Field Agencies Struggle with Employee Engagement

Analysis by the Partnership for Public Service and the Boston Consulting Group on 2018 Best Places to Work in the Federal Government data shows that employees outside of the DC metro area struggle with lower engagement than those within the area. The report emphasizes the importance of field employee engagement and makes recommendations for management to practice better employee relations.

The report entitled Beyond the Beltway: How Federal Leaders Can Engage Employees Working Across the Nation begins by busting the common myth that most civil servants work in the Washington, DC area. In reality, 85 percent of federal employees live and work outside of the capital.

The report explains, “While policies and priorities may be set by agency leaders at headquarters, typically located in Washington, the day-to-day work of delivering on the missions of our government mostly falls on employees in the field. They care for our veterans, support our farmers, inspect our roads and bridges, protect our food supply and respond to disasters.”

Despite this, field employees report an engagement score of 63.3 out of 100, 3.1 points below their colleagues at agency headquarters. Field employees reported lower satisfaction on every aspect of the workplace experience measured in the study.

Notable problems the report found include a perception among field employees that their headquarters are biased towards the accomplishments of Washington DC staff over field staff. Field staff reported feeling like “stepchildren” within their agency.

As a result of this bias, field employees do not believe they have adequate opportunities for career advancement.

The largest workplace experience gap was among the perceptions of senior leaders. Field employees reported a 2018 senior leadership score of 47.7 out of 100, 6.9 points below headquarters employees.

“The senior leadership category measures the level of respect employees have for senior leaders, satisfaction with the amount of information provided by management and perceptions about senior leaders’ honesty, integrity and ability to motivate employees,” the report explains.

This report comes as the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) announces plans to move the Economic Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture to the Kansas City Region, sparking fear among employees interested in staying in the DC area.

In order to increase employee engagement in field offices, the report recommends that management be held accountable for taking steps to respond to feedback and improve workplace experience. The report also recommends management improve communication, empowerment, and recognition of field employees while working to build a sense of shared community among field and headquarter civil servants.

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