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OPM: Federal Happiness Stagnated in 2018, While Survey Participation Tanked

This year marks the first time the annual governmentwide survey of employee attitudes was conducted as a census.

A measure of federal employees’ engagement inched higher in 2018 according to an annual governmentwide survey measuring attitudes toward management and compensation, but the number of feds who participated in the exercise dropped significantly compared with last year.

The Office of Personnel Management announced Thursday that this year’s iteration of the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey measured a 1 point increase in employee engagement, from 67 in 2017 to 68 this year, while global satisfaction—a measure of employee happiness—stayed steady at 64 points. The survey’s indices represent a weighted average of responses to individual questions, on a 100-point scale.

Although in a release announcing the results, OPM touted the increase in engagement of five points since 2014, federal workers’ willingness to participate in the survey fell 5 percentage points to 40.6 percent this year, despite the fact that for the first time, the survey was conducted as a census, meaning that all employees were eligible to take the survey, instead of a randomized selection.

For comparison, of the approximately 1 million employees offered the survey last year, more than 485,000 responded. This year, nearly 1.5 million employees were invited to participate, and 598,000 responded.

Agency-by-agency data on engagement and happiness were not available on OPM’s website by 5:30 p.m. Thursday. Missing from this year’s iteration of the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey were employees of the Veterans Affairs Department, which elected to conduct its own independent survey.

In a statement, Acting OPM Director Margaret Weichert highlighted the fact that 90 percent of respondents said they believe the work they do is important, but bemoaned the fact that only 26 percent of them believe “pay raises depend on positive performance.”

“We take seriously our responsibility to make data-driven decisions that result in long-term success,” she said. “We will look at underlying causes behind employee perceptions in order to replicate those that lead to positive responses and reshape the issues behind the negative observations.”

Max Stier, president of the Partnership for Public Service, which compiles the annual Best Places to Work in the Federal Government report, encouraged agency leaders to use the survey to understand how their employees feel, and address any concerns.

“While there has been progress in employee engagement during the past few years, the government still lags well behind the private sector,” he said. “All agencies, from the top performers to those doing poorly, need to focus on improving the management of our government’s most important asset—its employees.”