The survey came at a time when some employees were returning to the office. Pay raises also lagged increases in inflation.

The survey came at a time when some employees were returning to the office. Pay raises also lagged increases in inflation. Jose Luis Pelaez Inc / Getty Images

Lagging Pay and Back to the Office Transitions Likely Caused Feds' Morale Drop This Year, OPM Says

The lack of pay increases to match inflation and the federal government’s implementation of return to office initiatives could be responsible for dips in employee satisfaction as measured in the annual Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey.

The Office of Personnel Management said the two-point drop in federal worker morale as measured by the 2022 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey may be the result of declining pay satisfaction and workplace transitions associated with return-to-office initiatives that began earlier this year.

On Wednesday, OPM released its report analyzing the results of the federal government’s annual survey of workplace attitudes, following a release of preliminary data last month. The 2022 survey marked the first time the questionnaire was distributed in the traditional late-spring time frame since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and saw governmentwide employee engagement match 2021 results at 71 out of 100, while the global satisfaction index fell from 64 in 2021 to 62 this spring.

In a message accompanying the report, OPM Director Kiran Ahuja touted the “stabilization” of employee engagement across government, even as surveys of other industries measured continued declines in 2022.

“The [employee engagement index] stayed steady at 71%, the same mark as 2021, which were two of the highest scores in the past decade,” she said. “These are strong results considering the drop in employee engagement in other sectors, including Gallup’s employee engagement survey which dropped for the first time in a decade in 2021, and dropped again in 2022 for a 4 percentage point total decline.”

The report suggested that the continued drop in employee morale is tied to the fact that federal employees’ pay has not kept pace with the recent uptick in inflation. Social Security cost of living increases, based upon one measure of inflation, will be 8.7% in 2023, while the planned pay raise for federal employees next year is only set to be an average 4.6% increase.

“The global satisfaction index notably dropped in 2022, a finding that can be linked to the item regarding pay satisfaction,” the report states. “Again, results could reflect changes in the context when living costs rose without a corresponding increase in pay for most employees.”

OPM also noted that the survey was administered at a time when agencies were rolling out return to office plans after two years of a maximum telework posture due to the pandemic, which could have impacted employees’ responses.

“The OPM FEVS’ results should always be interpreted in the context of what happened during the administration period,” the agency wrote. “Events such as sequestration and the COVID-19 pandemic affected past survey results and interpretations. This year, the timing of the 2022 survey coincided with many employees increasing their in-person work at their agency worksites, while also navigating transitions to hybrid workplaces and work arrangements. The survey results should be interpreted within this context of change and challenge.”

The survey’s questions devoted to telework and remote work also provide an updated snapshot of how federal workers were performing their duties last spring, although tweaks to the responses—intended to better capture the range of remote and hybrid work environments—are not easily comparable to last year’s results. According to the survey, 25% of respondents said they teleworked at least three days per week; 17% reported teleworking one or two days per week; while 14% said they are working under a remote work agreement and are not expected to work at an agency worksite at all. Another 13% reported that they either teleworked once or twice a month or “very infrequently.”

And 20% of respondents said they cannot telework due to requirements that they be physically present on the job, such as law enforcement. Another 6% said they work in jobs that allow telework but they have not received approval for telework, 1% reported technical issues preventing them from engaging in telework, while 4% said they have elected not to work from home.

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