‘Back office’ professionals feel disconnected from agency missions — report

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Many “back office” professionals in government, including IT specialists, feel disconnected from their agencies’ missions — even though their work is highly critical to mission success, according to the Partnership for Public Service’s latest analysis of data compiled for its “2015 Best Places to Work in the Federal Government” study. 

The study, released Monday, identified three principal factors that have the greatest influence on job satisfaction and commitment in the IT, contract and HR communities and how strongly they feel connected to mission of their agencies. Those factors are:

  • Serving as an adviser, strategic partner and team member
  • Having a culture of creativity and innovation
  • Investing in learning opportunities to connect employees to the mission

Employees in the three job categories, despite the perception that their work involves only “back office” functions, are “truly mission enablers — an integral part of accomplishing the mission of their agencies,” according to researchers. “These are the people who make things happen and get things done. They serve as catalysts providing vital support that is necessary to the work of their agencies.”

IT professionals, for example, ensure that organizations like the FBI and the Social Security Administration have sophisticated and well-maintained computer systems that are protected against cyberattacks and facilitate easier online interaction with the public, said the report, which was released with Deloitte.

However, these employees frequently feel disconnected from “the big picture,” with their jobs often seen as transactional in nature rather than being considered an integral part of the team, according to researchers. Many IT professionals, for instance, perform specific tasks without being brought in as a strategic partner or given an understanding about how their work will contribute to the broader goals of a project.

Only 42 percent of IT specialists said they have a feeling of personal empowerment with respect to work processes, while 51 percent reported that managers support collaboration across work units to accomplish objectives.

The area of creativity and innovation is especially nettlesome for IT specialists, the study revealed. Across all agencies, only about a third of IT workers believed that creativity and innovation are rewarded, even though 59 percent reported that they felt encouraged to come up with new and better ways of doing things better.  Employees said that part of the problem stems from risk-averse managers and leaders. Stringent rules and guidelines also inhibited risk-taking, researchers found.

Among the three job categories under examination in the report, IT employees had the lowest “Best Places to Work” scores when it came to training and development. Only 44 percent reported satisfaction with the training they receive for their current job and just 47 percent believed their training needs are assessed — a big issue given the swift pace of change in the IT field, according to the study.

Researchers concluded that to foster an environment where specialists feel connected and engaged, agency leaders need to ensure that employees’ talents are used well, that they are provided the opportunity and freedom to be creative, and that they have access to training that can help them improve their skills and develop a better understanding of the programs they enable and support.

Agency leaders also should communicate with employees about the importance of their mission-enabling roles and the need for collaboration. They also should to find ways to reward innovation and encourage “holistic” thinking among specialists about their roles in the agency’s mission.

With regard to the “best places to work” in government, the Social Security Administration was the big winner in the latest study.

In terms of job satisfaction and commitment among IT specialists at large agencies, Social Security was ranked No. 1, followed by NASA, the Justice Department, the Commerce Department and the Treasury Department. Labor, Interior, State, Health and Human Services, and the Navy departments round out the top 10.

Social Security also was top-rated among contract professionals, with NASA, Justice, Air Force, and the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Joint Staff and DOD Field Activities completing the top five. SSA came in No. 3 among human-resources specialists; State and NASA were No. 1 and No. 2, respectively.

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