What Are Feds Thinking?

The MSPB has just released a new report that discusses results of a survey on attitudes and perceptions of the federal workforce.

What are Feds thinking?

The Merit Systems Protection Board wanted to know. The MSPB did a survey on employment issues and it has in now issued a new report on the federal workforce that will give readers some idea on the attitudes and opinions of the federal workforce.

The data in the report is from the agency’s Merit Principles Survey 2000 and has some interesting conclusions. The MSPB administers the survey every several years as it looks at perspectives of the federal workforce.

Here is a quick summary of the MSPB report. You can download the entire report with the MSPB’s discussion of each issue from the link on the left hand side of the page.

As many politicians have noted (and some have taken credit for), the federal workforce lost quite a few people during the 1990’s. This was done primarily through buyouts. While this meant that few people involuntary left, the downsizing was not done in a way that took into account the impact of people leaving on accomplishing the mission of an agency. In other words, some agencies used a meat ax approach to downsizing rather than carefully planning the reduction. Predictably, this approach had an impact on the beliefs and attitudes of the workforce.

First, 50% of the respondents said their work unit did not have enough employees to do the work. Another 46% said the downsizing eroded institutional memory or knowledge in their unit.

83% of employees rate their own work very highly but only 53% said the work unit as a whole was as productive. In other words, employees say they are doing a great job but the unit as a whole isn’t doing that well.

Employee job satisfaction is going down. In 1989, 70% of employees were satisfied with their jobs. In 2000, this percentage was down slightly to 67%.

The MSPB says that a crisis is looming in government. While there has been a loss of institutional memory, this loss is likely to increase. At the time of the survey, 12% of the respondents were eligible to retire. Another 32% said they would be eligible to retire from 2001-2005 and three-quarters of these employees plan to retire during that time.

Employees who plan to leave government are usually dissatisfied with their supervisor. Some 24% of survey respondents said they were dissatisfied with their supervisor and these employees say they are more likely to leave government than those who are satisfied with their supervisor.

Why are federal employees unhappy with their supervisor? There is a general perception it is very difficult to fire a poor performer who works for the federal government. The findings may give credence to that common belief.

Survey respondents are most concerned about how poor performers are treated in their work unit. 22% said their supervisor deals effectively with poor performers and 35% stated that their supervisor deals effectively with misconduct on the job. Or, stated differently, 78% of the respondents believe supervisors do not deal effectively with poor performers.

It actually gets worse. Of employees who said at least one employee in their unit deserved to be fired. Only 9% believe that their supervisor deals effectively with poor performers.

There is little doubt that the complexity of the performance and appeals process contributes to the problem. Moreover, supervisors often believe they don’t get the support necessary to take action against a poor performer.

The report contains a number of recommendations, many of which may sound familiar to you from seeing conclusions of other reports or studies. As the number of pending retirements looms, perhaps these recommendations will be read and used to enhance government effectiveness.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47