Merit board links employee engagement and productivity

Employees who are fully engaged tend to work in offices that achieve better program results, call in sick less often and stay with their agencies longer, according to a new report by the Merit Systems Protection Board.

The report, which is based on results from a 2005 survey of nearly 37,000 employees at 24 federal agencies, found that despite dwindling resources and increased pressure to improve programs, agencies can thrive if managers connect with their employees.

"Federal supervisors and managers have an important role to play in engaging employees," said MSPB Chairman Neil McPhie. "Those who are successful in engendering these attitudes will lead a more engaged workforce that will produce better outcomes for their agencies."

The survey found that about one-third of federal workers considered themselves to be fully engaged, while almost one-half are somewhat engaged and 17 percent are not engaged.

The report noted a connection between levels of employee involvement and specific outcomes, though the cause and effect were not always clear. Higher levels of employee engagement correlated with higher scores on the results and accountability portion of the Office of Management and Budget's Program Assessment Rating Tool.

Additionally, employees at the five agencies with the best engagement levels used an average of nine sick days in 2005, while those at the five agencies with the most apathetic workforces took off an average of 12 sick days. Finally, only 17 percent of the nonretirement eligible employees who reported they were "very likely" to leave their agencies within the next year were engaged, while 36 percent classified themselves as "somewhat engaged" and almost 47 percent put themselves into the "not engaged" category.

There were differences in the level of employee job involvement among different groups of federal employees, the report noted. For example, Senior Executive Service members told of higher levels of engagement than supervisors, who, in turn, were more invested in their work than nonsupervisors. Employees with higher salaries and more education also tended to be more engaged, according to the report.

Employees at the Air Force, Army, NASA and the State Department reported the highest levels of engagement, while employees at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the Homeland Security Department reported the lowest. MSPB said the nature of an organization's work and its management practices, culture, mission and overall stability were important factors in piquing employees' interest.

The board recommended that agencies foster engagement by improving new hire marketing, encouraging networking and rotating employees to different teams or organizations.

Employees also should be shown that they are valued from their first day on the job, MSPB said, and agencies should have mentoring programs to help them define their roles. In addition, supervisors should use the various phases in the performance management process to provide guidance and feedback and to tell employees how their work contributes to the agency's overall mission.

Finally, MSPB said, agencies should measure employee engagement periodically and energize the workforce if it is found to be lacking.

"By establishing a link between employee engagement and agency outcomes, we hope to refocus attention and energy on management practices that can increase the level of employee engagement in federal agencies," McPhie said.

Click here for a list of the best and worst agencies in terms of employee engagement.

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