Morale improved at a third of the 362 agencies and departments surveyed, according to the partnership and Deloitte, which draw their conclusions from data collected by the Office of Personnel Management. About 700,000 federal workers responded to the survey.
“We take these results very seriously,” said Controller Danny Werfel, who coordinates the Obama administration’s management initiatives from the Office of Management and Budget. “We need to understand where we can do better.”
Werfel said federal managers have a more granular understanding of their agencies than ever this year, because the census of the workforce was distributed to all permanent full- and part-time employees, compared with a sample of 266,000 last year and even fewer before that.
The budget office was the most improved of any agency, jumping 13.3 percentage points. Werfel attributes the shift to better communication and more flexibility at one of the most demanding workplaces in government.
He said the administration is “committed to addressing the problem” of leaders who fail to energize their staffs.
Even with persistent budget conflicts on Capitol Hill that leave workers uncertain about whether they can serve the public, Werfel noted that nearly all employees said their work is important, seek ways to improve it and are willing to make an extra effort.
But Max Stier, president of the partnership, called the growing lack of confidence in federal leaders an alarming trend that the administration needs to prioritize.
“Even with the external challenges, we’re seeing a failure of management,” he said.
The survey shows how important good leadership can be.
Debbie Matz, chairman of the National Credit Union Administration, attributed her mid-size agency’s jump from the 17th spot to No. 6 to stronger communication between managers and employees. A promotion test for examiners who audit credit unions also improved, she said. “With so many people using government employees as a punching bag, there’s a lot of angst, so employees tend to blame their managers,” she said.
Among mid-size agencies, a new category this year, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. took the top spot. The Broadcasting Board of Governors was at the bottom, followed by the National Archives and Records Administration, which has struggled with poor morale.
Archivist David Ferriero said feedback from employees and a new partnership with labor unions have identified key problems: The staff wants better training and more career development.