OPM survey: Tight budgets, pay freeze 'taking toll' on employee satisfaction

Wednesday - 11/21/2012, 6:13pm EST

Employee satisfaction across the federal government is sagging, according to the 2012 Employee Viewpoint Survey released by the Office of Personnel Management Wednesday.

While there weren't any drastic drops, scores governmentwide were down in every major measure, including employees' satisfaction with their jobs, supervisors and pay.

OPM Director John Berry, in a message appended to the survey results, said "stresses on public servants" were clearly affecting employee satisfaction.

In the report outlining the survey results, OPM suggested that the "continued tight budgets, salary freezes and general public opinion of federal service are beginning to take a toll on even the most committed employees," but noted that strong majorities of federal employees continue to like the work they do and find it important.

More than 687,000 federal workers responded to the survey, which was sent to 1.6 million employees — more than double the number of responses received last year. OPM said its goal, unlike in previous years, was to reach every permanent civilian employee. The agency had previously targeted about a third of the federal workforce.

Pay frustrations at heart of lower satisfaction

Employee satisfaction scores — what OPM deems the global satisfaction index — are derived from four factors: satisfaction with employees' jobs, agencies and pay, as well as how likely they are to recommend their organization as a good place to work.

Overall, satisfaction slumped downward, compared to 2011 levels, to 63 percent.

The key driver in the lower satisfaction scores was a four-point drop in satisfaction with pay, which hit 59 percent — the lowest level since 2004. Federal employees are now entering their third year of a pay freeze supported by the White House and many congressional leaders.

Scores in the remaining three categories also dipped.

Individual job satisfaction and satisfaction with an employee's agency both dropped three points, to 68 percent and 59 percent, respectively. The percentage of employees recommending their agency as a good place to work dropped two points to 67 percent.

Respect for senior leadership slips slightly

Employee attitudes toward supervisors and agency leadership also dipped across-the-board in 2012.

Just 54 percent of respondents said they have a high level of respect for their organization's senior leaders, down three points from 2011.

Meanwhile, 43 percent of employees said their agency's leaders "generate high levels of motivation and commitment," down from 45 percent last year. Finally, 43 percent of employees said they were satisfied with the policies and practices of senior leaders, down three percentage points from 2011.

OPM suggested given the low satisfaction results, a dimmer view of management was not altogether unexpected.

"Considering what federal employees have weathered over the past survey administrations, and continue to weather in this evolving climate, declines in leadership results are not surprising," the report stated. "Now more than ever, the leadership support of the federal workforce is of critical importance."

Despite the declines in those areas, nearly two-thirds of employees report that managers effectively communicate the goals and priorities of the agency and work well with employees of different backgrounds, OPM noted.

OPM says feds' are 'resilent'

Even with the lower satisfaction levels overall, federal employees still feel the work they do is important — and they like doing it, according to the survey.

"The federal workforce remains resilient — hardworking, motivated and mission-focused even amidst the many challenges facing government today," OPM characterized the results.

Eighty percent of respondents said they like the work they do and understand how it relates to their agency's mission. Another 90 percent of federal employees said the work they do is valuable and are continuing to seek out ways to do their jobs better.

Telework increasing

The increasing number of employees taking advantage of teleworking options, under the auspices of the 2010 Telework Enhancement Act, was another bright spot in the survey.

According to the latest survey, one-third of employees were notified they were eligible to telework last year (up from one-fourth last year) and nearly a quarter of federal employees reported teleworking at some point in 2012.

Individual agencies reported even greater progress. More than 80 percent of employees at the General Services Administration and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation reported teleworking in some form, according to the survey.

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