OPM Seeks to Define How to Keep Feds Engaged

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Just about every federal stakeholder has at some point in the past few years discussed the need to improve federal employee engagement.

But what did they mean when they said that? What does an engaged federal employees look like? What can federal leaders do, specifically, to make their workers more engaged?

The Office of Personnel Management, led by its Human Resources Solutions team, attempted to answer those questions by releasing a “white paper” on employee engagement. In researching the project, OPM found there was no “accepted single definition” of engagement, HRS officials said at a Chief Human Capital Officers Council meeting on Tuesday.

So, OPM set out to create one. OPM consulted with its psychologists -- it employs 68 -- to determine the essential characteristics of engagement, and came up with the following definition: “The employee’s sense of purpose that is evident in their display of dedication, persistence, and effort in their work or overall attachment to their organization and its mission.”

In its white paper, OPM also set out to identify the precursors that can influence an employee’s engagement, as well as the expected outcomes of an engaged worker. The job characteristics, personal characteristics and organizational climate can impact employees’ motivation before they even start the job. Once they begin their work, OPM said feds are generally driven by a sense of altruism and commitment to public service, though job security and better benefits can also boost engagement. Budget uncertainty, however, can undermine engagement efforts.

Ultimately, OPM found, those factors can influence productivity, retention, job satisfaction, innovation, effort and customer service.

To better influence these factors and outcomes, federal leaders should intervene to institute best practices, OPM said. The white paper identified leadership training and performance management as ways to hold such “interventions.” Management should also design jobs to maximize variety, meaningfulness, responsibility and feedback.

OPM acknowledged engagement at federal agencies has trended downward in recent years, but said its new outline should help boost worker satisfaction.

“While this finding is not positive, there is substantial opportunity to improve employee engagement in the near future,” OPM wrote. “Systematic implementation of strategies to improve engagement will drive the increases in organizational effectiveness associated with highly engaged employees.”

Rewarding employees financially can, of course, solve many issues with engagement. Lisa Danzig, the Office of Management and Budget’s associate director for performance and personnel, said at the CHCO meeting bonuses in fiscal 2016 based on fiscal 2015 performance for members of the Senior Executive Service will once again be capped at 4.8 percent of each agency’s expenditure on SES salaries. Danzig added OMB will announce a new structure for SES bonuses when it unveils its "robust" reforms for the top career ranks later this month. 

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