Feds report job and pay satisfaction

Federal employees are satisfied with their jobs, despite perceptions of less organizational stability and fear of pay system changes, according to a report released last week by the Merit Systems Protection Board.

The report, which is based on the results of the board's most recent merit principles survey, also indicated that federal employees generally believe they are well managed.

"We wanted to know how successful agencies are at achieving their missions, as they attempt to build a well-qualified workforce, overcome barriers to mission accomplishment and preserve individual and organizational success through rewards, recognition and retention," said MSPB Chairman Neil McPhie.

The report summarizes the responses of 36,926 federal employees who completed an online survey in 2005, making up a representative sample of the 1.8 million full-time, permanent government employees. The survey came amid a fierce debate over implementing performance-based pay systems across government.

Sixty percent of employees surveyed said they are satisfied with the pay they receive, with many saying that pay should be based on individual job performance.

More than 65 percent of respondents said they believe that pay for performance would likely increase their individual pay, motivate employees to work harder and help retain high performers.

But while those surveyed indicated that they support the concept of performance-based pay, they said they are unsure how well such systems can be implemented in the federal sector.

"There is fear of the unknown," said John Palguta, vice president for policy and research at the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service. "In those [agencies] that have a pay for performance system, the employees are generally in favor of the system. That suggests that there's a possible silver lining in the pay for performance cloud."

The survey also indicated that federal employees at all levels are dedicated to achieving their agencies' missions, but concerned about how the government can recruit and retain a qualified and motivated workforce. Though 76 percent of employees surveyed said they would recommend the government as a good place to work, hiring officials reported that they have problems recruiting highly qualified applicants.

"I think this may be a good indication of what the Partnership has been warning about when they talk about the retirement tsunami," Palguta said.

Nearly a quarter of survey participants said they were likely to leave their agency within the next year, and of those planning to leave, almost one-third planned to retire. Just more than a third planned to move to another federal job, and 5 percent said they planned to resign from government employment.

"Because the data indicate that difficulty in recruiting highly qualified applicants is a barrier to preparing the workforce to achieve its mission, agencies need to identify why they may not be reaching a high-quality applicant pool through their recruitment and selection procedures," the report said.

Meanwhile, though 63 percent of respondents said they receive sufficient training to do their jobs, 48 percent said they would like additional training to improve their performance. MSPB found that supervisors could not always justify or fund additional training. As a result, the board recommended that supervisors and employees work together to identify training needs.

Additionally, most employees and their supervisors have formed good relationships and are working together to meet agency challenges, the report found. "A primary finding throughout this report is the importance of trust between employees and their first-line supervisors," McPhie said.

But a survey of the federal workforce released by the Office of Personnel Management earlier this year found that many federal employees face communication problems with their supervisors. Less than half of employees surveyed by OPM indicated they had a high level of respect for their senior leaders, and just 41 percent said they were satisfied with their leaders' policies and practices.

Palguta said the MSPB findings are very encouraging, specifically as the government tries to develop a pay for performance system.

"This is going to be especially important as government continues to move toward a different pay system where a supervisor's judgment will potentially have a greater impact," Palguta said. "That kind of system relies heavily on trust and confidence in one's supervisor."

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