1/17/14: Last month, the Partnership for Public Service (“PPS”) released its Best Places to Work in the Federal Government rankings for 2013. The PPS rankings are based on the results of the Office of Personnel Management-administered Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS), which SEC employees completed in early 2013.
The SEC continued to perform poorly in the rankings. This year it placed 15thof 23 agencies in its category of Mid-Size Agencies. The SEC was ranked 3rd on the list as recently as 2006.
The SEC’s scores remained relatively unchanged since 2012. It appears that the single biggest reason for the SEC’s shift from 19th place last year to 15th place this year is that the overall scores of its nearest competitors dropped slightly, based primarily on a decline in those agencies’ scores on the category “Pay.” In all, five other agencies slid slightly lower than the SEC on the 100 point scale, including Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (now 0.2 points behind us), the Department of Energy (now 0.7 points behind us), and the Department of Education (now 1.1 points behind us). All of these agencies suffered from a significant drop in the category “Pay,” presumably due to the multi-year pay freeze and sequester cuts.
Continuing Human Capital Issues a Drag on Our Scores
The SEC improved in the areas of “employee-skills-mission match,” “strategic management” and “work-life balance.” From a human capital perspective, however, once again, the 2013 rankings continued to reflect significant concerns. For example, the agency continued to score near the bottom of the rankings in the area of “Effective Leadership” with a ranking of 18th out of 21. This included rankings of 18th of 21 in the area of “employee empowerment,” 18th out of 21 in connection with employee views of the agency’s “senior leaders” and 17th out of 21 for employee views of their supervisors. Furthermore, the SEC is ranked 20th out of 21 in the area of Performance-Based Awards and Advancement, which includes employee views on whether promotions are based on merit, whether creativity and innovation are rewarded and whether employees believe that their performance appraisals are a fair reflection of their performance.
Problems with the Evidence Based Performance Management System Persist
Several areas directly related to performance appraisals continue to demonstrate that the SEC's "Evidence Based" Performance Management appraisal system ("EBP") continues to be a major drag on the agency's ranking, as is evidenced by this spreadsheet. Specifically, the SEC is in last place on agreement with the statement, “My performance appraisal is a fair reflection of my performance.” And the agency is also in last place on agreement with the statement, “In my most recent performance appraisal, I understood what I had to do to be rated at different performance levels.” The agency is in third to last place on agreement with the statement, “Discussions with my supervisor/team leader about my performance are worthwhile.”
There is other data in the FEVS results that suggest that SEC employees also have a basic lack of trust in management’s ability to make fair decisions in the “merit” context. For example, look at the chart showing levels of agreement with the statement, “Awards in my work unit depend on how well employees perform their jobs.” The SEC scores second to last on this question, even though OHR’s performance appraisal system is not utilized at the agency for making such award decisions (such as special act awards). That lack of trust also is reflected in other areas in the data as well. For example, look at the chart showing levels of agreement with the statement, “Arbitrary action, personal favoritism and coercion for partisan political purposes are not tolerated.” The SEC is also near the bottom in this category, with a clear majority of SEC employees unwilling or unable to say that they agree with this statement.
Continuing Need to Partner with NTEU
NTEU is not surprised by these results. We continue to believe that the best way to address the SEC’s persistent poor scores is to engage and listen to its employees and their union representatives. In fact, in an accompanying analysis of how six federal agencies improved employee satisfaction and commitment, the Partnership for Public Service recognized “partnering with unions” as a critical key to improving agency culture: “Our case studies provide examples of agencies that have made significant strides in employee satisfaction in partnership with employee unions. Unions can serve as a voice for employee views regarding survey results. Effective working relationships with unions can help agency leaders better identify and understand employee challenges more fully and completely, as well as partner in the development of new, innovative solutions.”
It is no mystery that the decline in the SEC’s rankings as a good place to work has coincided with a fundamental shift in the way the SEC has interacted with its employees and their representatives. Today, the SEC is an agency all too often driven by human resource specialists who are relatively new to the agency, do not understand its culture and often seem to engage in HR messaging gimmicks, rather than a sincere effort to improve our ability to achieve our very important mission. OHR should be supporting frontline managers in creating a positive, interest-based approach to employee engagement rather than imposing its antiquated views in an agency that was only a few years ago widely viewed as one of the best places to work in and a crown jewel of the federal government.
We continue to hope that SEC’s senior leadership will change the direction of the agency’s human capital policies. When that occurs, NTEU stands ready to work with the SEC to restore the agency to the top of the list.