Flipping the Engagement Curve
There is an old saying that “what goes up must come down,” and when it comes to employee engagement in government organizations, the idiom is accurate. Last year in a report issued by the GAO, it was reported that OPM’s Employee Engagement Index (EEI) dropped from a record high of 67 percent in 2011 to 63 percent in 2014. When you think about the turmoil government employees endured in that four-year period—notably, an extended government shut down, stagnant pay, and massive budget cuts—this quick drop in employee engagement seemed like a reasonable reaction to some very difficult circumstances.
Hold on though. There’s another old saying that “the devil is in the details” and if you read beyond the headline, you will find the GAO report also uncovered that despite a falling governmentwide EEI figure, many agencies managed to maintain or slightly increase employee engagement during this same period of time.
Fast forward a year and results from the 2015 Best Places to Work rankings show that the trend is, indeed, reversing. “Governmentwide, Federal employee job satisfaction and commitment increased 1.2 points” from 2014-2015. No, 1.2% isn’t a dramatic shift, but it does shed light on many efforts already underway in government organizations to improve engagement and retain top talent despite nearly constant change.
Our current government leaders have a very important role to play in keeping the momentum going and driving engagement scores back up and closing the gap between public and private sector engagement levels. In our report on Successful Change Management Practices in the Public Sector, we asked current government leaders about the biggest workforce challenges they’ll face because of change efforts. 54.4% of respondents felt change will have a negative impact on workforce morale.
Translation: Employee engagement is at risk if efforts to support current employees in navigating change are handled poorly.
Our respondents were even more concerned about increased workloads for employees and addressing critical skill gaps. When you look at these top three concerns, where should leaders put their attention to make sure employees stay engaged while participating in change efforts? Leaders should not lose focus on two key areas:
Building a Diverse Team
In addition to planned change efforts, issues like budget cuts, retirements, and changes in technology will undoubtedly create skills gaps and stretch the bandwidth of employees. As these changes occur, focus on building a diverse team so you maximize creativity, innovation, and the collective talents of employees. Diversity is often thought of in terms of visible attributes like age, race, gender, and ethnicity. It also includes dimensions such as individual personality, work styles, and educational experience. Government employees already do more with less but in order to establish a sustainable pace and foster resilience, you will need a team with complementary skills, strengths, and styles.
Supporting Work-Life Fit
Recognizing individual work styles is vital to organizational success. In an environment where you’ll need to ask more of your employees to achieve change, it’s critical for you to understand individual preferences around quality of life and where work fits into that equation. Schedule time with each employee to discuss how they want to balance life at work and life outside of work. Once you understand the individual preferences, work as a team to build a plan or schedule that maximizes everyone’s preferences. It may take a few iterations to land on a plan that supports the organization’s goals and is one everyone can buy into, but that is okay. A lot of learning will occur along the way. Once the plan or schedule is in effect, set periodic checks to see how things are working. Depending on your team, this may work best as one-on-one meetings or in a team meeting setting. The most important factor to remember is adjust as you go. All change efforts evolve and so must how your team supports them.
How have you fostered engagement during change efforts?