MSPB Study Strongly Recommends Employee Engagement

The MSPB issued a study urging agencies to involve employees early and often in decisions involving their work.

The MSPB’s Office of Policy and Evaluation recently issued a study that should be carefully read by line managers and supervisors throughout government. The study, titled The Power of Federal Employee Engagement, found “a significant relationship between the level of employee engagement in an agency and various agency outcomes such as greater retention, reduced sick leave use, and better programmatic results. The Board staff also discovered that first line supervisors play a critical role in engaging employees.

Purpose of the Study

The study was conducted to:

  • Measure the level of employee engagement in the Federal Government to determine if different organizations or groups exhibit different levels of engagement;
  • Determine whether increased levels of employee engagement are related to better results and outcomes for Federal agencies; and
  • Identify how Federal agencies can improve the engagement level of their employees.

Key Findings

The study group’s findings were in the form of answers to a series of questions.

First, What Engages Federal Employees?

The Office found six key concepts for engaging Federal employees are:

  1. Pride in one’s work or workplace,
  2. Satisfaction with leadership,
  3. Opportunity to perform well at work,
  4. Satisfaction with the recognition received,
  5. Prospect for future personal and professional growth, and
  6. A positive work environment with some focus on teamwork.

Second, the Federal Work Force: Who is Engaged and Why?

Using an engagement scale, they discovered that about one-third of Federal employees are fully engaged, almost one-half are somewhat engaged, and the remaining 17 percent are not engaged.

First-level supervisors were found to be an important influence on their subordinates’ level of engagement because of their direct effect on the above themes.  It’s very important to note that the study shows that engaged employees have a much more positive view of their supervisors’ management skills than do employees who are not engaged.

Level of responsibility: More Senior Executive Service members are engaged than supervisory employees, who are, in turn, more engaged than nonsupervisory employees.

  • Level of education: The more education, the higher the engagement level.
  • Agency: According to the survey, NASA, State Dept, Air Force and Army had the highest levels of engagement, Homeland Security, FDIC and Dept. of Transportation had the least.
  • There are no sizable variations in engagement based on factors such as gender, age, tenure, location of the employee in a headquarters or field setting, or whether the employee is rated under a pass/fail or more traditional five-tiered performance management system.

Third, How Do Employee Engagement Levels Advance or Hinder Mission Accomplishment?

Agency results as measured by the Office of Management and Budget’s Program Assessment Rating Tool (PART): An employee’s intent to leave the agency: Employees who said they were very unlikely to leave their agency were much more engaged than those who said they were very likely to leave. The pattern was the same those employees who were retirement-eligible those not. In a most interesting note, most of those very likely to leave who were not engaged got the highest ratings.

  • Level of equal employment opportunity (EEO) complaint activity: The rate at which employees miss work time because of work-related injury or illness: Higher levels of employee engagement correlated to a lower rate of lost time cases. Pay attention to this.

Recommendations – A Ten Step Program

The Merit Systems Protection Board recommended ten steps to increase employee engagement and that, specifically, Agencies should:

  1. Ensure a good person-to-job fit.
  2. Show employees they are valued from their first day on the job.
  3. Stimulate employee commitment.
  4. Manage performance with the attention it deserves.
  5. Establish a clear line of sight from the employee to the larger work unit.
  6. Mentor employees.
  7. Recruit and select supervisors to supervise.
  8. Use a competency-based approach.
  9. Communicate vision and commitment.
  10. Measure engagement.

Read the Study

If you’re a Federal executive, manager or supervisor, this study should be #1 on your reading list even though showing the new politicals around is probably going to consume some efforts for a while.  Follow the link underlined above to get to it.

Kudos to MSPB’s Office of Policy and Evaluation Director John Crum, Project Manager Doug Nierle and Project Analysts John M. Ford and Laura Shugrue for another job well done.

I apologize for any harm I may have done to this report to get the high points in this article.  Any fault is mine alone.

About the Author

Bob Gilson is a consultant with a specialty in working with and training Federal agencies to resolve employee problems at all levels. A retired agency labor and employee relations director, Bob has authored or co-authored a number of books dealing with Federal issues and also conducts training seminars.