Third Level Subagency Comparison Report of the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey for the Office of Chief Administrative Law Judge
Updated On: Jan 17, 2017
Not too long ago, the 2016 Third Level Subagency Comparison Report of the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey for the Office of Chief Administrative Law Judges was made available. Who from the Agency responded, how did they respond, and what should be done based on their responses?
First, who responded to the survey? From the Office of Chief Administrative Law Judges, 1,221 employees completed the survey. This translates to only about a 50 percent response. Who are the 50 percent who completed the survey? At 77.4 percent, the bulk of respondents were non-supervisors. Furthermore, 70 percent of the respondents were female, and nearly 75 percent considered themselves “white.” In addition, 43.6 percent indicated that they held a doctoral or professional degree. Almost 60 percent worked at the GS 7-12 level. At 28.2 percent, most of the respondents had been with the Federal Government for six to ten years, and another 28 percent had been with the Federal Government for more than 20 years. However, at 79 percent, most of them did not plan to retire for five years or more. Finally, OCALJ offices from the Atlanta, Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Dallas, and Philadelphia regions accounted for 880 responses, or over 70 percent. Based on this data, demographically, the employee who responded to the survey was most likely a white female attorney advisor at a OCALJ office who has more than six years experience in Federal Government, but not retiring any time soon.
What did these employees indicate in the survey? Generally, at 60 percent overall, they feel personal accomplishment, and the majority like the work they do. Over 60 percent believe the “agency is successful at accomplishing its mission.” Over 90 percent put in extra effort and feel their work is important. Considering everything, over 60 percent are satisfied with their job. However, there is grumbling.
Perhaps not impressive, but notable nonetheless, 36.1 percent of the respondents indicated negatively to the statement “my workload is reasonable”, but 48.7 percent answered positively, and about 15 percent were “neutral”. Based on the importance of the concept of workload, more questions and study should be made in this area. For example, do these results indicate more than half of the respondents feel their workload is unreasonable when 36 percent of them responded “negatively” and 15 percent were “neutral”? Also, what accounts for the variances among office types and regions? For example, from the Boston OCALJ, 34.2 percent answered positively, but 27 percent answered neutrally, with 38 percent answering negatively. Why is there such a split in the feeling of unreasonable workload in the Boston OCALJ? For another example, what accounts for the perception of 59.3 percent from the Chicago NHC who responded to the statement positively, compared to only 38.3 percent from Kansas City NHC who responded to the statement positively? Also, are employees from Denver OCALJ being overworked in light of a 57.1 percent negative response to the statement, considering only 27 employees from the area answered the question? It behooves both management and the union to look into this subject more.
The survey showed a clearer picture of the responding employees feeling powerless and unrecognized. Only 32.7 percent responded positively to the statement “employees have a feeling of personal empowerment with respect to work processes”, and to the question “how satisfied are you with your involvement in decisions that affect your work?” less than 50 percent responded positively. Less than 40 percent responded positively to the statement “employees are recognized for providing high quality products and services”, and to the statement “creativity and innovation are rewarded”, only 27.1 percent responded positively. To the question, “how satisfied are you with the recognition you receive for doing a good job?” only 41.5 percent answered positively. Furthermore, they feel stuck. Less than a third indicated they were satisfied with opportunities to get better jobs in the organization, and only 31.3 percent indicated positively to “promotions in my work unit are based on merit”.
Interestingly, the perception of powerlessness, unrecognition, and no opportunity does not seem to come from those who felt unfairly appraised. To the statement, “my performance appraisal is a fair reflection of my performance”, more than half responded positively. However, under 30 percent answered positively to the statement “in my work unit, differences in performance are recognized in a meaningful way”, and only 36.9 percent answered positively “awards in my work unit depend on how well employees perform their jobs”.
Hence, in general, the employees felt appraised fairly, but not rewarded with anything substantial such as monetary awards and promotions. In addition, for the most part, the employees do not blame their immediate supervisors for powerlessness, unrecognition, and no opportunity, because more than two thirds indicated their immediate supervisors were doing a good job, and more than half felt the next line manager was doing a good job. Furthermore, the percentage of negative responses concerning senior leaders is not a clear message of contempt. To the statement “in my organization, senior leaders generate high levels of motivation and commitment in the workforce”, only 35.3 percent responded positively, but also only 39.1 percent answered negatively, and 25.7 percent answered “neutrally”. Similar percentages resulted in response to the question “how satisfied are you with the policies and practices of your senior leaders?” These numbers reflect a rather underwhelming sense of contempt for the senior leadership. Perhaps this is due to acknowledgement that Congress is the source of power for awards and promotions.
In a general observation from the survey, for the most part, those who answered appear to be more or less content with their jobs. They feel they work hard, with a manageable workload and adequate resources. Their immediate and next line supervisors appraise them fairly. They might feel that if the Agency was funded properly, they would be better recognized for the good work they do. This is the sense that comes from the results of this survey.
The survey also provided a sense of how the respondents view their co-workers. Interestingly, only 39.3 percent answered positively the statement “my work unit is able to recruit people with the right skills”. Furthermore, to the statement “in my work unit, steps are taken to deal with a poor performer who cannot or will not improve”, only 29.0 percent answered positively. Hence, we have an employee who feels like she works hard and is appraised appropriately by her immediate supervisors, but not rewarded sufficiently with cash awards and promotions, while slackers keep their jobs.
What should be done? What can the employee do? What does she do to present her case that she deserves better awards and better opportunities? What does she do about the poor performer who does not improve? To the first question, she can write to Congress, perhaps visit her representative’s office in person and make a presentation. To the second, she can badger management into taking steps. Are these realistic actions? No. In truth, she cannot take effective action on her own for either of these issues.
She needs the help of the Union. For the first problem, the Union lobbyists present the case to Congress for better awards and better opportunities. The lobbyists are professionals and have a history of obtaining good results. For the second problem, the Union stewards do not make the decisions about taking the steps to deal with a poor performer, but they make sure management follows the correct steps. Furthermore, the Union educates on the needs for training, proper workloads, and adjustments for disabilities. Perhaps with education, the employee who responded to the survey would then realize perhaps the “poor performer” is working hard after all and does not need “steps taken.”
The employee who feels powerless, unrecognized and stuck, should take heart that her issues are being addressed by an organization looking after her needs – her Union, specifically, NTEU Chapter 224. Then the question for this employee becomes, do you pay your dues so the Union can do what you feel needs to be done?