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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 Securities and Exchange Commission has instituted a number of initiatives over the years to get feedback from employees and address their concerns. Senior leaders have held meetings with employees to obtain input, provide answers and let them know their views are important. The SEC, like numerous other agencies and departments, also has held town hall meetings where employees learn about plans for the agency and ask questions.

The Secret Service conducts regular staff surveys and runs Spark, an online employee message board that allows staff to see and elevate staff comments to senior leaders. The comments that receive a significant number of votes are answered by senior leaders.

The Department of Health and Human Services runs an initiative called Ignite Accelerator, an internal program that empowers employee teams to come up with innovative ideas to improve a program or their workplace. Select teams get coaching and guidance to pursue these new ideas. At the Food and Drug Administration, employee teams designed a simplified process for new medical device reviews and approvals as well as created an opioid analytics dashboard to help inform leadership decision-making. Ignite Accelerator also led to a National Cancer Institute initiative that created new mobile health resources to help people quit smoking.

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

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 USAJobs.gov 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.