Both the Partnership for Public Service and the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) have confirmed that Federal employee satisfaction and engagement scores have declined in recent years. These are well-regarded indicators of a healthy work environment and their decline may contribute to the government’s human resource management woes. In a “doing more with less” work environment, it is becoming an increasing challenge for Federal agencies to recruit, cultivate, and keep talented employees, affecting both product development and service delivery. A fear for many, across the government, is that lower productivity and higher rates of turnover may be on the horizon. When employees exit, institutional knowledge and the resources invested into them walk out the door as well, a potentially disastrous consequence for agencies.
As concerns surrounding these scores increase, it is critical for managers to implement creative solutions, informed by academic research, to promote collective employee success through the cultivation of an engaged and satisfied workforce. A major barrier to reaching this goal is that managers, especially mid-level managers, have their hands tied with implementing many of the human resource (HR) practices within their office. Federal laws and processes dictate how employees are hired, disciplined, rewarded, and fired, which influences the many characteristics found on the job (vacancies, workload, number of employees, leadership, and so on). Despite these constraints, managers have discretion over many other job resources and interventions to combat flagging engagement and job satisfaction. One such available resource is providing training and developmental opportunities.
Opportunities for training and skill development both equip employees with the hard and soft skills to be successful and can serve as a signal to employees that management is willing to invest in them. Likewise, training is associated with a variety of positive organization outcomes, including the promotion of employee engagement, the mitigation of burnout, and the reduction of turnover intent. The good news is that agencies, across the Federal government, already have leaders that value skill development and training dollars in their budgets. Unfortunately, employees’ satisfaction with offered training and their availability belies this reality; annual FEVS scores that measure Federal employee training satisfaction are lackluster and consistently score near 50%. These employee perceptions matter and should be taken seriously by agency leaders.
How employees perceive their work environment and organizational policies will impact their performance. Sometimes, employee perceptions of HR policies and practices, and the motives behind their implementation, are as important as the HR practices themselves. In a recent peer-reviewed study, in the Public Personnel Management (PPM) Journal, I evidence that employees’ perceptions of having access to training are significantly and positively related to Federal work engagement. An agency may already have a budget that is supportive of skill development and offers ample training; the disconnect may simply be the lack of awareness among a workforce and their perceptions of the value of the offered training.
To bridge this gap, management can implement simple communication strategies to showcase offered training and their willingness for employees to enhance and cultivate their skills.
Examples of these types of communication interventions and strategies include:
- Appointing a training champion, within the organization, to promote training.
- Designing and disseminating training newsletters to promote upcoming agency training.
- Seeking out and sharing free training opportunities.
- Making time to develop individual development plans (IDPs) with employees and following up on their progress towards identified targets.
- Publicizing the available budget earmarked for training.
- Broadening the understanding of the types of training available (e.g. mentorship, shadowing leaders and other roles, detail opportunities, and supervisory coaching).
- Designating time that is available for staff to attend training sessions (even if it is only one hour a month).
These communication strategies are low cost and can have a high impact. Of course, providing access to training is no silver bullet and this is only one of many steps managers, at all levels, can take action on under their sphere of control. However, it is a crucial first step and should be a tool in a manager’s arsenal to move the needle in the right direction on organizational outcomes. In an era of increasing budget cuts, training and development may be a viable way to not only increase the efficiency and efficacy of the Federal government, but increase engagement and satisfaction as well.
Michael P. Hassett is a budget analyst for NOAA. He is also the co-founder and president of the nonprofit Friends of Tonga Inc. He earned his PhD and Masters of Public Policy from the University of Maryland Baltimore County and his Bachelors of History and Political Science from La Roche University.