Steps Agencies Can Take to Improve Employee Engagement

Federal leaders have taken a number of different approaches to foster employee engagement and improve their Best Places to Work in the Federal Government scores. This includes listening and responding to employee concerns, providing professional development opportunities, publicly recognizing and rewarding excellent work, and supporting diversity and inclusion.

Communicating and Listening to Employees

The Government Accountability Office uses employee survey responses to devise plans to engage the workforce, with senior leaders annually reviewing thousands of comments, holding town halls and taking steps to address concerns. Leaders across the organization are evaluated on how much they value and respect their employees, and treat them fairly. GAO calls these core tenets its “people values.”

The Department of Transportation launched the Office of Innovation and Engagement in 2020 to develop and share ideas to improve employee engagement, collaboration and improved DOT operations. The office builds on a decade-long initiative known as IdeaHub that solicited and sought to implement employee suggestions to enhance DOT’s work.

A 150-member group with representatives from each National Institutes of Health’s various components focuses on employee engagement and workforce management issues, analyzing survey data and finding ways to improve the employee experience “from the ground up.”

The U.S. International Development Finance Corporation thought creatively about employee needs during pandemic by not only offering alternative schedules and telework, but investing in other benefits like expanded dependent care programs, childcare subsidies and support services for employees on official travel.

Professional Development

The intelligence community has promoted cross-agency assignments that have enhanced personal and professional development, provided employees with new experiences and helped them cultivate cross-organizational networks. In addition, the intelligence agencies have encouraged and paid for continuing educational opportunities.

NASA established an internal marketplace that enables employees to identify and work on short-term projects across the agency.

The Small Business Administration in 2018 launched a Peer-to-Peer Power Hour initiative. Employees chose topics or skills that they wanted to learn more about, and colleagues with subject matter expertise served as guest speakers and delivered training sessions.

The Department of Transportation has offered leadership training for executives and partnered with a university for one day off-site sessions for career agency senior leaders focused on ways to enhance competencies and improve employee engagement.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has made career development coaching available to employees and provided first-line managers with the opportunity to get coaching on the job.

Employee Rewards, Recognition and Advancement

Some offices at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services have incorporated cash bonuses into existing award programs while others initiated peer-to-peer awards in which staff can give points to each other that can later be redeemed for prizes. The goal is to increase the excitement around awards and create more opportunities for employee recognition.

The Small Business Administration has given “Kudos to You” awards to standout employees during Public Service Recognition Week. The agency also recognizes distinguished employees who have made superior contributions toward accomplishing SBA’s mission and goals with its IKE Awards.

Department of Health and Human Services agencies employ a variety of formal recognition programs as well as informal initiatives such as quarterly and Star Employee of the Month rewards to recognize the valuable contributions that employees make on a daily basis. One subcomponent, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, has published newsletters and sent emails highlighting agency activities and accomplishments as well as the work of individuals and teams. The Health Resources and Services Administration has used a SharePoint site for supervisors and staff to recognize employees for their accomplishments,  promoting positivity and engagement throughout the organization.

The Department of Interior created a My DOI Careers website that asks employees to answer a series of questions about their background, interests and preferences. Based on their responses, they are guided to several career categories that might be of interest to them. The website also links to to demonstrate what opportunities are currently open. The website includes a variety of resources to help employees understand how to best manage the hiring process.

Support for Diversity and Inclusion

The Government Accountability Office has codified diversity and inclusion objectives in its leadership performance plans.

Farm Credit Administration leaders participate in diversity programming alongside employees and provide developmental opportunities to prepare employees from underrepresented groups for leadership positions.

The intelligence community created an affinity network to foster workplace inclusion and a culture that encourages collaboration, flexibility and fairness. This network also plays a key role in how intelligence agencies recruit and develop employees from traditionally underrepresented groups. In addition, every intelligence agency has an employee resource group that enables employees to discuss diversity and inclusion issues and make leadership aware of them.

The Coast Guard developed a plan in 2019 to make the workplace more diverse and inclusive, including an education and awareness program that involved training and certifying more than 100 employees to fan out across the agency and serve as change agents. Responsibilities of these change agents include coaching staff, facilitating small-group dialogues about diversity and inclusion, and teaching courses on topics such as privilege, microaggressions and discrimination.