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Employee Engagement 'Stable' Across Federal Government

The Office of Personnel Management’s annual Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey saw a modest uptick in participation in its second year of a census model, but engagement scores did not improve.

The Office of Personnel Management on Thursday announced that employee engagement across the federal government remained flat at 68 out of 100 points in the annual Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, although officials touted the first increase in response rates since 2015.

Last year, OPM switched from a survey system, where a select portion of the federal workforce was offered a chance to participate, to a census, where the survey was sent to all eligible federal workers. Although response rates in 2018 were the lowest in at least a decade at 41%, participation rebounded this year, rising to 43%.

The global satisfaction index, which measures responses to several questions to gauge federal workers’ happiness, increased by one point this year, reaching 65 points out of 100. The increase marks a five-point increase since 2015.

Kimberly Wells, acting director of OPM’s Office of Strategy and Innovation, said she was “generally pleased with the results,” and that they marked “stability” in engagement across federal agencies.

“You know, we were coming up with contingencies and asking, ‘What if scores are really down?’ ” she said. “It’s no secret that this has been a tumultuous year in terms of budgets, and if you don’t have the resources [to do your job], that can really work against engagement, and the fact that there were agencies that were really working constantly through continuing resolutions and then the [partial government] shutdown, so I was pleasantly surprised.”

OPM asked a series of new questions directly related to the 45-day partial government shutdown in January in an effort to see how it impacted employee morale. The idea came from a dip in engagement and satisfaction scores that occurred shortly after Congress implemented sequestration across the federal government in 2013.

“Back during sequestration, we saw a big dip in scores, but we had no evidence to connect the dots, we could only speculate,” Wells said. “So this time, we thought it would be important to add items [on the shutdown].”

The results of those questions must be taken with a grain of salt—they were asked of all respondents, including those who worked at agencies that did not experience a lapse of appropriations. But 42% of respondents said they were furloughed or forced to work without pay, while 55% reported at least some negative impact on their everyday work.

Although most respondents—71%—are not looking for another job, 10% said they are searching for a job at least in part because of the shutdown, while another 20% are looking for a new job, but the shutdown had “no influence” on that decision.