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Improving Federal Employee Engagement Through First-Level Supervisors Open Access

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Existing research indicates that employee engagement is tied to positive organizational outcomes, like higher productivity and lower workforce attrition. Research also indicates the supervisors’ performance is a key element in improving the employees’ levels of engagement. Within the Federal government, there is a wide range of measured employee engagement. Given the importance of employee engagement, the key role of the supervisor, and the range of federal employee engagement, this mixed methods research was designed to identify promising practices from three agencies noted for their work in employee engagement between 2013-2016. There were three research questions.1. Which large federal agencies’ survey responses in the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) showed marked improvement in employee engagement and the performance of their first-level supervisors as measured between 2013 and 2016? 2. For those large federal agencies that were able to improve their employee engagement over the period 2013 to 2016, along with a large agency with consistently high engagement, what changes have they made in the areas of selection, development, guidance and support, and accountability for first-level supervisors?3. Is there a correlation between the supervisors’ view of their agencies in those four areas, as reflected in the Merit System Protection Board’s (MSPB) Merit Principles Survey Path L data, and the agencies’ employee engagement as evidenced by the established FEVS indices? Through analysis of FEVS data, the Department of Labor, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, were identified as large agencies with unusually positive results in employee engagement. Qualitative interviews, and the examination of statements by senior agency representatives, provided data regarding agency initiatives related to the improvements in the Office of Personnel Management’s Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) engagement indices. Additionally, the quantitative portion of this research identified specific areas of correlation between the views of supervisors at 20 large agencies using the Merit System Protection Board’s 2016 Merit Principles Survey (MPS) Path L data, and employee engagement indices based on FEVS results from that same year. Analysis of the quantitative data revealed numerous instances of statistically significant correlation between supervisors’ views expressed in the MPS data and the FEVS engagement indices. Composite variables were designed using the findings from the qualitative research and the identified correlations related to major initiatives. Linear regression of a model using three of these composite variables based on supervisors’ MPS responses, explained nearly 80 percent of the variation in FEVS employee engagement scores among the 20 large agencies in both the FEVS and MPS databases. Using both the rich understanding from the qualitative research, and the identified relationships from the quantitative results, recommendations for a process to address employee engagement in general, and numerous specific initiatives, focused on supervisors, are provided for consideration and further research.

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