Today OPM will issue the annual Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) to collect employees’ perceptions about their workforce environment and the work of their team, supervisors and leaders. To be certain, this year’s results will be colored by employee reactions to how agencies and managers have coped with pandemic conditions.

Typically, organizations compare their FEVS results to other Government agencies of similar size or to previous years’ results to identify areas of greatest improvement or those in need of additional focus. For this year’s data such comparisons may not be as worthwhile given the unprecedented changes and challenges that the workforce has seen. Agencies may even be tempted to in some way “write off” this year’s results as an anomaly or use the pandemic as a convenient way to explain away certain results.

However, doing so would be both short-sighted and represent an opportunity lost. A workforce operating in these conditions for a period of months will be a treasure trove of information on the impacts of these new ways of doing business. What agencies learn could guide future actions for years to come. Each agency likely has several of the following conditions or many others much different than that surveyed in 2019:

  • Nearly 100% telework in large population segments
  • Employees in occupations that continued working in a customer-facing role throughout the pandemic
  •  Blurring the line between work and personal life (or more honestly, the complete obliteration of the work/life balance concept)
  •  Supervisors operating in a continuing level of uncertainty and/or with an entirely remote workforce
  • Surprising achievement of or lack of accomplishment of agency goals and priorities

FEVS results are always a backwards-looking indicator since it takes easily 4 months to receive the data from OPM, and then another month or so to analyze and present the results. The analyses often try to understand the “why” behind certain findings including convening focus groups of employees to gain these perspectives more than 7 months past when that data was collected.

FEVS results are one piece of data that represents employee perceptions of a moment in time. And that moment in time is right now. FEVS data that should be coupled with other pieces of information to provide meaning and, most importantly, make it actionable. Therefore, it makes the most sense, especially this year, to supplement that data with the additional meanings of today – not the retrospectives of 7 or more months from now. This is a one-of-a-kind time, and agencies should react in a similar unique way.

Each agency can use its current workforce conditions to collect the rich anecdotal and qualitative data now to answer the “why” questions of the future. Here are some suggestions of data that may be relevant to collect:

  •  Gain deeper perspectives from employees in occupational groups that have been working on the front line of the pandemic or in customer-facing roles during the pandemic. It will be also useful to document which organizations contained these workers to compare results.
  • Gain supervisory challenges and success stories of managing employees in a telework environment. Identify specific groupings of those who never had managed before and those who had experience managing teleworkers prior to the pandemic. Also determine if there are clusters of these different supervisors in different organizational units to compare results.
  • Gain data from teleworkers on the impacts on their work/life balance, productivity or teamwork. To further supplement qualitative data, use agency personnel/payroll systems to collect 2019 information on areas such as attrition or promotion rates or use of leave or the lack of leave use including how must use/lose leave exists.
  • Understand how the pandemic has affected employee views of their agency or their commitment to support their agency’s mission (the information that drives Best Places to Work index).

Agencies that collect this data in advance of the FEVS will also be way ahead in coupling FEVS’ quantitative with other qualitative data to begin to identify actions they will take to address the findings. This will also show employees how much their perspective is valued even while their feedback is being collected. Who knows, it may even make response rates higher.

2020 is anything but a normal year, so this year agencies should place special emphasis to get a deeper understanding of employee perspectives from the FEVS.

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