Feds Still Lack Faith That Poor Performers Are Punished

Acting OPM Director Beth Cobert said agency leaders have taken successful steps to engage employees. Acting OPM Director Beth Cobert said agency leaders have taken successful steps to engage employees. Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

Federal employees remain skeptical top performers are rewarded fairly and poor performers are dealt with adequately, according to new results from the federal government’s annual workforce survey, though their opinions of top leaders continue to improve.

Fewer employees agreed that pay raises are merit based and that “steps are taken to deal with poor performers who cannot or will not improve” than agreed with any of the other 82 questions on the Federal Employees Viewpoint Survey, according to results released by the Office of Personnel Management. Just 22 percent of respondents said pay raises are based on employee performance, while 29 percent said bad apples are dealt with. Both of those figures are up one percentage point from 2015, but remain stagnant from 2012.

About one-third of feds said promotions are merit-based and “differences in performance are recognized in a meaningful way,” also ranking among the least positive answers respondents provided on the survey. Just 38 percent of respondents said their agencies reward “creativity and innovation.” None of the categories have shown any net improvement since 2012.

“Employee recognition is crucial in helping promote and maintain an engaged, motivated workforce,” OPM wrote in its report on the results. “Managers should make time to recognize and reward the contributions of their employees; even a few words of appreciation are long remembered.”

The agency recommended making available both monetary and non-monetary awards, displaying photos of employees who have received recognition and senior leaders writing notes of appreciation to top performers.

The area that showed the most improvement year-over-year was employees’ view on leadership. While the overall positive scores are lower than many other points of focus on the survey, responses in several categories have improved after dropping significantly in 2013 and 2014.

Just 41 percent of respondents said senior leaders “generate high levels of motivation and commitment,” but the number increased 2 percentage points over 2015. Significantly more feds held respect for leaders, said their managers maintain honesty and integrity and demonstrate support for work/life programs. Every question in the leadership category showed at least some improvement from 2015.

“Agency leaders have taken active steps to improve how employees engage with their jobs, organizations and missions,” acting OPM Director Beth Cobert said. “The success of those actions is clearly reflected in current FEVS results.”

Overall, positive response rates on 52 of the 84 questions on the survey showed improvement from 2015, while none received worse scores. Employees’ “global satisfaction index” as composited by OPM increased 1 point, from 60 in 2015 to 61 this year. 

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