August 26, 2015

Federal Workforce: Additional Analysis and Sharing of Promising Practices Could Improve Employee Engagement and Performance

From: GAO Report GAO-15-585

A growing body of research on both private-and public-sector organizations has found that increased levels of engagement—generally defined as the sense of purpose and commitment employees feel toward their employer and its mission—can lead to better organizational performance. Employee engagement is particularly important within federal agencies, where employees influence the well-being and safety of the public in myriad ways, such as by conducting advanced scientific research, verifying and administering benefits, or ensuring the safety of our workplaces, airports, and national borders. However, government-wide levels of employee engagement have recently declined 4 percentage points, from an estimated 67 percent in 2011, to an estimated 63 percent in 2014, as measured by the Office of Personnel Management’s (OPM) Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS), and a score OPM derived from the FEVS beginning in 2010—the Employee Engagement Index (EEI).

In advance of the 2015 FEVS cycle, which began this spring, the administration elevated the importance of strengthening employee engagement across government. For example, strengthening employee engagement is one of three subgoals of the People and Culture Cross Agency Priority (CAP) goal, established under the GPRA Modernization Act of 2010 (GPRAMA). Moreover, agency leaders are to be held  accountable for making employee engagement a priority, as well as an integral part of their agency’s performance management system. The administration also set a goal for these efforts: by the issuance of the 2016 FEVS results, the federal government is expected to increase employee engagement—as measured by the EEI—from 63 percent to 67 percent. In addition, as part of their annual performance plans and appraisals, members of the Senior Executive Service (SES) will be responsible for improving employee engagement within their organizations and for creating inclusive work environments.


Recommendations for Executive Action

In furtherance of its role to support agencies’ efforts to improve employee engagement and performance, we recommend that the Director of OPM take the following three actions:
  1. To enable agencies to better target resources for engagement efforts, OPM should annually analyze and report on drivers of the EEI government-wide and by selected subsets of the federal workforce, such as agencies or employee population groups.
  2. To enable agencies to identify meaningful changes in EEI levels, OPM should provide agencies with information on whether annual changes to EEI scores, both government-wide and by selected subsets of the federal workforce, are statistically significant.
  3. To ensure agencies are leveraging promising practices and lessons learned from other agencies in developing effective strategies to improve engagement and performance, OPM should, in partnership with federal agencies,

• expand its efforts to share promising practices to include information on linking engagement to mission accomplishment and monitoring how engagement investments improve performance through data-driven reviews, like HRstat; and

• implement its strategy to share these practices in time to inform agency efforts stemming from their 2015 FEVS results.

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