OPM survey shows feds upbeat despite challenges

Friday - 9/23/2011, 5:37am EDT

Emily Kopp, reporter, Federal News Radio

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This might be the era of the Teflon fed. The Office of Personnel Management's 2011 Employee Viewpoint Survey shows that most workers are happy at work despite pay freezes, program cuts and talk of reduced benefits.

Nearly all of the 266,000 workers surveyed said their work is important and enjoyable. The vast majority said their supervisors treat them with respect. Seven out of 10 would recommend their organizations as good places to work.

OPM conducted the survey last spring, shortly after the government came close to shutting down.

"The timing wasn't ideal to conduct a survey," said OPM director of planning and policy analysis John Foley. "We didn't see a drop off in people's dedication to their work and their willingness to put in the extra effort." He says the four percent decrease in satisfaction with pay was "to be expected."

"Federal employees are demonstrating their resilience," said John Palguta, vice president for policy and research at the Partnership for Public Service, which uses the survey to compile a list of the best places to work in government.

"They do get satisfaction from the fact that they know they're making a difference at work even though the folks outside the government aren't getting the word. That sustains them and, to some degree, they're able to shut out the other things going on."

The results highlighted several problems, however. Fewer people said they had the resources to get the job done. That number has steadily declined since 2008.

Employees gave the government vastly lower marks than their counterparts in the private sector when it came to satisfaction with their managers, organization, job opportunities and training.

Performance management remains a consistent problem year after year. Half of those surveyed doubted that people get pay raises and promotions because they deserve them. Four out of 10 said their supervisors aren't dealing with poor performers.

OPM is taking more forceful measures to address the problem than in the past, Foley said.

"Having regular conversations, having clear accountabilities, people knowing what they're responsible for and working towards that goal — those are some of the things that the director [John Berry] and others in the agencies will be emphasizing," he said. "It's up to the agencies to pick up on the message and for every supervisor to take it on board."

The Partnership for Public Service has advised both the IRS and the Education Department in using the results to make improvements.

"This is not instantaneous stuff," Palguta said. "Perceptions develop over a long period of time and it's kind of ingrained in a culture of an organization. When you're trying to change the culture, it can take a while." He says agencies have had success when they've used the information to develop specific action plans and initiatives to improve the work environment.

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