Agencies offered new approach to measure employee engagement

Listen to Jason Miller's interview with Kelley Carameli.

Jason Miller | April 17, 2015 7:24 pm

The Office of Personnel Management expects to issue the results of the 2014 Employee Viewpoint Survey in the next month. So in preparation for that data dump, the National Council on Federal Labor Management Relations is trying to give agencies a head start in how they plan to use all of that information.

Kelley Carameli, the co-chairwoman of the Measures and Incentives working group under the National Council on Federal Labor Management Relations, presented on Wednesday the initial ideas to more effectively measure employee engagement.

The Chief Human Capital Officer’s Council tasked the labor-management council working group with developing ways to improve employee engagement through the development of toolkits and other approaches.

Beth Cobert, the co-chairwoman of the council and deputy director for management in the Office of Management and Budget, said the working group’s efforts merge well with the President’s second term management agenda initiative around workforce.

“As we’ve talked about in the past, our focus on employee engagement is about pushing data to action,” Cobert said during the council meeting. “This is one of the core elements we want to address. We are poised at this point in time to do that, as we have the 2013 data, and the 2014 data is coming shortly. OPM committed to getting the results out a month earlier, and they have built new tools.”

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One of those new tools is an online dashboard, at www.unlocktalent.gov, which will let managers creatively use and engage with information about their agency. OPM released the tool earlier this month. OPM last released Employee Viewpoint Survey data in November 2013.

Slicing, dicing data differently

The Measures and Incentives working group is trying to add some perspective to how agencies are using the tools.

“Many federal agencies, once they get their results, will get a standard report that will have these indexes already computed for them. That’s a good starting point,” said Carameli, who also is a health science specialist at the Veterans Health Administration in the Veterans Affairs Department, after her presentation at the council meeting in Washington. “We are encouraging people not to stop there, but to look at the additional sub-level reports that they receive, go into the data matrix and pull out the additional data to look at some of these individual items that are a little more meaningful or actionable, and to use those as drivers to start some of their action planning that ultimately they will report back to OPM on what they are doing around employee engagement.”

Carameli detailed how the working group placed 10 questions from the Employee Viewpoint Survey into a new measurement index. The idea is to measure cognitive, physical and emotional engagement.

“Currently how the engagement is measured in the EVS is at a very organization level. There are subcomponents that are individuals, supervisors and leadership that are combined to look at organization engagement,” she said. “What we are encouraging and looking at as a subgroup are some additional ways groups can individually measure it.”

Carameli said the working group hopes OPM would consider adding the three new measurement areas to the dashboard.

“It’s a different perspective to help you look at your data in a slightly nuanced way to action plan and get the most out of your information,” she said.

One of several datasets

VA currently is using a similar approach to measure its employee engagement.

“We are getting our EVS data results at a facility level, and so we are able to match that at a facility level with other VA datasets on sick leave usage and turnover behaviors. So at least internally, it gives us a bigger picture of how a change in one aspect such as engagement might affect some of these other outcomes,” Carameli said. “Not all agencies have that research or data capability, but it’s something we have identified and we are trying to maximize to shape our own action plans internally.”

She said VA had a “ah-ha” moment when they realized that engagement doesn’t exist alone in a vacuum.

“We see engagement is also correlated to concepts like being a civil work environment, being courteous and respectful and is there psychologically safety to report errors and problems,” Carameli said. “These items are not measured in the EVS directly, although there are some components of respect and being able to disclose violations. But these broader concepts really come together to create what we call a high performing work environment. In these high performing work environments, we see greater perceptions about senior leaderships and direct supervisors and then these performance outcomes.”

Carameli said in the short term, the working group will issue a one- or two-page information sheet based on its findings of what are the more actionable items that may help agencies drill down more deeply into their results.

In the long term, the working group plans to do some site visits to agencies, such as the Commerce Department’s Patent and Trademark Office or the National Science Foundation, who have routinely scored well on the EVS and other surveys around employee engagement.

The group will continue to collect data to create predictive models and expanded index profiles for measuring engagement.

Carameli said the working group also will meet with agencies who haven’t scored well and struggle with employee engagement to figure out why and what barriers continue to exist.

“What we are looking for over the next couple of months is to start building out some of those strategic plans and opportunities we learned from some of these site visits and case examples,” she said. “I hope that would emerge in the winter timeframe when people are starting to sit down and act on their results.”

Cobert said the working group’s efforts will help the rest of the government improve employee engagement faster and embed these changes more quickly.

“I’m pleased to see the group working on this now, as I believe there will be greater receptivity to these measures as results come out,” she said.

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