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Why Improving Federal Employee Engagement Matters

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Wed Dec 21 2016

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Why Improving Federal Employee Engagement Matters-ed0fabc22ee3274b7d9634a9827a9018bd356f87094a94b23c9bf02c74cd39d0

There are many definitions of engagement. Here is how the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) defines it: Engaged employees have pride in their organization and mission and are deeply committed to its success. They believe that the organization values them and, in return, are willing to provide "discretionary effort," going above basic job requirements to enable organization to succeed. 

Based on the 2016 FEVS results, OPM calculated an overall engagement score of 65 percent across the entire federal government. Although this is a one-percentage-point increase from 2015, the results show that more than one of every three federal employees is not fully engaged. Moreover, there is great variability across the federal government, with agency engagement index scores as low as 45 percent. Other organizations that analyze employee engagement, such as Gallup, have reported even lower engagement scores across multiple public and private sector organizations. 

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These results mean that there is room for improving employee engagement—and therefore improving performance. While many state and local government agencies individually administer engagement surveys, federal agencies have a head start because of the OPM FEVS data and the Partnership for Public Services Best Places scores and rankings. Further, both OPM and PPS have refined their data and reporting to provide federal agencies with increasingly specific and actionable data. 

I do not believe there is a one-size-fits-all solution to improving engagement. This is true in the federal government, the nation's largest and most diversified employer, and also for state and local governments. It's hard to imagine any single solution that would apply across the 90,000 or so jurisdictions in local government. However, it is instructive to understand what public sector organizations have done to act on survey data and improve the level of engagement. 

In my December Public Manager cover story, "The Science of Engagement," I address the importance of employee engagement—not just as a feel-good activity but as a means to better performance. The article discusses lessons from the Federal Labor Relations Authority's efforts to build a more engaged workforce, and outlines eight factors that have been shown to influence engagement.

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