The Employees Managing the Thrift Savings Plan Are Happier This Year

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Officials with the 401(k)-style retirement savings program for federal employees said Monday that they have begun to reverse a downturn in engagement among their own employees. 

At a meeting Monday of the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board, which governs the Thrift Savings Plan, officials announced that the agency improved its employee engagement score from 66 out of 100 possible points in 2017 to 68 points this year on a governmentwide survey whose full results will be released later this week. Additionally, the TSP improved in the global satisfaction index, which measures employee happiness, increasing by 4 points over 2017 to a score of 64.

Every year, the Office of Personnel Management administers the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey to employees at federal agencies to measure their happiness, engagement and other metrics. Although OPM has not yet formally released the overall results of this year’s survey, Gisile Goethe, director of the TSP’s Office of Resource Management, noted that the agency outpaced governmentwide satisfaction results by 1 point, and that the agency matched the rest of the federal government in engagement. OPM declined to confirm the governmentwide figures.

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“Those [TSP satisfaction] numbers seem to have stabilized after last year, although they still aren’t as high as they were years before,” Goethe said. “And overall, engagement numbers are up 2 percentage points, keeping it at pace with governmentwide results.”

After years of the TSP being rated among the better places to work in the federal government, the agency tanked in its Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey results in 2017, falling from 72 to 66 in its employee engagement score and from 68 to 60 in global satisfaction. At the time, officials attributed the poor scores in part to the fact that the survey was administered just weeks after then-TSP Executive Director Greg Long announced he would leave the agency.

Goethe suggested that additional turnover—this year at the helm of the agency’s IT office—could have blunted agency efforts to improve employee engagement. After last year’s results were released, the agency set out to systematically improve communication from agency leadership to employees, and to seek regular feedback from workers.

“There’s one word: change,” Goethe said. “Even within the last four years, there has been a great deal of change and churn. So much of [improving engagement] is about stabilizing change and creating some form of consistency. So we’re communicating more about what’s going on and the priorities of the leadership team now, and most questions related to that have either maintained their score or increased 1 to 3 percentage points.”

TSP Executive Director Ravindra Deo said efforts to improve employee engagement and happiness will take multiple years to show results, but early indicators are apparent in some of the scores on individual questions. He specifically pointed to a question about whether employees know how their work relates to the agency’s mission, which increased by 7 points from 77 in 2017 to 84 this year.

“Change is hard on everyone; it affects them,” Deo said. “The solution is communication, and some of that has already shown through in the agency goals question. That’s a significant change. The key now is not so much the focus in improving our messaging and communication, but in making sure that people see the results [of increased outreach and feedback].”

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