Center Blog

Improving Federal Employee Engagement Must Be Top Priority for Trump Administration

December 21, 2016

David Garcia Partnership for Public Service

The 2016 Best Places to Work in the Federal Government rankings are out, and for the second consecutive year the federal government saw its employee engagement score increase. Coming on the heels of a 1.2 point increase in 2015, the government-wide score jumped another 1.3 points to 59.4 in 2016.

Yet the gains achieved over the past two years are fragile. The 2016 rankings leave the government well short of its all-time best score of 65.0 in 2010 and far behind the private sector when it comes to how employees view their jobs and workplaces.

When President-elect Donald Trump takes the oath of office on January 20, he will inherit a federal workforce that experienced fluctuations in employee engagement during the Obama administration. While there have been modest gains the past two years, there remains an urgent need for additional progress, presenting both a challenge and an opportunity for the incoming Trump administration.

The importance of effective leadership

The 2016 data show that the federal government has a highly mission-focused workforce, but poor leadership. In fact, of the 10 workplace categories the Partnership and Deloitte measure, only one – performance-based rewards and advancement – registered a lower score than effective leadership.

Fortunately, some agencies are taking steps to improve. In 2016, several Department of Homeland Security immigration agencies registered increases in their Best Places to Work scores, reflecting improvements in how employees of these organizations view their jobs and workplaces.

R. Gil Kerlikowske, commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, has implemented leadership development programs for GS-15 employees and other supervisors, and made training a prerequisite for promotion. And, at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, supervisors complete a leadership training program called 12X12 that provides 12 hours of training and requires them to teach another 12 hours to employees.

As a results of these efforts, both of these organizations saw increases in their effective leadership category scores and their overall Best Places to Work index scores.

Leaders must communicate effectively with the workforce

Strong communication from leaders is critical to building and sustaining employee engagement. In an analysis by the Partnership and Deloitte, we found that this is especially so during times of uncertainty or transition. Yet communicating well is an area where federal leaders struggle. In 2016, just 45.6 percent of Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey respondents reported that they are satisfied with the information they receive from management about what’s going on in their organization.

Leaders at both CBP and USCIS have worked to communicate more effectively by organizing town hall meetings – including for employees in field offices – to ensure that people’s voices are heard and employees feel connected to their leadership. USCIS also recently began using pulse polls to collect feedback from employees on workplace issues.

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