The results of this year’s survey of how federal employees feel about working in government are trickling out, and the messages from agencies large and small are sobering. Many employees are unhappy, and it’s worse than last year.

While morale is better at particularly mission-driven agencies, and there are bright spots to be sure, the most significant barometer of satisfaction in the 2014 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey is sliding: The workforce’s trust in and respect for agency leadership.

Human resource managers are taking notice. One who spent 33 years in this field is Jeffrey Neal,  who led the personnel shop at the Defense Logistics Agency for nine years before becoming chief human capital officer at the Department of Homeland Security, retiring in 2012.

Neal, now a senior vice president for ICF International, writes this week about the leadership crisis in government in a post for his blog,

“A workforce that does not think much of its leaders can be pushed only so far,” he writes. “It will eventually have problems with productivity, recruiting high quality talent, customer service and other factors that are driven by employee engagement.” The more employees distrust their senior leaders, the more likely morale and productively will be dragged down.

He’s created a chart showing employees’ responses to a range of questions on their leaders at three of the biggest agencies, the Defense, Interior and Homeland Security departments, comparing 2014 with 2013.

(Courtesy of Jeffrey Neal)

Neal throws out some ideas top federal managers should consider to restore their employees’ trust in them. They include:

  • Hiring leaders who didn’t just rise to the top because of longevity in government but because they are good managers.
  • Invest in training for political appointees in leadership positions, since formal training for these executives is rare.
  • Invest in training for members of the Senior Executives Service; currently, it’s spotty.
  • Stop the stovepipes. In other words, have employees on your team from different parts of your agency
  • Evaluate managers on whether they meet the agency’s mission and objectives.

The full results of the survey will be released by the Office of Personnel Management later this fall.