Few bright spots in sad survey of federal employees

November 11, 2013
FILE - In this Sept. 30, 2013, file photo government workers in Chicago protest the possibility of a federal shutdown. With the shutdown, come and gone, the government now powering back up to full speed and the next budget crisis pushed off at least until January, there is no shortage of speculation about whether voters will retaliate in the 2014 elections against lawmakers for this fall's budget impasse. A lot depends on how the next year goes. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green/File)
(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green/File)

Federal workers have spoken, and they are not happy.

The Office of Personnel Management's Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey was released on Friday, and the results are discouraging. The agency's overall measure for employee satisfaction—what it terms federal workers' "global satisfaction index"—dropped to 59 percent, down 4 percentage points since 2012. Meanwhile, little more than half of government employees (54 percent) responded positively about their compensation, compared to 59 percent in 2012 and 66 percent in 2010.

Yet, as new OPM director Katherine Archuleta writes in the report, one of the biggest drops in the survey had to do with whether employees felt they had the resources they need to get their jobs done. Just 44 percent said they did, compared with 48 percent last year. "Any employer seeing this meaningful level of decline would be very concerned," she wrote in the report. All in all, OPM surveyed views on 77 different items, and it turned out that attitudes on 53 of them had declined since 2012. Just two increased.

Both, it's worth noting, had to do with workers' individual supervisors. A slightly higher percentage--65 percent in 2013, up from 64 percent last year--agreed that "my supervisor is committed to a workforce representative of all segments of society." And a few more folks--80 percent, up from 79 percent last year--agreed "my supervisor treats me with respect."

In the section about team leaders, the trend line was mostly flat. Still, that's far better than the sections on job satisfaction, agency satisfaction and work experience, where the recent "significant trend" lines were almost universally negative.

Unfortunately, included in those poor results was the section on agency leadership. Just 52 percent of federal workers said they have a high degree of respect for senior leaders, down from previous years. And just 41 percent said leaders generate high levels of motivation and commitment at work. Keep in mind these numbers were tallied before the recent government shutdown, meaning they could very well be worse now. In fact, it's hard to imagine how they couldn't be worse in the aftermath of being victimized by some members of Congress, not knowing when they'd be back on the job, and handling the stress of digging out after the shutdown.

While the report is unsettling, it's at least a little reassuring that federal workers feel respected by their individual managers and have some faith in the people who lead them on a day-to-day basis. If research (and conventional wisdom) says people don't quit their jobs, they quit their bosses, then maybe the reverse will hold true as well. Federal employees may not be very satisfied with their jobs right now, but a good individual manager might help them stay put.

Jena McGregor is a columnist for On Leadership.

Read also:

Managing a 'victimized' federal workforce after the shutdown

Mentoring young fed workers

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Jena McGregor writes a daily column analyzing leadership in the news for the Washington Post’s On Leadership section.
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Lillian Cunningham · November 11, 2013