Feds lose faith in career advancement amid tighter budgets


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(Image: Partnership for Public Service and Deloitte) (Credit: Partnership for Public Service and Deloitte)

Federal employees increasingly feel they are not appropriately rewarded or promoted, and many also believe development opportunities are fading, according to new data.

In an analysis of 2012 “Best Places to Work in the Federal Government” data, the Partnership for Public Service and Deloitte examined federal employee satisfaction with performance-based rewards and advancement in their agencies.

The results were — as concluded by the report — troubling. Federal workers rated performance-based rewards and advancement last out of the 10 workplace categories included in the Best Places to Work rankings, with a score of 43.4 on a scale of 100.

“This category is the least surprising one to be dropping,” said David Dye, director of Deloitte Consulting’s federal human capital practice. “Out of 10 categories, this is at the bottom of the heap. People are less satisfied and don’t have the same hopes and dreams on moving up.”

The findings showed only four of 10 employees believed they will be rewarded or promoted for their achievements. And just 36 percent believed creativity and innovation are rewarded in their agencies, while less than one-third feel promotions are merit based.

The ratings for this particular category are based on six questions around employee perceptions of fair performance appraisals, rewards and recognition for doing a good job, creativity and innovation, merit-based promotions and opportunities for upward mobility.

Among all pay categories in the General Schedule pay system, GS 13-15 employees were the happiest with performance-based rewards and advancement. The least satisfied were GS 1-6 employees.

The large agencies with the highest rankings were NASA, (59.8), the intelligence community (52.7) and the Commerce Department (52.7). The lowest-ranked large agencies were the Veterans Affairs Department (39.1) and the Department of Homeland Security (35.8). (The entire rankings can be found here.)

Although the dip in satisfaction can be partly attributed to external issues and current affairs – such as shrinking budgets – performance management “has always been a persistent issue,” Dye said, pointing out the data was collected a year ago, before the sequester and furloughs.

“I think the whole aspect of performance management is probably most impactful in human capital — and also the most elusive and complex one,” he said. “It’s kind of hard to do right.”

In suggesting improvements for the lower-ranking agencies, Dye said doing a deep dive into their placement on the list is a good start. “My guess is those at the bottom don’t spend much quality time understanding their results,” he said.

The next step would be to communicate to the workforce what the leadership is doing to improve the situation. “Frankly, so many agencies at the bottom don’t do much about it,” Dye said.

Third, connecting with employees plays a key role. Dye pointed to the State Department, which ranked in the top 5 among larger agencies, as an example. He recounted hearing stories about former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sitting down in the lunchroom and chatting with employees.

“Those stories get around and create a role-model environment,” Dye said. “These are little tangible things that don’t cost a lot of money – it conveys, ‘I care about you; what’s on your mind?’ Do this daily or weekly, and it’s more impactful than actual rewards.”

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Agencies, Deloitte Consulting, Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Departments, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Partnership for Public Service
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