Poor performers not a big problem, OPM says

Poor performers not a big problem, OPM says


Let's face it. The federal government is typically viewed as having a chronic problem with poor-performing employees. In fact, even many government managers say that dealing with bad apples is a big challenge.

But a new report from the Office of Personnel Management suggests that the actual number of poor performers is quite small. Of the 1.8 million federal employees worldwide, only 3.7 percent can be considered "poor performers," according to the report "Poor Performers in Government: A Quest for the True Story."

"I am extremely pleased to report that the federal workforce is not a sanctuary for the chronically bad employee," OPM Director Janice Lachance said. "My experiences with federal civil servants at all levels and across agency lines have reinforced the fact that they are conscientious, hard-working and highly-skilled."

During March and April last year, OPM's Office of Merit Systems Oversight and Effectiveness interviewed 200 supervisors who directly managed 3,114 employees. Interviewers asked supervisors to classify their employees into one of three categories: "good performer," "okay performer" and "poor performer."

Survey officials described the poor performer this way: "These are employees with whom you are seriously disappointed. You have little confidence that they will do their jobs right. You often have to redo their work, or you may have had to severely modify their assignments to give them only work that they can do, which is much less than you would otherwise want them to do. They are just not pulling their weight."

According to the report, most supervisors were "quite capable" and willing to distinguish the performance of their employees."

Managers, however, ran into difficulties resolving employee performance problems. OPM's interviews revealed that formal performance management options such as rating an employee below fully successful, developing a performance plan or initiating a performance-based action were rarely used. While supervisors reported using personal counseling more than other options, it was rated as only "somewhat useful" in slightly more than one third of the cases.

Only half of the supervisors said that the current performance management regulations, policy or guidance were helpful to them, and only five percent rated these resources as "very helpful."

Managers told OPM said they hesitate to remove poor performers because they believe they will not receive support from higher-level management and that their decisions ultimately will be reversed in the appeals process. Managers also feared retaliation in the form of discrimination complaints.

Last year, OPM issued an interactive CD-ROM called "Addressing and Resolving Poor Performance: An Interactive Tool for Supervisors." The CD-ROM and accompanying manual detail the three-step process that OPM recommends to address and resolve poor performance. For more information see OPM's Web site.