Pay freeze, sequestration take bite out of employee satisfaction, OPM survey reveals

Friday - 11/8/2013, 5:40pm EST

Frustrations over federal pay, budget cuts and uncertain agency funding have weakened federal-employee satisfaction, according to the Office of Personnel Management's Federal Employee Viewpoint survey released Friday.

For the second year in a row, overall employee satisfaction scores fell, dipping below 60 percent this year.

A sharp drop in employees' satisfaction with their pay — down 5 percentage points this year compared to last — was the main driver in the sagging employee morale.

Meanwhile, less than half of federal employees said they believe they have sufficient resources — such as material, staff and funding — to do their jobs effectively.

"Factors such as an unprecedented three-year pay freeze, automatic reductions from sequester that included furloughs for hundreds of thousands of employees, and reductions in training and other areas are clearly taking their toll on the federal workforce — and this survey was administered prior to the recent government shutdown," the newly confirmed OPM Director, Katherine Archuleta, said in a foreword to the report.

More than 376,000 federal employees responded to the survey, which OPM has conducted annually since 2002.

Satisfaction scores slump downward

Overall, employee satisfaction fell 4 percentage points compared to last year, to 59 percent. The overall satisfaction score takes into account employees' satisfaction with their job, their pay and their agency as well their willingness to recommend their agency to others as a good place to work.

In every measure, satisfaction scores dropped compared to last year.

Satisfaction with employee pay experienced the most significant declines — down 5 percentage points this year to 54 percent — the lowest in nearly a decade.

Individual job satisfaction and satisfaction with employees' agencies both dropped three points, to 65 percent and 56 percent, respectively.

The across-the-board sequestration budget cuts, which kicked in March 1, also appeared to have an impact on waning employee satisfaction.

The percentage of employees who said that they had sufficient resources — defined as "people, materials, budget" — declined by 4 percentage points to 44 percent. Aside from declining satisfaction with pay, that was one of the most severe declines compared to last year's survey results. It contributed to a drop in the percentage of employees recommending their agency as good places to work — down 4 percentage points to 63 percent, according to the survey.

"Any employer seeing this meaningful level of decline would be very concerned," OPM's report concluded.

Survey: Employees feel work isn't recognized

The federal government has struggled for several years to recognize strong performers and deal appropriately with poor ones.

Perhaps not surprisingly, given the overall sluggish satisfaction levels, employees' work-experience scores decreased this year.

Some 31 percent of employees said differences in performance are recognized in a meaningful way — down 3 points compared to last year. The percentage of employees who agreed that creativity and innovation are rewarded dropped three percentage points to 35 points and satisfaction with the recognition that employees receive for doing a good job also dropped 3 points to 45 percent.

The percentage of employees who agreed that performance awards and pay increases in their unit depend on how well employees perform their jobs both fell by 3 percentage to 38 percent and 19 percent, respectively.

The percentage of employees who said that their agency takes steps to deal with poor performers who don't improve fell a single point to 28 percent.

OPM: Employees remain 'resilient' in face of challenges

One of the few bright spots in the survey was that the mix scores measuring the extent to which employees feel engaged in their work generally held steady, ticking down a single percentage point to 64 percent.

However, many individual markers making up that broader index clocked in at 90 percent or more.

For example, some 96 percent of respondents said they are willing to put in the extra effort to get the job done. Another 90 percent of employees said the work they do is important and they are constantly looking for ways to do their jobs better.

"The federal workforce remains resilient in the face of historic challenges," Archuleta summed up the engagement scores in the report's foreword.

In a statement, Archuleta echoed those remarks, stating the results "show employees are ready and willing to meet the challenges they face and are steadfastly accountable for achieving results and knowing what is expected of them on the job."

Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, agreed that federal employees "continue to exhibit and extraordinary commitment to the missions of their agencies."

However, in a statement released Friday Kelley said the overall declines shown in the survey are concerning.

"Congress cannot continue to attack federal employees and starve agencies of resources and expect to keep the people they have," she said in a statement. "The morale of the federal workforce continues to drop and that signals serious consequences for our country."

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