Federal Manager's Daily Report

The MSPB has raised cautions about how federal agencies are using employee surveys as a management tool, saying that “there is a danger that FEVS results are being used to make organizational changes that are not meaningful.”

Results of the annual Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey from OPM, now being conducted, commonly trigger employee engagement initiatives and other responses. But the MSPB warned that “some year-to-year changes may not be statistically significant but instead are caused by random variation. Without understanding the difference, managers may take action based on data that have limited meaning.”

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“Second, MSPB is concerned that not enough time is allowed between survey administrations for organizations to appropriately analyze and act on survey results. One reason that employees may perceive their survey input is not being used may be that organizations simply do not have enough time to act on one year’s survey results before the next year’s survey is fielded. If agencies try to judge the results based on annual survey responses instead of longer-term trends, they could reach misleading conclusions,” it said.

It said the results further could be skewed by “survey fatigue,” which is showing in the declining percentages of employees who fill out the survey. From 2004-2010, the survey—it went by another name through 2008—was administered only every other year and response rates were all over 50 percent, peaking at 57 percent in 2006. Since it became annual, response rates have fallen, down to a low of 45 percent last year.

“Given that employees are less likely to respond to surveys if they feel their organizations will not use the data to make positive changes, it is interesting that 82 percent of federal employees invited to take the FEVS either did not respond, said they did not know, or did not agree that the survey results would be used to make their agency a better place to work,” it said.