alike.

The survey findings suggest that federal employees have turned a corner most likely, in 2012 in which their fundamental attitudes toward their jobs, their agencies and their careers are increasingly negative.

The survey has long showed that feds have a love-hate relationship with their jobs. In large numbers, they like the work they do and feel fulfilled by it. Feds show an amazingly high willingness (96 percent) to put in extra effort to get a job done. But they also are consistently critical of their leaders, lack of training, and the way job performance is mismanaged.

In short, the hate part of that love-hate relationship is now winning out.

Of 77 areas measured by the latest survey, 53 showed declines in satisfaction and most of the remainder were flat. And the vast majority of those same areas saw declines in the previous survey.

Among the notable warning signs from the latest survey (and how they compare to the findings from three years ago):

■ 44 percent of feds said they have sufficient resources to do their job, down from 50 percent.

■ 40 percent said their work unit is able to recruit people with the right skills, down from 46 percent.

■ 32 percent said promotions in their work unit are based on merit, down from 35 percent.

■ 28 percent said steps are taken to deal with poor performers in their work unit, down from 31 percent.

■ 35 percent said creativity and innovation are rewarded, down from 41 percent.

■ 50 percent said their training needs are assessed, down from 54 percent.

■ 44 percent of feds said they have sufficient resources to do their jobs, down from 50 percent.

The bigger problem, of course, is that poor morale can spread like a virus, infecting those who come in contact with it and becoming more difficult to eradicate as it is passed through the workplace. Increasing numbers of employees will dread going to work and their on-the-job performance will decline. Disgruntled feds then leave in greater numbers, adding to the workload burdens and job stresses of those who remain and making it increasingly difficult to recruit quality employees. That may already be happening in some places.

The newly confirmed director of the Office of Personnel Management, Katherine Archuleta, must take on this problem as her number one priority. And so must all agency heads.

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