Employee engagement is more than just a survey

By Brandon Lardy | March 2, 2020

The evidence is clear – engaged employees are better employees. According to a Gallup analysis, business units with higher levels of employee engagement saw 41% less absenteeism, 24% lower turnover and 17% higher productivity. And these results are not unique to the private sector.

In a recent analysis of performance data from nearly 150 Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals across the country, the Partnership for Public Service found that higher patient satisfaction, better call center performance and lower nurse turnover were all associated with a more satisfied and committed workforce.

Employee engagement is not a foreign topic to today’s federal leaders, but it is an area where they often struggle to find ways of making enduring progress and reaping the performance benefits. The challenge is avoiding the tendency of making engagement a priority only when it’s time to survey employees or analyze results.

As we’ve seen at many agencies across government, substantial, lasting change requires agency leaders to make employee engagement a year-round priority and a process of continuous improvement.

Make engagement a year-round priority

This past January, the Partnership honored the Best Places to Work in the Federal Government. Among them was the General Services Administration, where employee engagement steadily rose by nearly 13 points between 2014 and 2019.

In a recent profile by the Partnership, GSA’s former chief human capital officer, Antonia Harris, credited the success to the agency’s multi-year approach. “Engagement is a continuous process at GSA,” Harris said. “This includes creating a culture where the impact of employee engagement is considered in management decisions to the same degree as budgetary or other operational aspects.”

Similarly, Robert Gibbs, associate administrator for the Mission Support Directorate at NASA – the top-ranked large agency for the past eight years – attributed the space agency’s success to leadership’s willingness to solicit candid employee feedback at multiple times throughout the year.

Gibbs also noted that improving engagement is just as much about small, everyday changes as it is large-scale initiatives. “It’s hardly ever one big thing that really changes the game, but it’s listening to concerns over whatever it might be—the quality of research in some of our centers, the availability of parking—all these things that seem small and somewhat insignificant, but contribute to quality of life at work,” Gibbs said.

Employee engagement isn’t just about happy employees. When agency leaders make engagement a year-round priority, real improvements can happen – improvements that translate to better performance and, ultimately, a more effective government.

Are you interested in more insights on the federal workforce? Check out our other in-depth analyses in the Fed Figures series:


Brandon Lardy