Federal Workforce:

Additional Analysis and Sharing of Promising Practices Could Improve Employee Engagement and Performance

GAO-15-585: Published: Jul 14, 2015. Publicly Released: Jul 15, 2015.

Multimedia:

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Robert Goldenkoff
(202) 512-2757
goldenkoffr@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

What GAO Found

From 2006 through 2014, government-wide engagement levels—as measured by the Office of Personnel Management's (OPM) Employee Engagement Index (EEI)—increased to an estimated high of 67 percent in 2011 and then declined to an estimated 63 percent in 2014. This decline is attributable to several large agencies—including the Department of Defense—bringing down the government-wide average. The government-wide decline masks the fact that the majority of federal agencies either sustained or increased EEI levels during the period. Of the three components that comprise the EEI—employees' perceptions of agency leaders, supervisors, and their intrinsic work experience—perceptions of leaders consistently received the lowest score.

GAO's regression analysis of selected Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) questions identified six practices as key drivers of the EEI (see table), with constructive performance conversations being the strongest.

Strongest Drivers of the Employee Engagement Index, 2014

Strongest Drivers of the Employee Engagement Index, 2014

For example, at one agency, supervisors and employees developed a set of topics for quarterly performance conversations to ensure that employees receive consistent and regular constructive feedback and coaching.

OPM developed resources to help agencies use EEI data to strengthen employee engagement but fell short of supporting a holistic approach to improving engagement and linking to performance. For example, OPM does not report whether annual EEI changes are statistically significant—that is, whether the changes were meaningful or due to random chance. Likewise, OPM does not analyze which FEVS questions are associated with higher EEI scores. This information would help agencies better focus their efforts to improve engagement and target resources. Further, OPM has provided limited examples or lessons learned on linking engagement to agency performance, which agencies will need to inform their next survey cycle.

Why GAO Did This Study

Research on both private- and public-sector organizations has found that increased levels of engagement—generally defined as the sense of purpose and commitment employees feel toward their employer and its mission—can lead to better organizational performance.

GAO was asked to review recent trends in federal employee engagement and steps OPM and agencies are taking to improve it. Among other things, this report: (1) describes trends in employee engagement from 2006 through 2014, (2) identifies practices in improving employee engagement, and (3) evaluates OPM's tools and resources to support employee engagement.

To meet these objectives, GAO analyzed responses to FEVS questions from 2006 through 2014, conducted a regression analysis, and reviewed OPM documents and interviewed OPM and other agency officials.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that the Director of OPM take the following three actions: (1) report annually on drivers of the EEI, (2) provide information on statistically significant changes in EEI scores, and (3) share examples and lessons learned to improve engagement and link engagement to performance in time to inform results of the next survey cycle. OPM concurred with the first recommendation and partially concurred with the second and third recommendations. GAO continues to believe that additional action on these recommendations is needed as discussed in the report.

For more information, contact Robert Goldenkoff at (202) 512-2757 or goldenkoffr@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Priority recommendation

    Comments: OPM identified the drivers of engagement based on the 2015 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey results and produced an infographic, summary document, and technical report describing their results and methodology. OPM briefed the Chief Human Capital Officers Council and Senior Accountable Officials on the results. Moving forward, OPM officials said they plan to analyze and report on drivers annually.

    Recommendation: In furtherance of its role to support agencies' efforts to improve employee engagement and performance, and to enable agencies to better target resources for engagement efforts, the Director of OPM should annually analyze and report on drivers of the EEI government-wide and by selected subsets of the federal workforce, such as agencies or employee population groups.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Priority recommendation

    Comments: OPM officials said that at this time, they do not plan to provide agencies with information on whether annual changes to EEI scores, both government-wide and by selected subsets of the federal workforce, are statistically significant. Officials said most users of the data found this information confusing, and it will become less relevant as more agencies move toward conducting a full census survey. Instead, in their May 2016 written response, OPM officials said that they are taking other steps to enable agencies to identify meaningful differences in the EEI, specifically (1) continuing to report statistically significant changes by individual question in the Government-wide Management Report, (2) integrating the analysis of EEI drivers, which were identified through statistical analysis, in Agency Management Reports; and (3) producing reports that include all index scores, including the EEI, for all work units in the agency with at least 10 respondents. OPM officials said these actions would also enable agencies to identify meaningful changes in EEI levels and use the information to improve agency engagement. While OPM did not implement our specific recommendation, we believe these actions, along with the increase in agencies conducting census surveys, will address the challenge we identified.

    Recommendation: In furtherance of its role to support agencies' efforts to improve employee engagement and performance, and to enable agencies to identify meaningful changes in EEI levels, the Director of OPM should provide agencies with information on whether annual changes to EEI scores, both government-wide and by selected subsets of the federal workforce, are statistically significant.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Priority recommendation

    Comments: OPM developed a strategy to share promising practices in a variety of forums, including four workshops for Senior Accountable Officials (SAO), high-level agency designated officials responsible for employee engagement efforts. SAOs were divided into sub-groups to gather promising practices and make recommendations on such topics as engagement metrics, linking engagement to organizational performance, identification of key leadership behaviors that drive employee engagement, and others. OPM is also expanding access to UnlockTalent.gov, an interactive tool to assist officials in making data driven decision and creating a culture of engagement, from senior executives and agency-identified staff to all federal employees and placed additional content the community of practice section of Unlocktalent.gov. OPM led these efforts concurrent with agencies receiving and analyzing their 2015 FEVS results.

    Recommendation: In furtherance of its role to support agencies' efforts to improve employee engagement and performance, and to ensure agencies are leveraging promising practices and lessons learned from other agencies in developing effective strategies to improve engagement and performance, the Director of OPM should, in partnership with federal agencies, (1) expand its efforts to share promising practices to include information on linking engagement to mission accomplishment and monitoring how engagement investments improve performance through data-driven reviews, like HRstat; and (2) implement its strategy to share these practices in time to inform agency efforts stemming from their 2015 FEVS results.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management

 

Explore the full database of GAO's Open Recommendations »

Nov 20, 2017

Nov 2, 2017

Oct 26, 2017

Oct 23, 2017

Jun 22, 2017

May 30, 2017

May 18, 2017

Mar 9, 2017

Nov 16, 2016

Nov 15, 2016

Looking for more? Browse all our products here