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Editorial: An underused tool for building a better government

Apr. 22, 2014 - 01:27PM   |  
By STEVE WATKINS   |   Comments
Steve Watkins, Managing Editor of Federal Times.

Starting this month, federal employees will again get the opportunity to sound off on their workplaces and managers by filling out the annual Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS).

The 84-question survey allows feds to grade their agencies, leaders and supervisors on how they communicate, lead, provide training opportunities, manage resources, balance workloads and plenty more.

In recent years, the FEVS survey results have shown troubling signs of an increasingly demoralized workforce. Virtually all measures of satisfaction are flat or trending downward.

Response rates also are down. Last year, the governmentwide response rate to the survey was 48.2 percent. While that was an increase of two percentage points from the previous year, it still was lower than in the previous three surveys of 2011, 2010 and 2008.

Also, the overall response rate last year masked some dramatically low response rates at some agencies, with the lowest being 27 percent.

To her credit, Office of Personnel Management Director Katherine Archuleta recognized the problem and issued a memo to agency heads last week asking them to more aggressively urge their agency staffs to fill out the surveys.

“There is hard work ahead, and positive change takes focused attention and sustained effort,” she said “The FEVS is a way for us to hear from our people and to respond to their feedback with genuine care and leadership.”

The Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey started more than a decade ago.

Since then, OPM has refined it to be far more granular and precise in sussing out exactly where workplace problems — and, thus, mission effectiveness problems — are lurking.

Similarly, the “Best Places to Work in the Federal Government” series of reports by the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service — which are based on detailed analyses of those survey data — has done much to shine a needed spotlight on how leaders — if they choose to — can use the surveys as powerful management tools to improve morale, employee engagement and, ultimately, agency performance.

Given the turmoil many feds feel these days, it is more vital than ever that agency leaders embrace the FEVS survey as the strategic asset it is capable of being.

Some agency leaders have already done this with terrific results, including those at NASA, the State and Transportation departments, the Patent and Trademark Office, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the U.S. Mint.

Archuleta’s message to agencies is a good one, but it is not sufficient.

What’s needed is for Congress or the Office of Management and Budget to hold top agency leaders accountable for incorporating best practices in making their organizations far better places to work.

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