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Money isn’t the top motivator for feds

Variety and autonomy also are key, survey finds.

Federal managers can improve employee engagement and motivation with non-monetary tactics such as offering workers more independence and a diversity of responsibilities, according to a new study.

The Merit Systems Protection Board, an independent, quasi-judicial agency that serves to protect federal employees, found in its survey of more than 42,000 federal employees that a majority of respondents feel motivated at work, but in times of potential benefit cuts and continued pay freezes, supervisors must find new ways to engage employees.

Seventy-one percent of federal employees feel “highly motivated” at work, according to the survey, but there is significant room for growth. Employees mentioned factors such as personal satisfaction, interesting work and ability to serve the public ahead of “awards and bonuses” as motivating influences.

MSPB pointed to opportunities to use skills, variety of work and significance of projects as areas managers can focus on to improve morale in the workplace. The board recommended rotating employees’ duties and for supervisors to communicate how an individual’s contributions are important to the mission and serving the public good.

The survey also found autonomy to be an influential contributor toward motivation, meaning employees should have the freedom to choose the sequence and methods used to accomplish their work. Federal managers should allow their workers to complete a project from beginning to end -- rather than working on bits and pieces -- to optimize engagement, MSPB found. Once the work is completed, the survey recommended providing appropriate feedback.

When monetary rewards are used as motivation, variety and clarity are key, MSPB found. Managers must clearly communicate availability of awards and the conditions for receiving them, respondents said. The rewards should be consistently available across different job functions.