Agencies seek to improve job satisfaction rankings

Managers everywhere face the same basic question: How do you get your employees to enjoy their jobs?

To help managers at federal agencies answer that question, the Partnership for Public Service and American University's Institute for the Study of Public Policy Implementation started publishing "Best Places to Work," which ranks agencies based on data from the Office of Personnel Management's Federal Human Capital Survey. On Tuesday, ISPPI's director and consultants advised agency representatives on how to improve their scores, and dealt with confusion over the meaning of the data.

"We want pragmatic things… this is nice guy stuff," said Gloria Tong, a human resources specialist at the Social Security Administration. Her goal, she said, is to help employees feel proud and happy in their jobs, but the rankings did not provide concrete advice on how to accomplish that.

The rankings, based on responses from 100,000 federal workers, focused on leadership, culture and how employees felt about their jobs. It also compared perspectives based on age, gender and ethnicity. When the survey was first released last year, NASA, the National Science Foundation, and the Office of Management and Budget were rated among the top three places to work, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Defense Department -- excluding the armed services -- were at the bottom.

David Sirota, chairman emeritus at the New York-based Sirota Consulting, which advises large companies as well as federal agencies, gave participants a more concrete action plan. He suggested analyzing the data, presenting the findings to senior management, identifying agencywide issues and how to deal with them, and then holding meetings for employees to give managers more feedback.

"If the senior leader at your organization doesn't really care about this, nothing is going to happen," he said. Leadership, he added, includes not only the top official, but managers throughout different units as well.

Robert Tobias, director of ISPPI, suggested three areas for agencies to focus on: leadership, utilizing employee skills and teamwork. The most important factor to improving job satisfaction, he said, was "not pay, it's not creating a family-friendly environment - it's leadership."

The lowest-rated response in the leadership category was to the statement, "In my organization, leaders generate high levels of motivation and commitment in the workforce."

Tobias also noted that employees seemed to want to work harder. Two of the lowest-rated responses were to the statements, "My talents are used well in the workplace," and, "My job makes good use of my skills and abilities."

Participants in the survey included human resource specialists and program directors from the Defense, Justice and Veterans Affairs departments, among other agencies. Some said they came to the meeting because they were not sure how to respond to the survey results, but they wanted to improve employee job satisfaction.

Kevin Simpson, executive vice president at the Partnership for Public Service, said white papers and other recommendations for action may accompany future "Best Places to Work" rankings. "We'd like to be more proactive in offering assistance to managers," he said. He added top officials, including cabinet secretaries, most likely will want to see their agencies ranked higher than others and will motivate managers to take job satisfaction seriously.

According to Sirota, one of the most important steps is for senior managers to discuss the survey results with employees and communicate an action plan. "Just taking positive action has a positive impact on morale," he said.

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